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May 2002

From soup to sandblasting:
The FL lunch bunch stays active in retirement

At first glance, the group gathered around the FL cafeteria table at lunch time might appear to be a bunch of former colleagues, perhaps retired NCAR scientists or engineers. But of the dozen or so men who meet for lunch on Mondays or Thursdays, none has any professional connection to NCAR. Instead, these old friends and longtime local residents find the cafeteria the perfect place to reminisce about their World War II flying days and share other memories that often span more than a half century.

The FL lunch bunch includes (bottom row, left to right) Bill Bower, Fred Pruett, Clay Hogan; (top row) Fred Shelton, Christy Barden, and Jack Robinson. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

"We can just show up, we don’t need reservations, and we don’t have to tip," one says, amid chuckles and nods of agreement. "And the soup is great!" declares Bill Bower, a retired U.S. Army Air Corps pilot. Bower is one of just four surviving pilots who belonged to "Doolittle’s Raiders," the small group who volunteered to fly off the deck of the U.S.S. Hornet aircraft carrier to bomb Tokyo in April 1942 in retaliation for Pearl Harbor. When Bower once again raves about the soup a few minutes later, his buddies chide, "You’re repeating yourself, Bill."

When asked if they had all served in wartime, a few of the men look startled. "We didn’t have a choice," one responded. With the exception of Fred Shelton, who was a World War II infantryman ("I spent time burrowing, not up in the air") and Jerry Keenan (an artilleryman in Korea), all served in WW II as pilots or trainers.

They also share a wealth of knowledge about Boulder and its history, and their careers spanned everything from law and mortgage brokering to construction and publishing. The Boulder of their memories differs greatly from the busy city we know today. Several of them remember attending the dedication of the Bureau of Standards building (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology) at 27th Way and Broadway in 1954, when President Dwight Eisenhower came to speak. Back then, Broadway was a two-lane gravel road, the acreage where Frasier Meadows Manor retirement community is located was a cow pasture, and hitchhiking was a common form of getting around town.

Some of these men have known each other for more than 50 years, since the days when they’d meet for coffee each morning at Shelton’s restaurant, Fred’s, on Pearl Street—before Pearl Street became a pedestrian mall in the late 1970s. When Shelton closed Fred’s in 1985, the group moved to Furr’s Cafeteria at Crossroads Mall, then on to the Furr’s on Iris Street. Eventually, they settled on the NCAR cafeteria in 1993.

When asked if they spend the majority of their time reminiscing, one gentleman pipes up, "Well, we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the future!" Jack Robinson, an attorney, explains one of the group’s unwritten rules: "We avoid talking about our health," he says with a smile. "That’s boring."
For the most part, they’ve been something of an anonymous fixture in the cafeteria. Asked if employees ever approach them to discover their identities, Shelton quips, "none had the temerity to try!"

But every Christmas, the cafeteria reserves a table for them so they can bring their wives along for a holiday lunch. UCAR Food Services group lead Cathy Halvorson, who has known the group since their arrival, says, "It’s always good to see them. They let me know when they’re leaving to go out of town." The friendship is mutual. Shelton, with his restaurant experience, has nothing but praise for Cathy. "She’s a very savvy lady with a great personality," he says.

One might expect that the men would take it easy in retirement. But these are hardly sedentary types. Consider Bill Weaver, a retired contractor who supervised construction of the Martin Acres subdivision in South Boulder. Now he enjoys paragliding in his spare time. He also creates sandblasted flagstone signs (he’s proudest of the one that graces the front of CU’s Regent Hall).

Another construction expert, Duane Burnett, spent his working life as an architectural engineer and building contractor. He now restores vintage aircraft and is currently working on a single-engine, negative-stagger–wing Beechcraft. Charles Schumacher was a manufacturer’s representative in Minnesota for many years. A retired Navy pilot, he helps Burnett with aircraft restoration.

Jack Robinson, former president of Resolute Insurance Company in Connecticut, came west at the suggestion of an Air Force buddy. He served as president of Colorado Insurance Group before earning his law degree at the age of 50 and starting to practice law in Boulder in 1973. He remains active in the community, serving as president of the Boulder Senior Foundation and volunteering for Boulder County Legal Services, among other activities.

Christy Barden, who worked for 20 years as a pilot for Continental Airlines, spends much of his time enjoying the airline’s low-cost travel benefits. He flies to such distant destinations as New Zealand. Ed Trumble doesn’t travel quite as far, but he takes off for Scottsdale, Arizona, when the local temperatures drop. An enthusiastic collector of Western art, Trumble is founder and chair of Leanin’ Tree Publishing, where he continues to work part time.

Then there’s William Suitts, who founded Colorado Mortgage Company. He still goes to his office every morning, but he finds time for philanthropic activities. Following the death of Superior teenager Brittney Chambers from an Ecstasy overdose in February 2001, Suitts donated $100,000 of his own money in a matching funds grant to help start a teen center.

Clay Hogan ran two taxicab companies, Bill’s City Cab and Deluxe Cab, previously operated by his father. He enjoys raising horses as a hobby.

Fred Pruett founded the publishing company that bears his name. After he retired and turned the company over to his son, he found he missed the publishing business, so he started another company, Fred Pruett Books. Two recently published books are a guide to the Flattop Wilderness area and a history of Rock Springs, Wyoming. He still puts in four to five hours per day at the office, but he likes it when one of his buddies calls to let him know a golf game or fishing trip has been scheduled.

Another publishing veteran, Jerry Keenan, retired from Pruett Publishing Company as an editor. Now he writes about military history, focusing on the Civil War and Indian Wars.

And then there’s Shelton. He entertains patrons at Bart’s Cafe in Louisville two nights each week by singing and accompanying himself on the guitar—reminiscent of the days when he sang at his own restaurant.

Asked about their active lifestyles, one group member quips, "I’m pushing 90—that’s activity for you!" A second sums it up simply: "Staying active is the best way to stay alive." • Nancy Norris

Nancy Norris, employment administrator in Human Resources, is an occasional contributor to SN Monthly.

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Edited by David Hosansky, hosansky@ucar.edu
Prepared for the Web by Carlye Calvin
Last revised: Tues May 28 17:08:40 MST 2001