As they bade a fond farewell to their Omaha lunch club born in the Great Depression, members met this month for a final time — at a mortuary.
But, despite that setting, the final Thursday meeting of the Omaha Business Men’s Association was far from somber. In keeping with its longtime irreverence and humor, this was not a funeral but a “FUN-eral.”
Many wore novelty top hats ordered for the occasion. They reminisced, told stories and made each other laugh.
“We decided to go out with a bang,” said retired stockbroker Bruce Haney, a member for 55 years. “I’m sorry to see it end, but there’s no reason to be sad. Young people were not joining, and everybody realized it was just out of gas.”
The club was formed by 14 Omaha businessmen on March 9, 1933, during the “bank holiday” in the depths of the Depression. Originally called the Young Business Men’s Association, it operated as “a nonpartisan civic club.”
As its founders began to age, “Young” was changed to “Omaha.” Lunches were held downtown at the old Rome and Castle hotels, and later on 72nd Street at the Ranch Bowl, which also is long gone.
Not exactly a service club like the Rotary, Kiwanis and Optimists — which hold weekly luncheons but also raise money and volunteer for worthy causes — the OBMA focused for generations on “enjoyment and good times.”
Its members did ring Salvation Army bells during the holiday season, but the club had no rules.
“There was no attendance requirement,” said Haney, 84. “If you missed a meeting, you missed out on the fun, that’s all.”
Members weekly played “the swindle,” hoping to win a small pot of money by blindly picking the king of clubs from a deck of cards.
The OBMA celebrated ethnic-themed dates — German, Scandinavian, Irish and others. And for more than 30 years until recently, an especially well-attended event was Czech Days at the now-closed Bohemian Cafe. The since-departed Milt Tenopir, former offensive line coach of the Huskers, talked football and introduced former players.
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The men-only club included judges, accountants, lawyers, insurance executives, doctors, dentists, radio announcers and more. They welcomed weekly speakers, including elected officials.
In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Rotary no longer could exclude women because of their gender, and most men-only service clubs then opened their rolls to both sexes. The OBMA did not.
The declining membership in clubs and fraternal groups has been documented for decades. Even before the age of social media, people found other ways to network.
In the early ’90s, Haney said, the OBMA had about 200 members. This year that had dropped to 25, and only eight attended a luncheon last month at Anthony’s Restaurant. After 86 years, the club was dying.
About 40 (including a few women) attended the June 6 farewell luncheon in the community room at Westside Chapel, 7805 West Center Road. There was singing, including a takeoff on the popular “YMCA” song:
Young man, there’s a place you can go.
I said young man, when you’re high or you’re low,
You can go there, and I’m sure you will find
Many ways to have a good time.
It’s fun to be in the OBMA!
Members recalled that for decades, the late Bill Musgrave wrote rhymes about the club and its members. On its 75th anniversary, he penned:
It is a great moment to pause and recall
The many great times we had, just a ball.
Events and the speakers, the jokes and the laughter
Seemed never to stop, went on ever after.
He hoped the club would survive “another event-filled seventy-five.”
It did not. And so at the end of the recent FUN-eral, everyone sang “Auld Lang Syne.”
But should old acquaintances be forgot? No, surely not.
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