When Jack Harrison, former Washington County commissioner, passed away earlier this year, his obituary notice made reference to his being a member of the Friday Night Fish Gang, obviously something that had been very important to him.
The Fish Gang at the Firehouse Restaurant in Johnson City
I remember this gang; my uncle and late aunt, Ray and Hazel Reaves, were a part of this select group from its earliest beginnings. I asked Ray to tell me how this congenial assemblage got started. He predictably responded by inviting me to join them at one of their weekly eat-togethers. Ray said they were celebrating the 50th anniversary of their club this year:
“People often ask me how we got such a name. In 1955, several of us couples began meeting from 6:00 until about 7:30 every Friday night at the old Broadway Restaurant, on the Kingsport/Bristol highway, for their weekly fish night. “Our group got started pretty much by accident when two couples started eating out together. They soon invited others to join them and before we knew it, we had grown to twenty-eight people, all couples.”
Ray credits the late Harold and Irene Mahoney for getting the weekly seafood feast off the ground: “Harold was so committed to the event that he cautioned the members not to make any plans for Friday nights. I can remember only about eight or ten times that we failed to get together.”
Ray recalled some of the other participants through the years, several of whom are deceased: “There were Reece and Helen Sell, Aldon and Betty Speer, Jack and Dottie Harrison, Raymond and Martha Miller, Boyd and Carrie Jones, Estel and June Fair, Fred and Evelyn Moore, Harry and Nora Cook and several others.”
Ray said that most of the members over the years have been members of the First United Methodist Church of Johnson City. A former pastor of this church, Reverend Frank Settle and wife, Jean, once regularly participated in the Friday night offerings. Tragically, he was killed in an automobile accident.
Ray continued: “We were at the Broadway Restaurant for about ten years until they closed. For several years, we ate at various establishments around town, including Spot No. 2. We assigned someone to find us a place for our next meal. At first, all we ate was fish. Although we still called ourselves the Friday Night Fish Gang, we gradually began ordering individually off the menu.”
Ray said the organization has patronized only one eatery for the last few years: “Eventually, we began eating at the Firehouse Restaurant on Walnut Street, and that is where we meet today.”
The group has diminished from twenty-eight regulars to seven: Ray, Martha Miller, Aldon and Betty Speer, Evelyn Moore and Harry and Nora Cook. Ray laughingly remarked: “We don’t seem to have as much to talk about as we used to.” In their 50-year existence, the current charter members have individually consumed up to about 2600 “fish night” meals. That is a lot of eating.
With dwindling numbers, this half-century old club would appear to be munching its way into the sunset, but don’t tell that to this diminutive and devoted group. The Friday Night Fish Gang’s committed presence each week suggests that they have no thoughts of going away anytime soon. Happy birthday, gang.