This the story of a birthday party that grew for 44 years! As a young member of the Oakland Athletic Club playing handball, exercising and meeting local business professionals, I had a locker-mate whose name was Lenny Gross, Esq. One year, toward the end of the month of May, I saw that he was feeling down and he explained that he had recently lost his loving wife Barbara. He also shared that it was his 50th birthday. “Well that deserves a party and I want to host a get-together for you,” I said.
I invited ten members of the Oakland Athletic Club to join us for lunch. The attendees were: Pat Costello – professional heavyweight boxer and businessman; Merle Krantzman – of Grand Auto Store; “Old Joe” Canavaldi – whose company provided the original window shades for our waterfront dining room (They were installed thirty-five years ago and they still glide up and down with ease.); John Givens – President of Oakland Bank of Commerce; Tom Orloff – future District Attorney for Alameda County; Charlie Plummer – soon-to-be Alameda County Sheriff; Lionel Wilson – Alameda County Superior Court Judge and elected in 1977 to be the Mayor of Oakland; Lance “Scooter” Longmire – retired National Football League quarterback and Sheedy Crane representative; Sandre Swanson – who would serve as a California State Assemblymember and started his political career as the Vice-Chairman of the Oakland Anti-Poverty Board; and a very young Don White – who would be elected Alameda County Treasurer-Tax Collector, a position he held for thirty years. The first party was at Gallagher’s in Jack London Square with a small group of twelve men and we had a great time. “Same Time, Same Place, Next Year” became the theme and Lenny’s modest birthday luncheon launched “Uncle Lenny’s Annual Birthday Celebration!”
The parties continued for 44 years and were transferred to Scott’s – Jack London Square on the waterfront where they grew to over 400 guests. This was an annual stag party and it was attended by Uncle Lenny’s “closest” male friends. I would send invitations to guests with a dime taped to each note card for the old fart guests that were too cheap to respond with a phone call.
Uncle Lenny was a real jokester with a repertoire of thousands of jokes. He had a special way of connecting with every guest. We had governors, senators, Catholic bishops and many of our friends that have come a long way to get where they are in their careers. Every party outdid the previous years’ celebration. On a few occasions there were dancing girls and women popping out of cakes! We had a lot of fun, told jokes and shared stories.
As Uncle Lenny got up in years, I recruited Leo Sorenson as his “assistant understudy jokester”. Leo acquired Uncle Lenny’s story-telling skills and carried on the tradition of providing entertainment for the luncheons. Here’s a Leo Joke: “Why did the blonde climb over the glass wall? To see what’s on the other side.” We old codgers love these jokes and would laugh till we had tears in our eyes.
Uncle Lenny lived to be 94 years-old and of course celebrated his 94th birthday with his buddies at Scott’s. We had forty-four years of fun, celebration, comradery, and friendship. Boy did we have fun! Those memories brighten my days and give me joy when I think of my friend Lenny Gross and all his birthdays we celebrated together.
Happy Birthday, Uncle Lenny! Where ever you are.
Founder, Scott’s Restaurants, Since 1976