MALONE — While recuperating from back surgery 25 years ago, Willard Henry started a tradition that continues today.
Henry and his wife, Joanne, lived on Edward Street in Malone in 1988 and walked the sidewalks near his home to help with his recuperation.
Early one morning, he passed by Sansone’s Restaurant on Main Street, just around the corner from his home, and owner Frank Sansone invited him in for coffee.
“That was the beginning of something that has grown into an open club of sorts,” said Henry, 79. “We can have anywhere from four or five to 15 men here on any given morning.”
Henry and Sansone attended the local high school together, Franklin Academy, and know a lot of the same people. Their morning coffee routine began to spread by word of mouth.
However, coffee isn’t the only interest they share with the men who stop by.
“We talk about everything, old news, new news, even politics,” said Sansone, 81. “Politics can be an interesting topic. We’re all pretty much conservatives, probably because of our age. None of us like the way it (the country) is going, but we can’t change it, so we just go with the flow and complain.”
“It may be the glue that holds us all together,” added Henry. “Plus free coffee.”
The group begins to assemble about 7 a.m. every day except Christmas, entering by the garage door at the back of the restaurant.
They help themselves to coffee while passing through the kitchen to the dining room to find out who is in attendance.
Some mornings, the street beside the restaurant is lined up from one end to the other with cars. Henry and Sansone have joked about running a bus for pickup if many more men join the group.
“We have doctors, old farmers, state workers, some unemployed men, retirees and guys who are still working,” said Sansone, whose family started the restaurant more than 50 years ago.
“We pick on each other, we have a few good laughs, and most are out of here by 8. It’s nice to belong to something these days.”
Henry, who worked at the St. Lawrence Seaway for 30 years, retired 27 years ago. He said the walking helped with his back problems, and he still enjoys the early morning get-togethers as much as when they started.
“All are welcome,” Henry said. “You never know when you’re going to meet a long-lost friend coming in the door. It’s a great start to the day.”
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