Superstition leads many people to minimize or even avoid encounters on Friday the 13th, particularly those suffering from triskaidekaphobia or fear of the number 13; however, an organization formed in Columbia in 1984 actually schedules gatherings intentionally around this date. The Friday the 13th Club meets quarterly on Friday the 13th — or as close as possible — for no other reason than to chat, laugh, and catch up on life.
“It’s just a wonderful group of people from across a spectrum of interests and professions,” says Jim Cantey, a real estate developer. “It serves no purpose other than a chance for people who enjoy each other to get together. It’s about relationships.”
The group was founded when the late T. Benton Young, Jr. decided one spring day 33 years ago to invite 10 friends to lunch at Columbia’s Radisson Hotel. The day happened to fall on a Friday the 13th, considered unlucky by superstitious folks. In recording the club’s history, the South Carolina author and poet wrote, “I thought this occasion would boost my spirits, which were then low. It did.”
Nine came. Absent was Sen. James Waddell, Jr. of Beaufort, who declined because of commitments at home. However, he conveyed to Benton a message to share with the rest of the group: “Friday the 13th can be a lucky day if one makes it so,” he said, “though it is generally thought to be unlucky.”
The luncheon was a success, with Benton sharing in a written history: “The spirit of the occasion was quite convivial. I brought several items of interest to show and to demonstrate to my guests, among which was a turkey caller, handmade by my old friend Poet Laureate Archibald Rutledge, who had been an ardent turkey hunter for many years. Dr. Archie had given the turkey caller to me when I went to visit him at his Hampton Plantation on April 6, 1966. On one side he inscribed it from him to me. It is now displayed at the S.C. State Museum with other items from Dr. Rutledge.”
The group decided to make the luncheon a regular affair, and the rest is history.
Although club founder T. Benton Young, Jr. and others have passed, a vivacious assemblage carries on the luncheon tradition, now at The Palmetto Club, with the group having no agenda. “We introduce guests if there are any,” Jim says. “Rusty DePass (club president) does an excellent job of giving updates on people who cannot attend and keeping us on track. We just laugh and spend time talking about thus and such.”
Even though –– as Jim points out –– the group is not about formality, business, or service, members volunteer for a few leadership positions to keep the group somewhat organized. Dianne Chinnes, retired president and CEO of Junior Achievement of Central South Carolina, served on various boards with several people who eventually became members of the club at her invitation. A member since 2000, she explains that the members who are willing to take leadership roles keep the luncheons going.
“Volunteers are the lifeblood of the Friday the 13th Club. Rusty, a real estate professional, sends meeting notices, reserves the room at The Palmetto Club, creates an annual membership list, and other tasks,” Dianne says. “Sylvia Johnson serves as treasurer. If Jack Hupp is in town, he always brings lots of door prizes. They serve the club above and beyond.”
The luncheon’s flow typically looks like this: Members arrive and some grab a glass of wine. All stand around chatting for a while. Then someone says a blessing, lunch is served, and updates are announced, and usually a few jokes are swapped. Luncheons last an hour or so.
Membership was originally based on those whom Benton personally invited. Since his passing, guests are invited occasionally to the luncheon and, if they become interested in joining at a later date, members discuss and vote. However, current membership is capped at 60, so no slots are available at this time. The $60 annual dues pay for wine and clerical supplies.
Jim says, “I got involved because Dianne told me to get involved, and I said, ‘Yes, Ma’am.’ She’s so enthusiastic and told me how unique it was. I knew a few people and decided to become a member three years ago. I’m relatively a neophyte compared to some.”
Joe Pinner, on the other hand, is one of the original members invited by Benton. A local television personality at WIS TV for many years and the self-prescribed “Don Quixote of TV,” Joe joined with Peggy, his wife. He counts current and past members as closest friends. “The membership list over the years has been most impressive in my opinion, which of course I highly value!”
Rep. Joe Wilson also began lunching with the group at Benton’s invitation. He says he has a life-long appreciation of Benton, having “enjoyed participation in the club for the fellowship of other citizens across the Midlands.”
Mixed Bag of Personalities
Each member brings something to the luncheon table, so to speak. Jim and Dianne agree that Joe and Rusty are the club clowns, bringing laughter and sunshine to every meeting. “It’s an eclectic group,” attests Dianne.
Jim agrees. “Joe has so much energy when he talks,” he says. “And if there’s a chance it’s going to snow, well, we tease him because he is so excited.” He also shares that Al Walker, another “celebrity” member, is always getting up and saying something he finds interesting. “I just sit in the corner, try to soak it all in, and enjoy the experience,” he says.
Rusty quips, “And then there are those people that you would never suspect who drink that awful, sweet zinfandel wine. I pick out a chardonnay, pinot grigio, and pinot noir for each luncheon, but I always have to get a bottle of white zinfandel, too, and it’s for these tough ol’ guys who were involved in World War II.”
Joe Pinner says he looks forward to the “mostly bad, but on occasion very amusing jokes and stories.” It is the lightheartedness of the group that brings Joe back time and again. “The club is pure fellowship made up of a unique massing of souls of all colors and creeds who truly like each other, who have entertained each other in various, clever, informative ways while not fearing the number 13, but grasping it and feeling quite lucky,” he says.
All in all, members attest to camaraderie with one another. Dianne says she is confident she could call any member in the middle of the night for an extreme emergency and count on him or her being there.
“Over the years we have shared in the joys and sadness,” says Joe Pinner. “We have experienced the passing of so many. It’s the downside of aging, although the remaining memories make for warm stories.”
All members are especially thankful to Benton for initiating such a club. Joe says that during each luncheon, a toast is raised for the founder. “He was a one-of-a-kind gentleman.”
Dianne maintains that the club helps keep people connected. “If it weren’t for the four meetings a year, I’d probably rarely –– if ever –– see the majority of these people whose company I truly enjoy. It’s a fact of life that as we move into retirement and away from the social aspects work provides us, we sometimes find other ways to be busy and fewer opportunities to meet with the people we cherish.”
In his history of the club, Benton said, “Our purpose continues to be a social group … to lift each other’s spirits and, for the brief time we are together, to forget all our troubles and woes.”