Among the capital city’s social/service clubs is the uniquely named Over the Hill Gang. But don’t let the name fool you. This is one lively bunch.
Certainly, despite this all-men’s group’s name, its members are never too old for fun times.
A foundation of fun
THEY STILL LOVE THE GAME. Shown left to right, Sam Kanelos, Harry Dunlop, Larry Gunst and Ronnie King are among the longtime members of the Over the Hill Gang. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong
The foundation of the club, in fact, was laid in the name of fun.
The Over the Hill Gang was established a quarter century ago by a group of Sacramento men who knew a lot about having fun and shared a common interest in sports.
Larry Gunst, who is the youngest surviving member of the group, recently shared his memories about how the organization was formed.
“Gene Sullivan was a customer of mine, who was referred to me by Bobby Rehm, who was an old Stockton Ports (California League baseball) player,” Gunst said. “Sullivan had someone at his house (at 2751 12th St.) every day. I would stop by about twice a week. I loved to hear their stories.”
Gunst added that Sullivan eventually called him on the telephone and invited him to a luncheon, which was to be held on Dec. 10, 1985 at the Español Restaurant on Folsom Boulevard in East Sacramento.
“(Sullivan) asked me to bring a couple of wines for advertising,” Gunst recalled. “He would also pass out my business cards. He was a very generous man. A hundred and four (people) showed up at that gathering.”
Gunst recognizes the luncheon at the Español Restaurant as the event that led to the official establishment of the Over the Hill Gang.
“The party at the Español was the beginning of the real thing,” Gunst said. “About March of 1986 at Sullivan’s house, we discussed making Over the Hill Gang a real club, and we would start selling annual memberships. I remember most members wanted $6 for the dues. I said, ‘If we charge $10, there would be less trouble with change.’”
So, upon Gunst’s recommendation, the initial, annual cost to be a member of the club was $10. Today’s annual membership cost is $15.
BASEBALL LORE AND WISDOM. Ronnie King shares baseball tips with local youth Nikolas Shinkevich and Francesca Caceia. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong
The first continuously active members of the “gang” were Sullivan, Charles “Babe” Anderson, Del Silva, Frank Nugent, Billy Rico, Sonny Valine, John Rakela and Lou Brusato.
The earliest occasionally attending members of the club included Gunst, Bill Conlin, John Giannoni, Elmer Enos, Barnie Bernard, Woody Scott, Elton “Lefty” Rogers, Vic Zito, Les Lollis, Carlo Dallosta and Ronnie King.
Sullivan served as the club’s first president, Nugent was the original treasurer and Rakela was the first secretary.
As an official group, the “gang” began meeting on a monthly basis, mostly at the Golden Tee across from the Haggin Oaks Golf Complex, but also at The Distillery, the Palomino Room, Joe Marty’s and the Hereford House. Occasional mid-week gatherings were also held at the Sheldon Inn on Grant Line Road and Glenn Dufour’s Broken Arrow Inn in Rocklin.
The club has been meeting monthly at the Dante Club at 2330 Fair Oaks Blvd. since the early 1990s.
Some of the members of the group also enjoy spending time visiting with fellow member, Sam Kanelos at Old Ironsides, which is owned by some of the members of the Sam Kanelos family.
Mostly baseball today
In general, the “gang” has evolved from an all-sports club, which included Dallosta, John Giannoni and Milt Cupish, who were involved in football, and soccer player Harry Slaughter, to mainly a baseball club.
A May 12, 1988 article in The Sacramento Bee notes that the roots of the group date back to 1946, “if not to Sister Inez’s first grade class at St. Francis school, where ‘gang’ president Gene Sullivan and treasurer Frank Nugent were classmates in 1922.”
The 1946 reference refers to when Sullivan, Nugent and other former local athletes began meeting every Friday at the Commercial Hotel at 231 I Street, near the Southern Pacific depot.
It should come as no surprise that the group has deep roots, considering that its earliest members were simply men who grew up in the capital city, played local sports and attended area high schools. As a result, many of the members were friends long before the establishment of the “gang.”
Gunst, who will turn 74 in July, said that when he joined the “gang” as its seventh member, he was the youngest member of the group.
Besides Gunst, Rico is the organization’s only other original founding member.
Rico, 89, said that he has fond memories of the early years of the Over the Hill Gang.
“I was one of the original guys,” Rico said. “We really had a good group when we started off. Gene Sullivan was one of the original guys and we used to meet at his house all the time. He was a nice guy. He went to St. Mary’s College and he went to Christian Brothers (High School). Most of the guys (at the time) were Catholic and Christian Brothers guys.”
A place to share
LET’S TALK BASEBALL. Former Major League Baseball player Ricky Jordan speaks at the Dante Club. Sitting alongside Jordan is the organization’s emcee and co-chair Dick Pierucci. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong
For Rico, who was a successful local baseball player in the Sacramento area for three decades, the group presents an inviting environment for him to share and listen to baseball stories.
Rico’s most notable accomplishment in baseball was managing and playing for the Carmichael Firemen baseball team, which won the first Canadian-American “World’s Series” for Non-Professional Baseball in 1946.
Harry Donlop is another member of the group who has plenty of baseball memories to share with the “gang.”
Altogether, he spent 50 years in the game as a player and coach. This experience included working as a Major League Baseball coach.
Dunlop said that among the many highlights of his career was catching three no-hitters in 14 days in the Appalachian League in 1952.
When asked about the group, Donlop showed off his sense of humor, saying, “Whenever I’ve been around, I’ve always gone to the Over the Hill Gang. We meet down at the Dante Club and we tell each other a bunch of lies.”
Like Donlop, during part of his membership in the “gang,” King was not always able to attend meetings of the group on a regular basis due to his baseball commitments.
King played semi-pro baseball and is a former Major League Baseball scout, who signed many notable players, including Steve Sax and Bob Oliver.
As a service club, the Over the Hill Gang originally raised funds and made donations to the Stanford Home for Children.
The group has also donated to the Shriners’ Burn Center, the Sacramento Food Bank and St. Patrick’s Home for Children.
The Over the Hill Gang encourages any man with an interest in sports and socializing to visit with the group on any third Thursday at the Dante Club.
The Thursday luncheons feature different guest speakers. Speakers of the past have included former Major League Baseball players Don Larson, Dusty Baker, Greg Vaughn and Ricky Jordan, former National Football League players Danny Bunz and Skip Vanderbundt, and professional referees and umpires.
Arrangements for speaking engagements are generally made by Jim Jorgensen.
BASEBALL BROS. Sitting left to right, Ricky Jordan, Sam Kanelos, Gus Stathos and Guy Anderson enjoy a moment together at a past Over the Hill Gang gathering. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong
The group also holds annual picnics, which have been hosted at the trap shoot at Haggin Oaks Golf Complex, St. Joseph Church in Clarksburg and at the Dante Club.
For additional information regarding the Over the Hill Gang, call (916) 419-4406.