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Group of friends has been 'dining out' for 25 years

For 25 years, they've gathered on the same night, at the same time, every week.

A diverse group that includes judges and physicians, war veterans and homemakers -- some recently retired, some long retired, and some not quite retired, according to the group's co-founder, Dr. Robert "Doc" Watson -- they enjoy getting together each week to "dine out" at their favorite local restaurants.

"Anyone who's wearing a tie is still working," joked Watson, who along with wife Delores founded the group in 1982.

"It all started when my wife broke her leg," he continued. Wanting to get out of the house and dine out together, they invited a few of their friends along. Twenty-five years later, though Delores' leg healed long ago, it's become a weekly tradition.

While it's not always exactly the same people -- some head south for the winter, or have another engagement planned -- and it's not always the same place -- "we go to seven or eight different restaurants," Watson noted -- there are usually anywhere between 8-20 people in their group.

"We're a pretty relaxed group -- there's not much formality," he added. But occasionally, they do dress up a bit to celebrate special occasions, such as Valentine's Day -- they went out to the Holiday Inn, where they enjoyed a special cake and a serenade from a local barbershop quartet.

This week's outing, which took place at the new Beachfront restaurant (formerly home of the restaurants Portofino and Speedway), was a lively gathering of 12.

While Watson moved from one end of the table to the other, visiting with everyone, Sig Wood told the story of his World War II adventures in Italy, where he was wounded by a German machine gun on May 26, 1944.

"I got a combat infantry badge, a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, and about four others (medals)," he said. In the case that holds his combat medals, there is also a piece of the bullet that tore through his shoulder, which the surgeons gave him as a souvenir of sorts.

After spending about 16 months in various hospitals, Wood returned to Minnesota, where he earned a law degree from the University of Minnesota and practiced law in Detroit Lakes for several years before becoming a judge.

"I was a judge here for 26 years -- been retired for 20," he said.

In the years since his retirement, he and his wife Evelyn have enjoyed traveling around the world, to exotic destinations that have included Italy, Belize and more. They have also been avid snowmobilers and cross country skiers, until health problems began slowing them down in the last couple of years, his wife added.

"I used to have a lot of hobbies -- now it's mostly just cleaning off the snow from the roof and the driveway," he joked.

But swapping war stories is just one way that this group of friends spends their time, Watson noted.

"This is a big night out for some of our widows," he said -- over the years, some members of the group have passed on, but the widows keep coming to their gatherings. "We (couples) look forward to it too. It's good to see each other once a week."

Because "about half of us are hard of hearing ... three or four of us have vision problems, and some have both and don't drive anymore," their winter gatherings are now held earlier in the evenings.

"We don't really like driving after dark," Watson explained. In the summer months, that's not as much of a problem, so they sometimes stay out a little later.

For this group, "dining out" has been a great way to get together and stay in touch.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454