By Griffin Nelson | Photo by Amy J. Owen
I’ve always had what might be considered a “healthy” relationship with food. I like to think it’s because I have a healthy relationship with people. Food is a wonderful thing, especially in this country, where we can generally afford to eat what we want, where we want, and when we want it. Since the days when people just ate to survive, when there was no way to preserve food, eating has been something that humans have done together, as a group. To this day, coming together for a meal continues to be a relational event. We meet friends for coffee, go on dates to fancy restaurants, and continue to at least try to bring the family together for dinner despite busy schedules.
This relational aspect of food has to be approached intentionally. Fast-food restaurants make it easy to grab a meal and eat it in the car without ever actually talking to a human being. Full calendars make it difficult to get even two people in the same place for a meal, much less a whole group. Now imagine trying to coordinate a group of 25 people every month for 40 years – that’s exactly what a group of Augustans has managed to do since 1979.
Tricia Campbell, one of the original members, tells me “Frank [Mulherin] is our captain. He’s our leader,” and as I take a glance at the well-organized calendar of rotating homes and dishes, I can see why. The work that he has put into making it easy for everyone in the group to know who’s hosting and what they should bring is a vital part of what has kept the “Suppa Club” going for four decades. As I make my way around the room, meeting each person, I hear the same thing over and over – “We couldn’t do it without Frank.”
The original group was made up of five couples – Carol and Frank Mulherin, Cathy and Doug Millar, Tricia and Rusty Campbell, Anne Marie and Marshall Vann, and Hollye Conway and her then- husband Henry Coleman – all native Augustans who had varying connections to each other from high school or university and found themselves post-college, with growing families and new jobs, needing the support of others in a similar place in life.
The Suppa Club didn’t start off as a fancy affair. The first meal consisted of tacos and good conversation and was considered a success! A system was eventually developed to easily rotate homes and dish responsibilities. You are expected to show up (that’s No. 1) with whatever your assigned dish or drink is – vegetable, salad, appetizer, wine, bread, dessert, etc. Whoever’s hosting only has to worry about an entrée and having their home ready to accommodate a good time. It’s not important if the food is gourmet or takeout, if the wine costs $10 a bottle or $50 a bottle, or if you’ve had all day to prepare or just gotten into town. What’s important is the people, the act of being there with each other and for each other.
Over the years, the group has grown from the original 10 to 25 official members, all of whom keep each other accountable to show up and support each other through life’s ups and downs. The group has seen weddings, funerals, divorces, births and graduations, and its members are there for each other no matter the season of life. Every summer for 28 years, they’ve gone to the beach as a group, renting out a huge house and adding to years of memories. Every winter they have a Christmas party with goofy gifts and a good time. Even the few who have moved out of the area will travel two to three hours as often as they can to get back to Augusta for Suppa Club. Through thick and thin they have each other’s backs.
“The food is great, but it’s not ‘the thing’,” Frank tells me. As I meander through the group, getting this unique insight into a group of people that makes this city special, listening to stories and shaking hands with doctors and lawyers and business owners, I can see why. It takes two hours for the conversation to die down enough for people to even think about eating. What they care about is each other and the opportunity to be a part of each other’s lives, to have a good time and build each other up, and as a bonus eat some really fantastic food.
Appears in the April 2020 issue of Augusta Magazine.