I’ve always felt blessed to have good male friends — and a few good women friends — in my life, knowing they’d become even more important when I retired.
We get together regularly for morning coffee and conversation — not only about political issues, but also about personal matters. We talk of soulful stuff — health scares, recent deaths and unexpected pleasures.
Now a group of guys, who meet regularly at the Hopkins Activity Center, have done us one better.
They’re not only about talk, but also about tasks. In the year since the Hopkins Area Men’s Shed got started, these boys of summer have varnished benches, painted pipes, planted gardens and adopted city parks to look after.
They call themselves the Men’s Shed, and they meet every Thursday. Depending on the month, attendance ranges from five to 10 men. The group is patterned after an organization that started in Australia to provide a constructive, creative and compassionate outlet for retired men.
An international movement
Currently, there are 1,100 Men’s Sheds in 11 countries, including three in the U.S. (Minnesota, Michigan and Hawaii), with a fourth to come soon. The Hopkins group includes a farmer, an engineer and a public relations man, among others.
Phil Johnson, 68, has been in the Hopkins group since it began and is now one of the Men’s Shed U.S. directors.
“What I get out of this,” he said, “is friendships with other guys and getting to meet new people. You know, we’re all nice to each other and that’s real. And at the end of a lot of days, we can look at what we’ve accomplished.”
That includes scraping and painting a large pipe at the city’s water plant, refinishing wood benches at the activity center, staining a fence adjacent to a fire station and planting flowers and weeding the garden.
“This gets me out of the house,” said Joe Holasek, 74, a retired technician and former supervisor at Honeywell. “When I retired at 70, I didn’t have the contact with people that I used to have. Now I’ve got that contact AND I get to accomplish something.”
Joe’s wife, Nancy, couldn’t be happier with his new group.
“Joe and I have activities outside of the house,” she said. “But the Men’s Shed has added another dimension. When we get back together, we have lots more to talk about. Overall, this is a good thing for the guys and wives as well. There’s a real sense of purpose here.”
Getting men in the door
Susan Newville, who has been with the activity center for 37 years and is now its coordinator, is delighted with the group.
“In the past, it’s been hard to get men in the door. The Men’s Shed brings them in — and they come from different backgrounds,” Newville said. “Their enthusiasm is catching.”
That energy is as obvious in the oldest as well as the youngest in the group.
At 86, Chuck Claude, who worked for 14 years for Schwan’s, looks forward to the weekly get-togethers.
“This gives you a whole new social life,” he said. “That’s important when some of your old friends — and even your enemies — have died. And we can put our skills to good use.”
From what I observed, the men are doing just that. They seem to have a genuine affection for each other and don’t let talk of politics and religion get in the way. Watching them sitting around a table, I would’ve guessed they’d known each other for many years, not months. They looked and sounded like the guys I hang around with — and we’ve had decades to fashion our friendship.
Again, I’m reminded this part of life is a spiritual journey. And the stepping stones are relationships that provide honest talk, hearty laughs and good company.
Learn more about all the programs at the Hopkins Activity Center or call 952-939-1333.
Read about the international Men’s Shed movement — including how to start your own.
Dave Nimmer has had a long career as a reporter, editor and professor. Now retired, he has no business card, but plenty to do. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.