Coordinator’s Corner Article




     Our 21st Ship’s Reunion was held at the Sheridan Suites Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia, 1-5 November 2018 - a bitter-sweet event, as we voted at our business meeting that this would be our final, full-fledged reunion.  Age and health issues have seen our reunion attendance go steadily down the past few years.   We decided to stay in touch by holding “mini-reunions”, or informal get-togethers, in the future.  Our Reunion Committee will remain in place and help facilitate these get-togethers.  Our Website will remain active, and the Soley Scoop will continue to be published on-line, as long as there are funds in our Treasury to support those endeavors.  Our Ship’s Store will cease to exist.


     As I was thinking about what I wanted to say about this reunion, I recalled that over the years many shipmates and family members have told me that while visiting different cities and going on great tours was lots of fun, the thing that kept everyone coming back was getting re-acquainted and/or meeting new shipmates and family members.  The relationships we have kept going was the thing that meant the most.  So, I decided to make this reunion recap about my recollections of the relationships I developed with shipmates I served with, shipmates I met for the 1st time, and family members and friends I met and got to know over the past 23 years or so.


     The 1st reunion I attended was our 6th, in 1996, in Hampton Roads, VA.  As I recall there were over 200 in attendance.  (We are now down to 70).  I had no idea what to expect, so I went by myself.  I was quite surprised to see so many wives there along with their shipmate husbands.  I was accepted immediately and made to feel at home, even though I hadn’t seen the shipmates I served with in over 30 years. I also had the opportunity to meet other shipmates who served on the Soley over the years.  When I returned home, I told Linda how great it was and that she had to come to the next reunion.  We both have been coming back every since.  I must say that being a part of the Soley family has been a big part of my life for the last 23 years, and it’s been an honor to serve on the Reunion Committee for the past 20 years. 


     Following are my recollections of events and some of the Soley folks I have gotten reacquainted with and have met over the years.  It’s not a complete list, as recollections seem to come and go with age, and I’m sure I’ll leave some out – not intentionally.


     My 1strecollection is of Gene Blum, then the Reunion Coordinator (not sure which reunion it was), carrying around his big 3-ring notebook wherever he went, making sure everyone was accounted for and addressing issues that inevitably come up at a reunion.  Little did I know that a few reunions later, I would be in the same position, carrying around my big 3-ring notebook.  Thank you, Gene, for showing me how it was done.


  Then there is Al Stiles, who took over from Gene as the Coordinator, and convinced me to join the Reunion Committee as an Assistant.  Thanks Al.


Who can forget Tony Vigna, who, when he walked into a room, he made his presence known.  He was always the life of the party.   He would say he was known as “Dottie’s Husband”, not Tony.  We all miss you, Tony.


Speaking of Dottie, when she arrived at a reunion, she would start organizing a raffle committee to sell raffle and 50/50 tickets to raise money for the Association.  Then she would come to me and ask if she could decorate our banquet tables with balloons and other decorations, which of course, she did.  Thanks, Dottie, for all your hard work and dedication.


I’m not sure when I met Mike Kranack, who was then our Ship’s Store Operator, but I’m sure glad I had the pleasure of knowing him.  Mike, who passed away a few years ago, was just a great, down to earth guy.  He was dedicated to making sure our Ship’s Store was always well-stocked, and I’m sure many of you have purchased Soley jackets, tee-shirts, sweatshirts, and other items from Mike over the years.  Mike’s wife Patty, who is a delight to know, was always by his side, helping with ordering and selling items. She took over the operation of the Store, after Mike’s passing, and he would be proud of her for the job she has done.   A big thank you to Mike and Patty.


Frank Hawkins, who was our Treasurer before he passed away, was a good old’ country boy.  He lived in the hills of Ten Mile, Tennessee, wherever that is.  He was old school when it came to keeping the Treasury books.  No Excel spreadsheets for him.  Pen & ink, and lots of sheets of paper, was his game.  He was fun to be around and made sure our Treasury was ship-shape.


The Brown’s, first Jim, and then Shirley, have been our Treasurers since Frank’s passing.  They have both done a fantastic job, retiring the pen and ink, and bringing our books into the 21st century with the aforementioned Excel spreadsheets.  If you have ever talked with Jim, I’m sure you have heard one of his many stories and jokes.  It’s lots of laughs when you are with him.  Shirley is our 1st family member to be on our Association Committee, and we are glad to have her expertise.  Her books are always accurate, to the penny.


