Tallmadge -- Two years ago, a few men who met while working out at the Tallmadge Recreation Center became friends over coffee.
Slowly over the weeks, months and years, their friendly debates about politics and discussions of current events in the Rec's concessions area attracted more and more men. Today, the group that has given itself the name "Rec-A-Peers" has 26 members and wants to grow.
"We started talking about everything from politics to sports to likes and dislikes and started developing some friendships," said Tim Dimoff, a retired Akron Police narcotics detective who describes himself as one of the group's founders. He now owns the security firm SACS Consulting and Investigative Services Inc.
The members of the group vary in age from 49 to 83, in profession from painter to retail store owner to retired educator, and in city of residence from Tallmadge to Mogadore.
"You've got retired guys, and you've got non-retired guys. You've got different backgrounds," said Dimoff, 59, of Tallmadge.
"It's amazing to see the group gel so well, and it just shows it doesn't really matter what background you come from, what education or what level of work," he added. "If you've got some real basic, true, down-to-earth, kind of human characteristics in you, you can form some very unique friendships in spite of the diversity."
The group's purposes are to foster the friendships the members have created and to have fun when they're together.
As the group became bigger, the members decided to informally organize in a tongue-in-cheek way, complete with the Rec-A-Peers name [short for "Recreation of Peers"], logo, Board of Directors, mission statement, appointments to posts and member rules.
"It's not a serious mission statement. It's more like, 'You're entitled to your useless opinion' -- stuff like that where the guys are joking," Dimoff said. "We're a secret society without any secrets."
Each member also has lightheartedly accepted a nickname. Dimoff, referred to as the "Kahuna," is the head of the group.
Dick Harden, retired superintendent of the Tallmadge City School District, is the oldest member. As an early joiner, he found that many of the members close to his age were retired and lived in Tallmadge.
"We share some of the same kinds of problems, and we discuss these problems as they come up. It's an outlet, I suppose, for us," he said.
New members must belong to the Rec Center and pay a one-time, $25 lifetime membership fee, which buys them a Rec-A-Peers membership.
The group meets for coffee at the Rec every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning after exercising.
"We laugh and joke and banter ... It's developed into a very friendly, kind of unique, human-natured type of group," Dimoff said.
Once a quarter the group meets for a breakfast meeting at various restaurants in the area. During the breakfasts, Dimoff sometimes will give a presentation about a topic that is of interest to members, but often the activity turns back to joking among members.
"If someone got lost one day, and they didn't know where they were, and we found out they got lost, we might create an award called 'Where the Hell Am I?,'" he gave as an example.
About 10 of the members, including skilled Black Jack player and early member John Garcia, 83, of Tallmadge, who bears the nickname "Black Jack John," occasionally travel to Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort in West Virginia to gamble. Another favorite activity is going to automobile cruise-ins during warmer weather.
Dimoff said it's nice to belong to a group whose members interact face-to-face, which is becoming less common because of technology.
"The uniqueness of it is in today's modern day and age of electronics, you don't see a lot of down-to-earth people getting together and forming groups and interacting personally," he said.
"I think it's sort of a throw back to the way things used to be and how you made friendships. We've taken that old way of making friendships, and we've incorporated modern technology," Dimoff added, explaining the group communicates in between gatherings over coffee and breakfast meetings via cell phones and email.
"We've found out the value and the strength is in the friendships, in the personal contact with each other -- the badgering, doing a few things together -- and not totally focused on just the electronic connection. I think that's what's refreshing about this group," he said.
And even though the group has an easygoing nature, he said members tend to take on more serious topics when conversation turns to political debating and supporting members who are going through challenging times. If a member is in the hospital, the group signs a get-well card to show its support and calls the member at home once released.
"We exchange serious stuff. We debate politics seriously," Dimoff said. "At the end of the day, we're friends.
Within the next couple of years, Dimoff said he'd like to see another 10 or so people join to add even more diversity. He envisions the group coming together to enjoy other activities, such as an annual event to include significant others or attending a professional baseball game.
"A lot of the spouses are really happy the guys have this group but are kind of curious who all the other guys are because they hear us talk about 'Black Jack John' or 'Turtle' or 'Train Frank,'" he said.
Sixty-four-year old Tallmadge resident Jim Zenar, a retiree of the St. Gobain Corp., has the nickname of 'Turtle,' and 'Train Frank' is 83-year-old Akron resident Frank Madlock.
For more information about Rec-A-Peers and how to join, call Dimoff at 330-730-3524 or email at TADIMOFF@aol.com.
Contact this reporter at 330-541-9428 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Facebook: Holly Schoenstein, Record Publishing Co.