By Denny Patterson
Tom (Tomcat) Pence, a former U.S. Marine, realized early on that the majority of the LGBTQ community is youth-oriented and there was a need for seniors to be celebrated. Therefore, he started A Celebration of Friends, the perfect group for mature men who consider themselves to be among the silver daddy and polar bear crowds. The sole mission of A Celebration of Friends is to provide a warm, comfortable, safe, and engaging environment that recognizes and promotes self-worth, dignity, kindness, and friendship within the senior population. No senior member among the LGBTQ population deserves to be left out in the cold. Thanks to this organization, Pence has enriched the lives of many. The next Celebration is the July 2019 Lusty Luau in Palm Springs, and I had the pleasure of chatting more with Pence about the event, in addition to the significant impact the organization has made on him and many others.
Thanks for chatting with me again, Tom. For those who are not familiar with A Celebration of Friends, what is it?
A Celebration of Friends, Inc. is a 501(c)4 nonprofit corporation dedicated to benefiting the mature gay community.
When did you start this organization?
Our first Celebration occurred in June 2003 in New Orleans, Louisiana, with 100 men in attendance. As an afterthought, our board thought it would be a good thing for the men of the ACOF to be able to do something charitable while we were there. So, I asked everyone to donate $10 and we ended up giving $1,000 to an organization called Buzzy’s Boys which assists children hospitalized with AIDS.
You have been working very hard to make sure this organization is and stays a success. What direction do you feel like it is heading?
Since its inception, ACOF has donated over $220,000 to various local charities. That is without any government grants or funds and on the backs of the men who have attended our functions. Going forward, we plan to have the ACOF continue its philanthropic goal of bettering our community.
The Palm Springs Lusty Luau in July 2019 is the next major celebration. What can attendees expect?
Our Lusty Luau in Palm Springs is going to be our first venture outside the state of Florida since we left New Orleans in 2003. We are excited about going where the weather suits our clothes, or lack thereof. A person attending our July Celebration can expect to be surrounded by hot weather and hotter men from around the world; daily entertainment, morning coffee klatches, lunch, happy hours and a chance to enter our Speedo, Sexy Senior and Lusty Luau competitions. They can win free registration and room at our next Celebration. One can register at www.CelebrationOfFriends.org.
How many people are already registered, and how many overall are you expecting to attend?
Our registration is up currently, and we are looking to have 300-600 men attend our festivities.
Is this Luau taking the place of the annual July Summer Splash?
The Lusty Luau is our 2019 Summer Splash. If you have ever experienced the tantalizing feeling of wearing nothing but a grass skirt while being surrounded by some of the sexiest men on the planet as you sway to the delightful sounds of a ukulele, then you understand the pleasure I am talking about. I urge all men to try it at least once in their lives!
What are some of the top reasons why one should join A Celebration of Friends this July?
If you are a mature man or an admirer, you need to come and be surrounded by new friends who appreciate you for what and who you are. No one will be shamed at our Luau. We appreciate and respect each person.
What would you like Celebration to accomplish in the next couple of years?
Other than continuing to assist our community in bringing mature men together, the ACOF has no further agenda. In the past, we have had the opportunity to bring in our heroes, Actor Ed Asner and Former Congressman Barney Frank. How do you top that?
Do you still have the weekly Klassic Coffee Klatches?
Yes, one of the issues we have addressed recently was the occurrence of several suicides in the community of Palm Aire. These occurred in one month. ACOF decided to address the problem the best way we could. As gay men grow old, they tend to become more reclusive, more introspective, and sometimes suffer from the pain of not feeling useful in a culture that worships the young and beautiful. Loneliness is one of our greatest enemies. Initially, ACOF was hosting only a summer Celebration and an occasional winter Caribbean Cruise with nothing else planned throughout the year. So, we began to host a weekly coffee klatch open to all men. We have been meeting every Saturday morning, except the first Saturday of the month, at the Skolnick Center in Palm Aire for the past five years. Our motto: “Regardless of what happens Friday night, do not be alone Saturday morning.” Since then, we have also increased our involvement in the Fort Lauderdale community by running the 2nd Saturday Bingo at the South Florida Pride Center each month.
How beneficial do you believe A Celebration of Friends has become? It sounds like this organization has changed the lives of many.
Considering the number of weddings we have had at our Celebrations and the good friends who continue to meet at our family reunions, the money we have raised for gay charities and the thousands of smiles we continue to put on many faces, we feel our contributions to the gay community will continue to flourish.
What are some of your favorite A Celebration of Friends memories?
One of our members was a law enforcement officer who had been wrongfully terminated. He met former Congressman Barney Frank at our Celebration. With Congressman Frank’s influence, he was able to be reinstated.
What’s next for A Celebration of Friends?
Our board has several wonderful surprises coming up. For further up-to-date information, follow us on Facebook and check out our website www.CelebrationOfFriends.org.