At first glance, there wasn’t anything particularly unusual about their group: a handful of seniors at a local café, gathered over their weekly coffee. The topics of conversation could be wide-ranging, often touching on politics or thorny social issues. And there was a bond that strengthened with each weekly get-together.
But when Bill Haney first joined this “gaggle of geezers,” he quickly realized there were lessons to be learned in the stories they told. Haney has written, edited or published more than 400 books about Michigan and its people. So he was the right person to see a book in the lives of the group, which meets every Monday at Brioni Cafe & Deli in Clarkson.
“If we don’t capture these stories for posterity, they’re gone for good,” Haney told us. “Most people have said at one time or another, 'I wish my mother my grandparents had put down some of this stuff, or it’s lost for all time.'”
The book, titled One Cup at a Time: Why a Gaggle of Geezers Gathers Every Monday Morning to Solve the World's Problems, tells the stories of the coffee meet-up's 11 members. It features a foreword by former governor Jennifer Granholm, and it spans some of the most pivotal moments of the 20th Century.
“I thought these were interesting stories in their own light and also would shed light on many of the most exciting and difficult years in this country,” Haney said. “The Great Depression, the second World War, the Cold War…”
While they all live in Northern Oakland County today, the members of the coffee group experienced these events from a wide variety of perspectives.
Take Wally Niezguski for example. Born in Ferndale in 1943, his house was the first on the block to get a television. He later left the state, crisscrossing the hemisphere with stops in Alaska, Mexico and Texas, among others.
Eventually he moved back to Michigan so that his son could get to know his cousins and the place where his parents grew up. Today Niezguski runs a farm just half an hour from his Ferndale birthplace. But he’s glad the stories from his years of travels won’t be lost.
“I’m thrilled that I’ve gotten something on paper,” he told us. “Just for my family, if nothing else.”
The book, One Cup at a Time: Why a Gaggle of Geezers Gathers Every Monday Morning to Solve the World's Problems, will be launched on Oct. 19 at Deer Lake Athletic Club in Clarkston. Listen to our full interview with author Bill Haney and longtime coffee-drinker Wally Niezguski above.