Friends revive Ben Franklin’s improvement club

May 4 2013 - 10:17pm

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Of all the cool stuff Benjamin Franklin gave us -- bifocals, tacit permission to fly kites in a thunderstorm, a kick-butt chain of craft stores -- this one just might be the coolest.

The Junto.

In 1727, Franklin established a mutual improvement club he called the Junto -- a small group of friends who met on Friday evenings to discuss politics, philosophy, morals, business and other topics. Two-hundred eighty-six years later, a group of seven men from the Top of Utah are following in Franklin's footsteps, meeting every other month in their own version of the Junto.

"It's like a book club, but for guys," explains founder Jeremy Heiner, of Layton.

Last Thursday, on a night when a lot of guys were watching the NBA playoffs, five members of this local Junto met in Bill Keffeler's Layton home to, as they describe it, "gather, think and be inspired."

In addition to Heiner and next-door-neighbor Keffeler, those in attendance included John Loveland, of Ogden; Colt Cooper, of South Weber; and Trevor Price, of Harrisville. The two other members of the group, Jason Kakazu, of Clinton, and Tyler Thompson, of Layton, were unable to make the meeting.

Heiner first learned about the Junto when he read Franklin's autobiography.

"It really made me want to do the same thing," he says.

Heiner organized his first Junto back in 1998, but it just didn't take. He admits "not everybody was excited to discuss things at the time."

The thinking among the group is that back then, as younger men, perhaps they thought they already had all the answers. These days, they say they have a lot more questions than answers.

"And we have more life experience now," Cooper added.

Their latest incarnation of the Junto started last October and has now met four times. Discussions have included everything from the down-to-earth practical to serious navel-gazing exercises. Thursday's meeting was an excellent example: One presentation was on quantum mechanics, another on free will, another on photographers' rights and a fourth on 3-D printing. Past discussion topics have included entropy, liberty, Pagan Christianity, rock climbing, the mind-body duality and a book report on "1491."

The group begins and ends each meeting with a quote from Franklin -- fortunately, the old geezer left a wealth of wise, witty and wonderful quotes, like the one they started with on Thursday: "Wish not so much to live long, as to live well."

Heiner says the appeal of the Junto is that it's fun to learn new things.

"It's like listening to a college professor, like sitting at the feet of a wise professor," he said. "That's exciting, because we don't get to do that anymore."

Asked why they don't meet to discuss the usual guy fare of sports, Cooper references an Eleanor Roosevelt quote: "Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people."

"Football is an event," Cooper concludes.

"To me, it's like exploration," Keffeler said of the Junto. "It's like being an explorer. You explore ideas."

Thursday's meeting concluded with another Franklin quote: "Great beauty, great strength and great riches are really and truly of no great use; a right heart exceeds all."

These five men didn't solve any of the world's problems that night, but they did walk away with a little more knowledge in their heads, a little more understanding in their hearts. And while it may be true that they didn't have any more answers than when they started, they certainly had plenty more questions to ponder.

Ol' Ben would've been proud.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, msaal@standard.net or follow him on Twitter @Saalman.

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