Social clubs: Bringing joy and surprise to retirees

Jun 20, 2024 • 7 min. read | By Randall W. Kirkpatrick

Barry and Ann Foster had just moved from Plano, Texas, on July 1 into their house in Brunswick Forest in Leland. Amidst myriad “getting settled” tasks, Barry Foster looked into whether the community had a bourbon club.


He first discovered a whiskey club in Wilmington with a $250 joining fee, on principle a nonstarter for him. He learned that Brunswick Forest had its own Bourbon Lovers Club and reached out for a conversation with the woman who headed it.


(Photo c/o Brunswick Forest)

“I loved that she and her siblings were owners of the Old Pogue Distillery in Kentucky,” Barry Foster said. “She loved that I was very familiar with bourbon. I went to their first meeting – an unpretentious blind tasting – and she asked if I’d like to take over the club since they were about to move.” 


He liked that it was “informal, friendly and inclusive.” He said yes and held his first club meeting, another blind tasting, in March.


Social clubs, whether formed by retirement communities of various descriptions or communities not formally defined as such and developments such as Brunswick Forest and Compass Pointe in Leland – whose age demographics skew older – these clubs are boons for building new “people connections.”


The Bourbon Lovers Club at Brunswick Forest, Barry Foster said, is committed to inclusivity, including respecting people’s choices. For certain, that relates to politics or lifestyle judgments, but also more subtle things.



“There was a lady there at the last meeting,” he said, “and I said I used to drink scotch, but I only drink bourbon now; she rightly objected. That extends to not disparaging someone’s brand, even accidentally. And we focus on making it cost-accessible for the widest possible audience.”


He spent roughly 10 years at Total Wine & More in Plano, enjoying his customer relationships, and continues part time at the Wilmington store. 

“I also joined a bourbon club, Someone Say Whiskey, when it started in 2018,” he said. “By end of 2020 it was the nation’s fastest-growing whiskey club, with 10,000 members.”


(Photo c/o Brunswick Forest)

At Porters Neck Village in Wilmington, a casual observation by residents Jeanette Williams and Cheryl Jennings led to the formation of a fun and highly appreciated singles-directed club, Solo’s. They took up the idea with Porters Neck leaders, especially Living Well director Marci Sherman, and the idea morphed into a relaxed, low-pressure way for residents to meet and enjoy each other’s company.


“Aging in place with purpose and sense of connection is our aim,” Sherman said. “And resident-led clubs help us achieve that goal. Everyone’s different, and engaging our residents creatively is a key part of what we strive for.


“Jeanette and Cheryl had some great ideas about opening up the atmosphere so that people would feel at ease,” Sherman said, “and we facilitated that by reserving part of the dining room for monthly dinners.”



Sherman added that starting dinners off with a 5 p.m. happy hour at the facility’s bar may be a magic sauce helping club members to mingle and meet. They’re just beginning to talk about venturing out to different Wilmington locales.


Sherman conveyed that their new Ice Cream Club is “slightly kooky and totally loved by residents. The club started in November with seven members and now has 24. Hop on the bus and go eat ice cream – how can you beat that?”


Members of Brunswick Forest’s Bourbon Lovers Club Kyle Doan (from left), Barry Foster and Jeff Reynolds (Photo by Logan Burke)

Compass Pointe in Leland has roughly 34 clubs that span virtually every interest and avocation. With the volume of Northeast transplants to the Wilmington region, it may not be surprising that bocce is one of those clubs. The club has grown from 75 initial members to 325, and usually, a quarter to a third of them turn out for Sunday afternoon tournaments on the community’s Great Lawn.


As the Compass Pointe website cheekily proclaims, “It has been documented that Bocce was once played in Ancient Rome. It is now played at Compass Pointe.”


Jumpstarted by a couple of ex-Jerseyans and then strongly aided by a large team of fellow volunteers, The Bocce Club started in 2017. Mike Luciano moved with wife, Cyndi, from Lodi, New Jersey, to Compass Pointe in 2016. He quickly informed new friend Ken Clark that the community needed a bocce club.


Clark responded by introducing Mike Luciano to Kathy Grimaldi (she and husband, Joe, former East Brunswick, New Jersey, residents), who’d shown similar interest. “We learned we had to craft a charter,” Mike Luciano said, “so we did one. We designed it so the matches were very social and slightly competitive.”


The matches are well-organized, and the 20 courts accommodating eight players per court accurately measured, a contrast to Mike Luciano’s early bocce experiences at his grandfather’s house in Lodi where distances were measured with sticks – wine and Italian food a given for them.


Matches are single elimination. Sunday afternoon signup starts at 1:30 p.m., and games begin promptly at 2 p.m. The final two teams, with four players each, are guaranteed a bottle of wine and week-long bragging rights. The year is broken down into two seasons, allowing breaks for extreme summer heat and colder winter weather.


“Our season culminates with our annual club dinner and tournament right around Columbus Day,” Mike Luciano said. “We have a beautiful group of people who put all of this together each week and a great executive board meeting twice a year at Cousins Italian Deli in Wilmington to plan – and enjoy wine, food and friendship.”


For Mike Luciano, the best thing about the club is the way they open bocce to many residents who have physical limitations.


(Photos c/o Carolina Bay and Mike Luciano)

“Here they can participate from their walkers or however, laugh and joke, and yes, sometimes get that winner’s bottle of wine,” said an appreciative Mike Luciano.


Lily Poulos, life enrichment assistant at Carolina Bay at Autumn Hall in Wilmington, saw that arts and crafts dominated most of the community’s programming. She thought there was room for a fun science club, having recently studied exercise science and public health at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and learning the interests of residents. So, she began hosting a bimonthly laboratory class in January, a club, called “In the Lab with Lil.”


She emphasized that a number of residents have professional or teaching backgrounds in science and engineering.


“I have a strong background in the sciences,” Poulos said, “but so do they, so I knew I might politely be corrected. My broader goal was to give everyone a chance to re-experience science and make new friends.”


Poulos’s first lab was a seasonally appropriate exploding snowman, meaning that participants had to wear goggles.


“They loved that, and we also did a cool activity that involved inflating a balloon without air. And we had to do an exploding egg,” she said. “Soon, we’re going to tackle an ‘edible’ project, making ice cream in a bag. So far, the most common reaction is delight and laughter.”


If there is a humanity-based throughline connecting these disparate clubs, it might be represented by a quote from legendary distillery tour guide Freddie Johnson: “It’s not about the whiskey. It’s about the lives you touch and the people you meet. The whiskey is a byproduct of a good relationship.”

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