The 16th century French writer François VI, Duc de La Rochefoucauld put it this way: “Old men delight in giving good advice as a consolation for the fact that they can no longer set bad examples.”
A group of older gentlemen who gather in Clayton on Friday mornings likely would agree with the writer's observation. They’re not only chocked full of knowledge, but they find joy in laughing at themselves. They actually have a sign: “Old Men Giving Advice. It’s Free.”
Founded almost four decades ago by Jeffrey Korn and Mark Rubin, a businessman and a lawyer, respectively, and the late Jimmie Manion, a real estate executive and Korean War fighter pilot, the group started meeting for coffee when Straub’s operated a restaurant on Forsyth in Clayton. They later moved to what was the Howard Johnson’s restaurant on Clayton Road. Jimmie was 90 when he passed away last year.
“On Monday through Thursday, we tell each other what to do,” quips Allan Silverberg, a 77-year-old current hospice worker and retired insurance and investment advisor.
Most of the group—currently numbering between six and 18 people on any given Friday—are retired professionals and businessmen, though there is still a working lawyer and a St. Louis policeman among them. Most still work for free in one way or another. Aside from dispensing free advice, the majority of them volunteer for their communities. And they are busy. Michael Hutchison, 73, is a good example. The retired journeyman master carpenter is a registered nurse. He works with two universities and a nursing school as a sample patient. And he plays the viola in two local symphony orchestras.
The group still meets in Clayton, but now on the front patio of Herbie’s restaurant on Maryland Avenue. Herbie’s isn’t even open in the morning, but owner Aaron Teitelbaum started letting them occupy his empty tables outside when COVID-19 surfaced. Before that, they gathered inside, across the street at City Coffee and Creperie. They still buy their coffee from owner Anne Gallardo, who they say is their unofficial “den mother.”
“We just have all this worthless knowledge and experience,” jokes retired electrical engineer, Howard Berger, 77. “I wanted to charge a nickel like Lucy on ‘The Peanuts Gang,’ but we didn’t want the liability.”
Retired truck leasing executive Mike Bush, 80, says the majority of their “clients” are women in their thirties “asking how to meet men. I ask them, ‘What do you like to do other than your job? Meet someone who does what you do and join them. There are groups for everything in St. Louis.’”
Almost without exception, the men in the group—most married for decades—said good marriages are made up of friends with common interests and values who are committed and respectful to each other and who never go to bed mad.
Still, women do seem to flock to Herbie’s patio. Jenna Knatt ran across the elder advisors one day last summer while out walking. Now the 41-year-old business development manager and several of her friends—all in the commercial design industry—meet with the advisors regularly on the first Friday of every month. “They're always smiling and happy. They bring good values back into our lives,” she says.
Businessman Alan Ludmer says he, too, has learned from his coffee-drinking counterparts, ironically by being silent. Alan is also a docent at the St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum, a career coach and tai chi teacher. “’He who knows need not speak. He who speaks does not know,’” he says, quoting the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu. “I learn a lot by listening.”