Los Altos resident Bill Palmer, right, displays his homemade replica of a vintage electric car for fellow Sons in Retirement member Milt Wehrman, center, and guest speaker Richard Lowenthal, left.
I infiltrated Branch 35 of Sons in Retirement (SIR) nearly 15 years ago. My clandestine status is yet to be discovered, and I intend to keep it that way.
I learned early on that SIR is dedicated to the interests and enjoyment of retired and semi-retired men, and it exists only in California. Branch 35, in the heart of Silicon Valley, is the largest SIR group, with approximately 400 members. Most members live in Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Sunnyvale.
Obvious right away is the camaraderie. Old friends encourage their pals or recently retired neighbors to join. While interests vary, members share a desire to keep abreast of the world around us. Both the pleasure of good company and an enthusiasm for staying current are evident at our monthly luncheon meetings at the IFES Hall in Mountain View.
The gatherings feature exceptional speakers on a wide range of subjects. Topics include sports (both professional and collegiate), health, Silicon Valley history and trends, political analyses, military and veterans affairs and extreme adventures (summer at the South Pole, for example). Speakers have run the gamut from an electric-vehicle enthusiast to sports reporters, a Benedictine monk, nonprofit CEOs and a best-selling author. Lively question-and-answer sessions follow each guest’s presentation.
The luncheons cost $19 per person (no tipping!). Members contribute $25 annually to defray operating expenses. Solicitations and volunteer requests on behalf of outside organizations are strictly prohibited – SIR exists solely to provide a host of social and activity opportunities for retired men.
Branch 35 is noted for its singing. New members quickly realize that “stretch songs” at monthly meetings are only the beginning. Our Trail Birds chorus, recruited from within the Mission Trail Branch, as Branch 35 is also known, includes a select group of men with strong voices who “serenade” guest speakers with parodies related to their topics.
Some speakers never recover from the experience – like Dave McElhatton, the late KPIX news anchor.
When McElhatton spoke at a SIR meeting years ago, he mentioned an old tune, “If I Had My Life to Live Over, I’d Live Over the Corner Saloon.” By coincidence, the song had been written years previously by the founder of the Trail Birds, Emmett Fitzpatrick, who had more than 200 songs to his credit. The Trail Birds promptly sang the melody, much to McElhatton’s amazement.
Special interests bring members together between meetings. Groups focus on computers, hiking, tennis, bowling, biking, travel and – most popular – golf, which more than 30 percent of SIR members play regularly. One member was recently overheard saying that the Branch is “the best golf club I’ve ever been in.”
All SIR activities are well organized and participation can be very rewarding. We even set up a free Book Swap at every luncheon so that members may readily share.
We encourage wives and other special guests to participate in the between-meeting activities and to attend our annual barbecue picnic in July and holiday party in December.
Men interested in joining Branch 35 need not wait to be invited to attend a luncheon meeting. New members are welcomed warmly, and always toasted in song by – you guessed it – the Trail Birds.
Bob Simon is a longtime Los Altos resident and member of SIR Branch 35.