When the lunch group began gathering at Rotterdam Square Mall about 20 years ago, Steve Tomaszewski was a youngster — only in his 80s.
On Wednesday, the friends, numbers now diminished, had a party for his 100th birthday. He brought his own peanut butter and jelly sandwich and one for a buddy. Neither eats meat on Ash Wednesday.
Tomaszewski, a Schenectady resident, actually turns 100 today. But he celebrated the milestone with the same group of guys who have been eating at the food court since the early 1990s. This meal included cake and balloons, plus the PB&J.
“I made the sandwiches for me and Joe [Salamone],” said Tomaszewski, who wouldn’t eat meat because of the Catholic holiday. He typically eats at the Burger Grill, ever since the Arby’s and Subway Restaurants left the food court.
The lunch tradition began with a group of friends who knew each other from their work at General Electric in Schenectady. Tomaszewski became part of the group through his younger brother, who worked at GE, but he cemented his spot in the gang through golf. Unfortunately, he had to give up golf about two years ago.
His wife passed away about 21 years ago and Tomaszewski said that has made the camaraderie of these lunches even more important.
“I never expected anything like this,” he said of the celebration. “I’m thankful for all of this.”
As far as the next milestone, he’s not making any big plans. “I’m living day to day.”
He wasn’t the only one not planning too far ahead, as 86-year-old Mick Sisley of Clifton Park said he can’t think about his 100th birthday yet. “I’m still a youngster.”
Stan Gordon, 86, of Glenville, lamented the fact that there weren’t as many people from the original group to celebrate the special occasion. He measured the size of the group by the entrants in their annual basketball pool, which peaked at 12 members and has only six this year.
He said the Rotterdam Square mall was chosen because it was a central location, with friends spread out throughout the Capital Region. Gordon noted that during the years, “through thick and thin,” the lunch tradition has lived on.
The other big difference on Wednesday was the presence of some wives, who typically have not been involved. Gordon said in years past their wives would shop while they ate, but Sisley remembered it a little differently.
“The wives got to enjoy a quiet morning at home when we went out.”