News Report Staff

It all started in 1982 with a simple note in a church bulletin.

Two ladies at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church – Cathy Polarek and Kay Adams – noticed they were married on the same day – June 22, 1957 – and were both celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary.

They decided the two couples should go out for dinner. Little did they know that would be the beginning of a special group of couples all married on June 22.

It was the birth of the 22 Club.

“We saw photos in the paper of other couples married on June 22,” Kay recalled. “Their weddings were in different years and different places, but all on June 22.”

“So we just kept adding new members,” Cathy added.

Last Thursday marked the 35th anniversary of this group that now includes six couples – Ken and Cathy Polarek; Joe and Kay Adams; Dale and Peg Fitzpatrick; Barb Tegenkamp; Frank and Anne Kabbes; and Shirley Richardson.

They didn’t all know each other initially, but have become close friends. They have celebrated joyous occasions and offered support during the saddest moments. Three of the original members – Frank Schneiderjon, Tony Tegenkamp and Stan Richardson – have passed away.

But this group was ready to party – or at least eat breakfast – last Thursday morning. Jokes were flying and stories – undoubtedly embellished through the years – were being told.

Thankfully, Father Chris Brey was also there and managed to maintain some semblance of order – at least for a while. He admitted he was unable to come up with any potential sermon topics, but said he did hear a few things he “would never be able to preach about.”

It was obvious from the first moment this group felt comfortable together. A common thread of a wedding date had brought good people together and they thoroughly enjoy each other’s company.

What started as an anniversary breakfast has grown through the years. They also get together on Valentine’s Day and have taken numerous trips together – the Fox Theater in St. Louis; a boat cruise on the Illinois River; wine tour in Southern Illinois; St. Charles, Missouri; and Chicago.

Will they take even more trips in the future?

“We like each other, but not that well,” said Dale, followed by a table full of laughs.

It didn’t take long before memories were shared.

On the trip to Chicago, Tony Tegenkamp was having a problem with his shoes. Frank ended up loaning him a pair “and I didn’t get them back until we got back to Neoga.”

Ken said Tony was the best storyteller of the group.

The group also remembers going to a place in St. Louis that required a suit and tie. Stan Richardson forgot his tie and had to purchase one.

“He had to pay $25 for that tie,” Cathy remembered. “He didn’t like having to spend that much money. He never wore that tie again.”

On that same trip, Stan’s wife, Shirley, was in an elevator when the electricity went out. As it turns out, Shirley is claustrophobic and didn’t handle that particular situation very well.

“I believe she went bananas,” Joe noted. Unfortunately, Shirley was unable to attend the anniversary breakfast this year and couldn’t defend herself.

On the wine tour trip to Southern Illinois, Dale thought he saw Mark Twain at Starved Rock.

“Maybe he came back to life just for our group,” Dale said. Maybe – just maybe – Dale had a few too many samples during the wine tour.

This is an amazing group. Combined, they have been married more than 350 years, ranging from 29 to 60 years. The Adams’ and Polarek’s were both celebrating their 60th anniversary on Thursday. Altogether, the couples have 26 children, 65 great-grandchildren and 24 great-great-grandkids. They all attend St. Anthony Church and all but one of their children graduated from St. Anthony High School.

They range in age from their late 60s to 84 years old. They all made sure to note that Frank was the oldest. And their careers were quite varied – registered nurse, teachers, engineers, a banker and stay-at-home moms.

It didn’t take long to realize that Joe is the main jokester. He says he’s the Rodney Dangerfield of the group.

So when talking about careers, he couldn’t resist at having at little fun at Dale’s expense. Dale was a city engineer and helped develop several streets in town.

“Dale is the engineer of crooked roads,” Joe was quick to point out. “There’s not a street in Effingham that he designed that was straight.”

That’s when you knew just how tight this group is. Joking back and forth, light-hearted banter and having a good time. It was fun for this reporter to be a part of that, even for just one short hour.

It was a special day for each one. It started with an 8:30 a.m. Mass at St. Anthony. Father Chris even offered a special blessing for the group.

And he wasn’t the only one. As if turns out, Dale and Peg’s daughter, Sister Sheila Marie, OSB, was in Canaan in the Holy Land on that day. She, too, offered a special blessing for the couples.

“We always look forward to this day,” Anne admitted. “I wouldn’t miss this for anything.”

“We owe a lot to Kay and Cathy,” Barb quickly added. “They are responsible for keeping all this going.”

And the tradition has continued within the families. Joe and Kay’s son, Greg (Janis), plus Anne’s daughter, Cindy (Jeff) Windau, were also married on June 22. In fact, next year both couples will celebrate their 22nd wedding anniversary on June 22.

“Our group celebrates marriage during a time when that doesn’t happen a lot,” Ken said. “And we encourage younger people to celebrate their marriages as well.”