It was the early 1950s when a group of young men began playing softball together for the Du Drop Inn, a tavern across the street from the General Motors plant on East Delavan Avenue in Buffalo.
They were teammates, as well, on bowling alleys, volleyball courts and in horseshoe pits. Officially, they became known as the Du Drop Athletic Club.
There’s a vacant lot now where the tavern stood. The plant has closed and changed hands.
But the Du Drop Athletic Club still is going strong.
Three of the founding members – longtime Cheektowaga residents David Friedrich, 81; Ralph Colucci, 83; and Clifford “Skippy” Rohloff, 82 – celebrated the club’s 60th anniversary in 2013. Joined by Mickey Stempowski, 81, of West Seneca, another longtime member, they gathered recently to reminisce.
They interrupted each other and laughed often, sometimes beginning – and then abruptly dropping – the sort of “inside baseball” stories that come with decades-long friendships. While softball remains a part of their lives – Rohloff still manages an over-50 league – the ties that bound them extend well beyond athletics.
Friedrich and Rohloff worked together for 50 years at Friedrich Deliveries. “He was here before UPS,” Rohloff joked.
“I was their competition,” added Colucci, who drove for Ideal Delivery for about 22 years. He said he met Rohloff on a baseball field behind the current Erie County Medical Center.
Further, Stempowski and Friedrich were classmates at Burgard High School. Stempowski, who had a 35-year career teaching industrial arts at local Catholic schools, also drove for Friedrich’s company during the summers and had met Colucci while both were driving cabs.
All four are veterans of the Korean War.
Though the times have changed, the club has steadfastly held onto many of its traditions.
For starters, membership still is limited to men 21 and older. While the roster once numbered in the 60s in the 1960s, it’s kept at about 40 now in order for club members to gather at other venues.
At least four events are held annually: a family picnic, Christmas party, bowling party and a fundraiser. “That’s in the constitution,” noted Rohloff.
Though official membership is limited to men, the women in their lives are included in the club’s myriad activities.
“I go to all the functions,” said Doreen Friedrich, whose husband Don, a son of David, is the club’s current president. “My sisters-in-law go, my friends go. I think it’s a lot of fun.”
“We couldn’t do without the women, really,” said Rohloff.
But what about the men-only rule? “I’m fine with that,” Doreen Friedrich replied.
Beyond the four annual events, there are monthly membership meetings and club functions, including trips to local cultural venues that sometimes include disadvantaged or disabled guests. The men said they probably get together twice a month.
Ron Friedrich – another of David’s sons – appreciates those regular gatherings. “Sometimes we all get lazy. It gives you the push,” he said.
And, throughout the past six decades, the club has held fast to its mission:
“We like to create good will,” Rohloff said.
“A good, clean life,” Colucci added.