GIBSON CITY — After 55 years, the coffee and conversation have dried up at the Medicine Shoppe.
But it was good to the last drop.
The TNT — Tomorrow’s News Today — coffee club met for the last time just before Christmas.
“We’re all running out of gas,” said Doug Hager of himself and remaining members Elynor Stagen and Don Bathgate.
It started in 1959, when Dick Moody opened the Fashion Shop and took coffee breaks with merchant Ralph Schockey. They and Cornie's Shoe Store owner Loyal Cornelison would meet at the drugstore's soda fountain, eventually moving to the back room.
The 2005 membership roll included Moody, Schockey, Stagen, Bathgate, Steve Siemsen, Bill Dueringer, Lloyd Johnson and Dave Gill.
Siemsen had joined the group in 1971 when he moved to Gibson City and attended until he retired in 2008.
“It was a loose group,” Siemsen said. “We were all in business together.”
For years, the group met twice a day: 9 to 9:30 a.m. and 3 to 3:30 p.m. But Siemsen disputed that.
“There weren’t many times that I got back before quarter to 10,” he said, noting a lot of storytelling.
At some point, meetings dropped to once a day. About a year ago, Hager, Stagen and Bathgate cut it to Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
“I’m 88 years old and I’ve been the most consistent,” said Hager, who joined around the time he sold his lumberyard.
Of the three members, he was the only one to attend the final meeting. He was joined by "auxiliary member" Susie Dueringer, whose husband was member Bill Dueringer.
She sometimes had attended the Saturday meeting. “I was working during the week and I don’t drink coffee,” she said. “I’m not from Gibson City, but I’ve learned a lot.”
The drugstore staff usually started the pot so coffee was ready by 9 a.m. Hager made the final pot.
“(Early members) didn’t like the water here, so David Gill brought it in,” said Hager, picking up one of the gallon jugs that lined the counter outside the meeting room. The responsibility fell to Hager after Gill died.
“The first thing you do is put a quarter in,” Hager said, pointing to a decades-old sign that said coffee was 25 cents and Pepsi was 35 cents. He smiled as he dropped the last quarter in the jar.
The small room was decorated with signs, photos and U.S. and world maps Bathgate brought in years ago to “clarify points of discussion.”
The décor also included a framed article written about the group in 2005 and obituaries of former members.
"I keep thinking I’m the only one left that’s not on the wall,” Siemsen said.
An M&M clock had a prominent spot, an addition from member Rodney Brayshaw's daughter, Beth Mills, who once worked for the company.
"The clock was for my dad since he was always late coming back up to the front from coffee," said daughter Patricia Fellner.
Brayshaw was a member from the time he bought the store in 1973. After he died, Fellner put a framed photo of her father over his usual seat.
As members changed over the years, conversation remained the same.
“We had a lot of fun and serious discussion, some political and some religious,” Hager said.
Sports was a hot topic: Hager is a Cubs fan and Bathgate a Sox fan. Still, they all attended a White Sox game once a year.
They all agreed on the Illini. “Most of us had our own tickets,” Hager said.
He maintained the group didn't gossip but Susie Dueringer disagreed.
“A little gossip went on,” Siemsen said. “Schockey would get us in trouble.”
A magazine rack blocked the public's view into the back room but “(Schockey's) voice would carry and you couldn’t see who was on the other side,” Siemsen said.
There was a lot of good-natured joking, too.
Dueringer had an “encyclopedic memory” and could come up with “names and dates no matter what the subject,” Hager said, but was often on the receiving end of joke.
“He spent a lot of time in Kiddingville and he took it,” Hager said.
Still, no one ever got upset about the banter.
“You better be pleasant in this small area,” Hager said.