The Bagel Boys

From left: Bagel Boys founders Sidney Rankin, Howard Cornblatt and Marty Buckman are all smiles after a recent program. (Photo by David Stuck)

Tuesdays are for the boys.

At least that’s how it has been for the past four years at the Edward A. Myerberg Center, a facility that concentrates on engaging and connecting people 55 and older in the Baltimore community.

The 41-year-old center on the corner of Fallstaff Road and Clarks Lane hosts a weekly program that has piqued the interest of more than 100 retirees in Baltimore. And it’s continuing to gain steam.

Fittingly named the Bagel Boys, the all-men’s group meets in the center’s Frosburg Room to sip on a cup of joe, nosh on a bagel and listen to a speaker each Tuesday.

“You have to have food,” said Sidney Rankin, 85, one of the founding members of the program. “This is a Jewish group we’re talking about here.”

Roughly 65 to 80 members of the Bagel Boys trickle into the 2,500-square-foot room at 9:30 a.m. for the event — rain or shine.

While some members simply have to walk across the street to get to 3101 Fallstaff Road, others have to hop in their cars and schlep to the center.

“These guys come every week and will continue to come every week,” said Gail Zuskin, who has served as executive director of the Myerberg Center since 2015. “It doesn’t matter who we put up as the main speaker. This is their Tuesday commitment.”

Rays of sunshine cast a warm glow on the Myerberg Center as members of the Bagel Boys gathered in a now-familiar room on Oct. 3. With a steaming cup of coffee in one hand and a bagel with cream cheese in the other, the men cracked off-color jokes, playfully heckled their peers and lobbed comebacks laced with sarcasm.

“Has it been four years already?” Harvey Caplan, 78, an original member of the group, said to Howard Cornblatt. “You had hair then, didn’t you, Howard?”

Aside from the banter that livens up the room, the camaraderie of the Bagel Boys has prompted men to add the three-hour program to their calendar for the long run, said Marty Buckman, 86, a founding member of the group. The group has become a second family, especially to those with few living relatives, he added.

And for many of its loyal members, the program fills a void after retirement.

“You don’t want to feel like you’re just withering on the vine,” Buckman said. “You can’t give into the age that’s on your driver’s license … because as long as you can stay ahead of it, you’re ahead of the game.”

Age, after all, is just a number.

“We don’t consider ourselves old,” said Cornblatt, 75, a founder of the men’s group. “We’re recycled teenagers.”

(Photo by David Stuck)

Getting Started

Recognizing a lack of programming specifically for men, a trio of Baltimore natives — Cornblatt, Buckman and Rankin — spearheaded the creation of the Bagel Boys through the Myerberg Center.

“The three of us got started in this room,” said Cornblatt, gesturing to the Clara Myerberg Library, next to the room the Bagel Boys meet in now. “This is where it all began, right here at this table.”

The seven-year retiree recounted the day he approached the former executive director of the Myerberg Center with a fresh idea.

“I said, ‘We really need something to keep men involved here. We come to the fitness center and then we leave,’” Cornblatt said. “He said, ‘What should we do?’ And I said to him, ‘Maybe we can start a group like a brotherhood — a men’s group. We could serve bagels and coffee and just get together and talk about current events.’”

The three founders, who regularly attended the gym at the Myerberg Center, quickly sparked a friendship. Cornblatt didn’t hesitate to seek out Rankin and Buckman to get the ball rolling on the establishment and promotion of the Bagel Boys.

And so the men’s group was born.

The three friends held the inaugural meeting in the library, a cozy nook with sprawling bookshelves, open windows and a decent-sized table for meetings — for small ones, at least. Within a matter of months, the clan outgrew its original meeting table and set up shop in a more spacious room before settling in the Frosburg Room, which seats 225 people.

“I think the comedian Myron Cohen said it best when he said, ‘Everybody’s gotta be someplace,’” said Buckman, who retired from his marketing job 10 years ago. “You need to have something to look forward to and something to do each week. All three of us share duties for this organization, so in a way, we feel that we’re needed. We don’t just show up here on Tuesdays. And you need to feel needed at this age.”

Guest speakers from all walks of life have lectured on a variety of topics, including archeological digs in Israel, vitamin deficiency and how to make Krazy Glue. Registered Myerberg members can become Bagel Boys for $36 per trimester.

The group also schedules outings beyond the walls of the Myerberg Center. Their next trip will feature a morning tour of the National Cryptologic Museum on Tuesday.

“One thing we know about older adult men is that, in general, they are less inclined to plan social interaction,” Autumn Sadovnik, former assistant director of the Myerberg Center, said in a previous interview with the JT. “They’re prone to social isolation and less likely to be a part of a community” on their own accord.

Zuskin echoed her thoughts, pointing out that grabbing a cup of coffee with the guys wasn’t a typical activity for men of this generation.

“These guys were the worker bees,” Zuskin said. “It’s not in their frame of reference to get together socially. Women are more prone to have that in their frame of reference of that age group. In their day, the husband went to work and typically the wife stayed home. At the Myerberg, we want to keep them connected even after they retire.”

About 80 men gathered at the Myerberg
Center to hear Towson University professor
Barry Gittlen, right, speak about biblical and
archaeological studies on Oct. 10. (Photo by David Stuck)

Filling the Void

For the guys, the Bagel Boys keeps them on their toes.

“There’s only one thing wrong with retirement: You don’t get any days off,” Buckman said with a laugh. “That’s the only bad thing about it.”

The Myerberg Center modeled the Bagel Boys after a men’s club program at the North Shore Senior Center in Chicago. Thus far, it has been a hit.

As program coordinator at the Myerberg Center, Sue Bornemann schedules weekly speakers for the Bagel Boys. The strong group dynamic and the effect it has on its members is vital, she said.

“It’s one of the only places that is all men, and they feel very comfortable,” she said. “They enjoy each other’s company.”

Members, including Caplan, have reconnected with long-lost buddies and made dozens of new acquaintances.

Caplan rekindled his friendship with Lou Feinstein, 78, nearly 60 years after the pair graduated from high school. Since bumping into each other at a Bagel Boys program, the two Maryland natives, along with two of their other friends, have met at the Myerberg Center every Friday around noon before heading to lunch.

“We first have to decide which restaurant is lucky enough to serve us lunch that day,” Feinstein said.

The Baltimore resident said one of the appeals of the Bagel Boys is the educational aspect, since he wants to keep learning.

Cornblatt said that retirees who want to stay sharp and learn new tidbits of information have come to the right place.

“Not only do we all go home with something that we learned each week, but the Bagel Boys gives us an identity,” he said. “And everyone needs to feel that they’re involved in something.”

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