Local gang has more than a few stories behind them

Pictured back row, from left, James Harley, Chuck Stilwell, Dean Bruce and Kelly Kappen. Front, Gary Chatman, Sol Weinberg and Judy Kappen. Photo by Barry Kunz

“Old Coot’s Corner?” Not Really

They’ve been around the block a time or two

They gather early afternoons at Main Street Square, on Main Street at Central Avenue, at Javatinis Expresso & Gelato, indoors or outdoors in sunlight or shade, they’re mostly retired folks who continue to enjoy life, sharing stories and good humor.

Not too many years ago, a few of them first began to collect at Cinnamon Productions, a little coffee and pastry place on Main Street across from the delightful Old Town Cafe. Kelly Kappen and his wife Judy were two of the original members of the group. As they grew in numbers, they became known as the “Seal Beach Gang.” Kappen says they didn’t think of themselves as a gang in the sense of a street gang, but rather as “Hail, Hail, the gang’s all here.” Like the gangs of an earlier era: the gang that sang “Heart of My Heart.” (They were rough and ready guys, but, oh, how they could harmonize. Ben Ryan)

As Cinnamon Productions began to fade, the brand new Javatinis opened its doors at Main and Central. Customers love the fresh, roastedonsite coffee and the Baristas who serve it up. And Javatinis provides several comfortable folding chairs that customers can carry out to the sidewalk.

While still in college, Kelley Kappen coached basketball parttime at Chatman School in Rancho Palos Verde, an upscale school with a good number of children of movies stars and celebrities in attendance. His only complaint was that every kid at the school had a car better than his. His wife Judy taught elementary school in Anaheim.

Through the years, faces have come and gone, some passing away and leaving behind a spouse who continues to visit with the regulars.

Chuck Stilwell, a Javatini regular since the beginning, lost his wife a few years ago, but finds companionship in the group. He enjoys talking with Gary Chatman, a fellow Vietnam Vet who put in 24 years with the United States Army as a pilot, flying the McDonnell F4 fighter Phantom over Vietnam. Stilwell served as a nuclear weapons officer and a pilot in the United States Navy for 24 years, flying Lockheed’s P2 Neptune, a maritime patrol and antisubmarine warfare craft.

Early in his career, as a second lieutenant, he received orders for Beirut, Lebanon, but missed the boat. The Navy flew him and a fellow sailor into Beirut July 15, 1958, but they hadn’t yet received assignments. The two of them arrived in time for a late dinner at the Beirut airport. While savoring a glass of Red Blend Mad Crush and feasting on chateaubriand, they watched through the picture window as the U.S. Marines invaded and captured Beirut Airport. The action was something they could not anticipate, but were not terribly surprised, as there had been much tension between the leader of Beirut and those of Egypt and Syria. Lebanon’s proWestern President Camille Chamoun had asked President Dwight Eisenhower for help to bolster the Lebanese Government.

John Devlon is from an Irish family, but was born and raised in Scotland, and later served in the United States Air Force. Devlon has a serious handle on both electronics and mechanics, and the manner in which they intertwine. It’s a rare skill he developed building ships in Scotland and through his Air Force years. When a naval ship was out of order, Devlon was often the only one with the knowledge to get the vessel back into service.

Sol Weinberg served in the U.S. Army and later worked for Rockwell International, where he became the company’s senior negotiator for NASA funds for the Space Shuttle. He was presented with an award, which he donated to the Columbia Memorial Space Center in Downey, where Rockwell, and later Boeing, built NASA Orbiters.

There is also James Harley, who served three years in the U.S. Army in Germany, before working as a butcher for forty years. Even loveable Aunt Gertie wanders in at times to offer her two cents.

And Arnold Haskin often rides up on his bicycle with Buzz on the handlebars. Buzz is a Yellownaped Amazon parrot, and though Haskin often takes a seat out front, Buzz is content to remain on the handlebars. I suspect Buzz has got some war stories of his own, but so far he’s not talking. Should someone be noticeably fascinated with Buzz, Haskin will often let them feed him a cashew, “but you just can’t give it to him,” Haskin tells them. “Just hold the cashew close enough and wait for him to say, “Hello.”

Dean Bruce was a National Guardsman, while his son Morgan Bruce is taking the long way home, with a career with the United States Navy as a civilian. He is still in training, but one day soon he will be the pilot for the U.S.S. Richard E. Byrd, a Lewis and Clarkclass dry cargo ship. (He will then be known as Captain Morgan.)

You may look at them as old coots, but they are people, who did some significant things that probably affected your life, even if they did them before you were born.

Those dear hearts and gentle people who keep company in the early AM or the afternoons at Javatinis, Anytown, USA, have been around the block. Veterans, teachers, doctors, pilots, engineers, butchers, bakers, and furniture makers: they are, in fact, emblematic of “The Wounded and the Wise” of America.