Fifty-six years later, Albert Furrer is finally the last man of The Last Man's Club.
The 96-year-old civic leader Friday will get that bottle of Mumm's champagne the club bought after the 32 World War I veterans reunited in 1932 and decided they would get together every Veterans Day."What else can I say but that I'm here until the end," Furrer said Thursday from his bed at Brookside Hospital, where he had a malignant growth removed this week.
"I came through floods, fires, wars . . . my God, you come through it all, and I don't know if it's an honor or a sort of curse," added Furrer, who lives in a nearby nursing home.
"It's rough to see all your friends die off. Old people don't make many new friends."
The champagne bottle, encased in a decorative mahogany box, is in the hands of the family of the club's former secretary-treasurer, Victor Parachini, who died in February at age 89. For the past four years, he and Furrer had been the club's only surviving members. The bottle is signed by the club's original 32.
After all these years, the champagne is mostly a symbolic trophy, having gone sour. A new bottle will accompany it so Furrer can hold the club's final celebration Friday, Veterans Day, which was called Armistice Day before 1954.
The Last Man's Club was modeled after similar efforts by Revolutionary War veterans to maintain camaraderie, said Furrer. Its members all came from Contra Costa County, across the Bay from San Francisco.
The club's name was derived from the members' intention to leave a sizable endowment to the last surviving member through annual dues. At one point, its coffers held $30,000.
But the money was spent on the Veterans Day parties and on helping members who had fallen on hard times, and the fund dried up about five years ago.
"They were all the kind of fellas you'd be proud to be associated with," Furrer recalled. "It was a great thing when we were all together. It was the kind of deal where we all helped each other."
Furrer, who ran a stationery store for most of his life and served on numerous community boards, remembers the annual club parties as classy evenings of entertainment and food.