Seventy years ago, they were just a group of neighborhood kids hanging out at Harrisburg’s Lakeview Pharmacy and dancing at the teen club.
Thirty years ago, they were usually married, sometimes with children, and had long since moved from Harrisburg.
But once a year, they’d gather for a reunion. They’d hire a band and hold a potluck and 100 or more would gather to celebrate years gone by.
Now, the group, with members in their 70s and 80s, meets once a month for lunch.
They call themselves “Our Old Gang.” Most were born in Harrisburg between 1938 and 1950. Over the years, they never lost touch.
On a Wednesday this fall, Our Old Gang gathered at the Kroc Center cafeteria to enjoy lunch near their old stomping grounds.
“It’s such a good group,” said Ruth Partain, 78, who was born and lived in a mill house on Pearl Avenue. “It was so nice going back. That’s right where our community center used to be. We called it the Y. The boys would play basketball. We put on a couple of stage shows there. We all have fond memories of Harrisburg. It was good growing up there. We didn’t have anything, but nobody did.”
From 20 to 30 members of Our Old Gang meet on second Wednesdays at a restaurant, cafeteria or dining hall around town. Sometimes they’ll talk about Harrisburg or the new Kroc Center, but mostly they catch up on life.
“We talk about everything. We solve all the world’s problems,” Mildred Ivey said with a laugh. The 79-year-old grew up on the corner of Battle Row and Metcalf Street.
“We’ve lost a lot (of members) the last few years. There aren’t as many of us as there once was,” Ivey said. “We all grew up together. It’s been like family. Everyone of us went through the original John Milledge School, to Tubman and Richmond Academy. We’ve always been close.”
Harrisburg, on the west end of downtown Augusta, is between 15th Street, Walton Way, Heard Avenue, Milledge Road and the Augusta Canal. The neighborhood, listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1990, was named for Ezekiel Harris. In the late 1790s, the tobacco merchant sold off portions of his land for residential development to satisfy debts. The area became known as the Village of Harrisburg.
Members today live in North Augusta, Evans, Martinez and Hephzibah.
“We all went our separate ways, bought houses, got married, had kids and moved away,” Partain said.
The yearly reunions started in 1983 or ’84. The group gathered – first downtown, then later at the Julian Smith Casino – on the Friday in April before Masters Week for at least 25 years.
“It’s the people. It’s the closeness,” Partain said. “That’s why everyone comes. We all grew up in poverty, but we didn’t know it. That wasn’t all life was about then. These are the people you grew up with. You decide you want to stick by them.”
Two or three years ago, the dances became too much of a hassle. So the group meets for lunch.
“We had a band. We had food. It was great,” Ivey said. “We all had a ball. Everyone misses it.”
But for now, the lunches do nicely.
“So few people these days stay in touch,” said Lois Byers, 79. She’s one of many members of the group better known, all these decades later, by their maiden name. Hers is McCann.
Byers grew up in the apartment above Lakeview Pharmacy. Her siblings, including her late brother Richard “Snag” McCann, who served as chief of the Richmond County Fire Department in the 1970s and ’80s, were all part of Our Old Gang.
“We all went,” Byers said. “I never missed one, because I think I’ve always known what a special thing this is. We all worked hard and did for one another. If you needed anything, someone was there to help you. Above all, we never lost touch.”