Speaking of “stories”, there is no better story teller about life on the Soley, than the “Oil King”, Kenneth Dry.  Ken and his wife Janice are recent reunion regulars and I’m sure glad they found us.  If you want to know why Ken is called the Oil King, you will have to come to one our upcoming mini-reunions.  I’m sure he will be glad to give you the full scoop.


There are so many other people I could mention, but it would fill up too many pages, so I’ll just mention a few more, without too much description.


- Weiner Bierbach, who played a mean harmonica, and his family members who joined us after Weiner’s passing – Jill, John, Brady, and Trisha.


-  Widows, Ernestine Eble (& daughter Lynn), and Helene Wallace (& daughter Paula) They have been coming to reunions for years and are all cherished and delightful Soley family members.


If I didn’t mention you, please don’t think I don’t cherish your friendship.  I will sure miss seeing everyone.  Hope we can keep in touch.


 I’d like to thank my fellow committee members for volunteering their time and effort to help keep the Association going on a day-to-day basis, and for all their hard work leading up to and during the reunions.  Through the years I don’t believe the reunions would have been as successful without the gel of the committee members.  It seemed that we all knew what was needed and just did it.  The coordinating with the hotels and tour companies was difficult at times, but also rewarding.  Frank Chesla has kept the Soley website up to date. He also keeps our various rosters up to date, prepares our name badges for each reunion, and does “lots of other stuff”.  Chuck Bruce puts the Soley Scoop together with lots of great stories and information.  Shirley Brown, our Treasurer, is meticulous in her record keeping.  Pat Kranack provided income and joy with the Ship’s Store.  Jim Hawker was the Historian and Emcee for Memorial Services and Banquets, and keeper of all Soley memorabilia.  Of course, these committee members had help along the way with assistance from other members like Linda Folk, Jerry and Carol Loch for prayers and music; and the assistant to everybody, our faithful Len Porter.  The raffle crew headed by Dottie Vigna and of her assistants was second to none.  And thanks to all the volunteers who managed the registration desk.  Also, included would be the understanding and support of spouses, widows, and other family members.  Thanks to all!


  At the last reunion in Alexandria, VA., we were honored to have Plank Owner Bill McMurdy and his wife Jane in attendance – all the way from Scottsdale, Arizona.  As some of you may know, Bill is a barber and still works several days a week.  He told me that he used to cut Senator Barry Goldwater’s hair back in the day.    


  Also, in attendance were several 1st Timers, one shipmate, and some family members. Here’s a list of those first-time attendees: 

          Tom Yerou – SN, 61-62

          Tara & Robert McClintock, daughter & grandson of Carles & Patricia Stout

          John & Trisha Bierbach, son and granddaughter of Werner Bierbach

          Emily Vankleeck, daughter of Ted Strauss.

          Brock Wallace, nephew of Paula Wallace, daughter of William & Helene



  Most reunions: Tom and Frances Bowen hold the record of Most Reunions with 19!  A faithful sailor and wife.


  Memorabilia:  Through the years we collected many items and photos.  We returned some items to the donor or family member.  The Neon Soley will be returned to Dave Latshaw’s family in Pittsburgh.  Five binders of memorabilia were donated to Tin Can Sailor Library.  We received a hardy ‘Thank You’.  The remaining items were distributed with a free raffle.  Bob Piatak won the ‘Smoking Soley’.  It is displayed nicely at his home. 


  Len Porter has been scouting a location for a mini-reunion and settled on a brand-new hotel in Charleston, SC.:

           Cambria Charleston Riverview

           84 Ripley Point Drive

           Charleston, SC 29047

Dates:  Arrival Tuesday, October 1, 2019 – Depart Friday, October 4, 2019.

The cost per room is $137.66 per night, taxes, fees & breakfast included.

Save the dates!

A formal notification has been sent by email to all those who attended the last two reunions. Reservation and information links are on the web site


Hope to see you at the mini-reunion.


Mike Pollack

Reunion Coordinator


Note:  Portions of this summary were written by other committee members.