Amid pandemic, friends adapt for coffee, friendship

Kayla Renie/The Herald
Lifelong friends Bill Small of Ireland, bottom left, Charlie Uebelhor, Charlie Brittingham, Steve Heidorn, Dennis Sermersheim, Sam Voelkel and Rich Sermersheim, all of Jasper, chat over coffee in the Walmart parking lot in Jasper on Thursday. The group has been getting breakfast together at McDonald's regularly the last five years as a way to catch up and to discuss topics, such as religion, politics and current events. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they stopped meeting inside the restaurant and instead opted to bring lawn chairs and chat in the nearby Walmart parking lot.


JASPER — There’s a meeting of the minds three mornings a week in the Walmart parking lot in Jasper.

Friends who’ve known each other for years gather in the shade of a tree in the back of the parking lot — McDonald’s coffees in hand — to catch up, discuss current events and enjoy each other’s company on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

“We solve everything here in the morning,” said Charlie Uebelhor, one of the eight Jasper-area friends that showed up Thursday morning.

The group used to gather in the dining room of McDonald’s, but COVID-19 closed the dining area a few months ago. Determined not to lose their time together, the men transitioned to a socially distanced gathering in the Walmart parking lot in the shade of a tree. The dining room at McDonald’s is open again, but the men have grown accustomed to sitting under their tree. They’ve agreed that as long as the weather is nice, they’ll meet outside.

The group, which has been gathering for about five years, came together organically over time. Some of the men have known each other since high school. Two — Rich and Dennis Sermersheim — are father and son, respectively. Others joined the group in the last few years.

“The first time they asked me to sit with them [at McDonald’s] I didn’t know any of these guys,” said Bill Small of Ireland.

It’s a congenial gathering filled with teasing and discussion on current events. Although the men have their differences of opinion, no topic is off limits, and the conversation stays light-hearted. Thursday morning, Dennis teased Small about teaching his granddaughter, Emma Small, to play basketball. Bill was a basketball star on the Ireland Spuds in high school. Now, Dennis said, Bill has to pull out a ladder every time he or Emma makes a basket on the backyard basketball hoop because the ball gets stuck in the net.

“That’s true,” Bill said, with a smile.

Dennis got teased a bit, too. The only democrat of the group, he had to pay Uebelhor $100 back in 2016 when Donald Trump won the presidential election. The two had a bet on who would win — Trump or Hillary Clinton.

The men stuck around talking for about an hour, then moved on with their days. Some headed off to work, others headed home to enjoy retirement. But they’ll all be back Saturday for another morning of coffee, breakfast and friendship.

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