OGDEN — There’s never a dull moment when one listens to a group of grandpas who gather in the mornings in the dining area of the old Wangsgards store, at 120 N. Washington Blvd., across the street from the new Wangsgards store that took over from Harmons.
The constant fun is probably because the men who are clinging to their old ways even with change happening all around them have decades of experiences on which to draw.
Sitting in a building that is closed down except for the old diner and an Ace Hardware department as it transforms into a new Ridley’s store, the handful of elderly men share stories of bad luck and good luck and lots of jokes in between. They are just one of a few groups that convene there on various days and at set times.
The funny moment Friday, Nov. 13, came when Ed Lubereski of Ogden, who is bald, took a woman’s wig to wear because he knew a Standard-Examiner photographer and reporter were there.
“Edwina is what we’ll call you,” said Wayne Petranovich of Ogden, a fellow diner patron, as he snapped Lubereski’s photo.
And Lubereski explained that he’s quite comfortable in a woman’s wig.
“When I was in Germany in the service, our squadron used to put on all kinds of acts,” he said. “One day, we were coming out of the restroom and a guy thought he was going into the wrong one because he thought a bunch of women were leaving.”
But Ralph Stagge of Ogden, the oldest at 90, joked about Lubereski’s bald head being reminiscent of other well-known older men.
“He’s going to be the next pope,” he said. “He got beat out last time.”
Larry Chantland, of Marriott-Slaterville, brought along a metal detector.
“His wife uses that when he’s down in the basement to make sure he’s there,” said Lubereski, pointing to the metal detector and Chantland.
The group also jokes about being old.
Stagge said before a waitress recently retired, they reminded her about the 25 or so men, many now dead, who had been there to drink her coffee regularly.
The group members also said there have been times when they heard rumors about people dying and then the person has shown up in the diner, apparently resurrected.
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But Tom Johnson of Ogden, the youngest at 73, said the discussions can be as serious as they are comical at times.
“We solve the problems of the world every day,” he said.
Clark Rose of North Ogden pointed to such dining groups as a way of life. Preparing to move to St. George for the winter, he said he joins some other groups while he is there.
“They have these little groups of old men all the way up and down the Wasatch Front,” he said. “But they change because some of them die.”
He said in a group in St. George, one time three of them died in a week.
But those elderly men who gather don’t seem to let any thoughts of death shatter their spirits.
The men can tell much of the history of the Wangsgards store by their recollection of their morning rituals over time.
Their first store memory was the version of Wangsgards and Bakery that opened in 1959 across the street, they said. Then, they migrated to the diner’s current location after it was bought out by a man who started at Wangsgards as a bag boy, they said.
Now, Wangsgards has gone back across the street as they stay behind to converse.
Arriving later, Dennis Spires of North Ogden was told by the group in a joking way that the prayer and the opening talk had already been given.
Spires said he remembers sitting in the diner on Sept. 11, 2001 when his phone rang twice as relatives told him about the two planes that flew into the World Trade Center towers.
He said Ralph Kunz — who he referred to as the unofficial mayor of Second Street because he owned a gas station there and knew everyone — made an announcement about the world-changing nature of the moment.
“Boys, you better get your uniforms on,” he remembers him saying. “We’re going to war.”
Spires said: “I never thought I’d see time stop, but it did that day.”
But then Spires also reflected on time marching forward.
“There have been quite a lot of stories gone through this place, I tell you,” Spires said.
“Most of them were the truth too,” Johnson said.
And it’s not just the old men who can’t seem to leave the old diner.
Delaine Burton, who everyone calls Dee, has been a cook there for 37 years.
“I just like the customers,” she said. “This is the only place I have ever worked.”
Even though she’s 65, Burton said the thought of retiring doesn’t sit well with her. She said the customers all like her and they tell her how much they like her cooking.
“They would all feel bad if I quit,” she said. “I would miss them so much. I could come in and visit but it wouldn’t be the same.”