Friendship gathering open to everyone

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Howie Morton, Mike Dorner and Ray O’Phee raise a toast to the upcoming Friends of Chatham Gathering to be held at the KBD Club on Byng Avenue March 11. The event is held to bring old and new friends together and raise funds for the Chatham-Kent Hospice.

By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A trio of childhood friends in Chatham are three amigos on a mission.

Now, for the fourth time, Mike Dorner, Ray O’Phee and Howie Morton are putting together a Friends of Chatham Gathering to raise funds for the Chatham-Kent Hospice.

The free event on March 11 at the KBD Club on Byng Avenue will feature the South Wind Buoys, open mic sessions, a host of door prizes, food and tons of camaraderie.

In lieu of a cover charge, goodwill donations are being collected for hospice with any such donations over $20 offering a chance to win some of the prizes.

The March event is the first that’s been held since the COVID-19 pandemic shut things down in 2020.

“I’m thinking this one’s going to be extraordinary,” Morton said, as the three held a recent organizing meeting.

The Friends of Chatham Gathering is all about the party, but the reason behind the event is serious.

Retirees Morton, Dorner and O’Phee kept meeting at the wakes and funerals of friends repeatedly, which brought them to the realization it was high time to celebrate together while they are alive.

The idea came to be when they met at the funeral of mutual friend Brent Preston a few years ago. Glad to see each other, the trio felt it might be better to get together in-person in the now, rather than meeting with everyone after someone died.

Since then, the idea has caught fire, bringing folks back to Chatham from as far away as Saskatchewan.

All three say it’s been a good decision.

“We all grew up together,” Morton said. “It’s so good to see people you’ve known from as far back as grade school.”

The trio was worried the first gathering was going to be a flop. Nobody arrived at the noon-hour start but a short time later the KBD Club was packed to capacity.

“It was nerve-wracking because nobody showed up until later and then all of a sudden you couldn’t move,” Dorner said.

Something the organizers didn’t bargain for was the need for nametags.

“We have to wear nametags,” Dorner explained, “because we haven’t seen each other for 40 years.”

“It’s tough to recognize people,” O’Phee added. “I’ll have people come up to me and have a full conversation and I haven’t got clue who they are!

“So, we encourage the nametag thing. Plus, if you’re new to Chatham and you don’t have any friends yet, come on out and make some. At this gathering, there are no enemies allowed.”

According to Dorner, some local residents on palliative care have been able attend the party and it turned out to be a special experience for them.

“We were told by one fellow’s son that it meant the world to him to be able to come,” Dorner said.

The Friends of Chatham Gathering will begin at noon, with no cut off time planned. A special moment of silence to show respect for those who have passed on will be held at 4 p.m.

If interested in finding out more about the event, contact the KBD Club at 519-354-5603.

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