After 45 years, it can be said that the Columbus Snowbirds have come full circle.
It was on a winter day in 1968 in warm Bradenton, Fla., that a small group of past and present Columbus residents were invited to a get-together at Reba Rust’s mobile home.
Reba, who had retired to Bradenton with her husband, Dale, years after he had sold his interest in Rust Monument Works in 1963, had discovered several other former Columbus residents had chosen to live in Florida after retiring. She also knew others who “wintered” in Florida, returning to Columbus when the temperatures climbed back to warm.
There’s no record of how many crowded into Reba’s mobile home that first year, but it was enough to warrant a second reunion a year later. The event’s been ongoing ever since.
It’s been conducted at several locales over the years. It moved from Bradenton after Reba returned to Columbus following the death of her husband in 1979. One of the most popular locales was Venice, home to several Columbus Snowbirds.
Part of the coming full circle aspect of the reunion is that Wednesday’s event was in Bradenton. That was only one segment of the circle. The hostess for this year’s event was Mary Brockman Bender.
Before the Rusts moved to Florida, their place of business — Rust Monument Works — was directly across the street from Garland Brook Cemetery, obviously the final resting place for many of their monuments. One of the founding fathers of the cemetery was William Brockman, who also served as its superintendent for several years. Later his son, William Thomas Brockman, stepped into that role. The elder Brockman was Mary Bender’s grandfather, the younger was her father.
What Reba started, many others continued. For many years it was staged in Venice by Hobart and Winnie Nicholson. Hobart was a former circulation director at what was then called The Columbus Evening Republican. Eventually they passed the role on to their son, Bob, and his wife, Shirley.
Attendance was all over the board throughout its history. One memorable get-together drew 180 people with various ties to Columbus. This year’s crowd was around 50, according to Mary, but that was due in large part to the fact that no notices were mailed out in advance.
There have been times when some of the organizers became discouraged with sub-par turnouts, and there was even a discussion to call it quits back in 1995.
“We were down to 98 members and only had $98 in the treasury,” Bob Nicholson recalled years later. “We decided to make an extra effort. We sent out press releases, developed a mailing list and sent reminders to people who had been to past reunions. We had 115 show up for the next meeting.”
The crowds have been smaller in recent years, but turnarounds like that engineered in 1995 demonstrate there can be an upside in cycles.
The group at this year’s reunion has already begun planning next year’s reunion — Feb 19, 2014, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Duff’s Diner in
Mary will be coordinating the event and can be reached by phone at 914-722-9889.
Who knows? Maybe this is the start of another circle.
Harry McCawley is associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached by phone at 379-5620 or email at email@example.com.