Coffee and camaraderie
Veterans meet every Wednesday for St. Charles Coffee Talk to form bonds and share veteran-related information
By Brett Auten
Chocolate and peanut butter. Batman and Robin. Mashed potatoes and gravy.
Some combinations are just made for each other.
Go ahead and add coffee and camaraderie to that list.
Every Wednesday morning veterans from all branches of the service meet for St. Charles Coffee Talk. January will mark the second anniversary of the get-togethers. The meetings take place weekly at 9 a.m. at Grace Baptist Church, located at 3601 Ehlmann Road in St. Charles.
But the meetings are more than just an occasion to chew the fat over coffee, doughnuts, and biscuits. There are applications for VA health care, applications for the Honor Flight, reports from local American Legion and VFW Halls, and talks about current events and events from the past.
Mark Palermo is the mastermind behind St. Charles Coffee Talk. Palermo, 70, from O’Fallon, served in the United States Army and is a Vietnam veteran.
Palermo was inspired to start up the meetings after a few softball friends introduced him to a similar club in Troy.
“I had been going to Troy for a year or more before it came to me that we should get one started in St. Charles,” he said.
The agenda for most St. Charles Coffee Talks begins with the playing of the national anthem followed by a moment of silence. After any birthday or new member acknowledgments, Palermo – who is a volunteer at Veteran’s Affairs in O’Fallon and has access to all sorts of information – dives into the week’s news and military development and updates.
“And then I like to end things with a few clean jokes,” Palermo said. “You always want to leave them laughing.”
Even though its first-ever meeting was canceled due to snow, a steady pack of regulars shows up every week. It is a grassroots product as new members are gained through church bulletins, word of mouth or Palermo spotting someone wearing a piece of clothing or a hat that is veteran related. Week-in and week-out attendance reach the mid-to-upper 20s.
Steve Hendricks, 69, of St. Charles is an Air Force veteran who did tours in Japan, Vietnam and Korea. The Philadelphia native moved to the region after the service to work for McDonald Douglass and credits his time in the Air Force for giving him a sense of direction.
Hendricks gets a kick out of the meetings and finds a purpose in recruiting new members.
“The more vets we can reach, the better,” he said. “I’m seeking out all the veterans that I can. It gives you a sense of purpose. That and the social aspect is what it is all about.”
Gaylord Daleen, 71, of St. Charles is a Navy veteran who made three deployments to Vietnam. He has been a Coffee Talk regular since its inception.
“It gives me something to look forward to,” Daleen said. “We may not have served with each other, I was out at sea and they were in the middle of the mud, but we all shared the same experience.”
Daleen has seen the networking aspect of the gatherings help many.
“If someone has a problem and we can’t help, we likely know a guy who can take care of it or will have an answer,” he said. “You always get something out of it, if anything it is the free doughnuts.”
CUTLINE: Photos by Ray Rockwell Every Wednesday morning veterans from all branches of the service meet for St. Charles Coffee Talk at 9 a.m. at Grace Baptist Church, located at 3601 Ehlmann Road in St. Charles.