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The Friday Boys aren't exactly boys. Most are gray-haired retirees in their 80s. Ed Sorebo is the elder statesman at age 90, while Lee Martinsen is the young whippersnapper at 71.

But they're still busy worker bees at their church, the Minnetonka campus of Bethlehem Lutheran.

For 18 years, the Boys have been showing up on Friday mornings to tackle odd jobs, from mowing the lawn to painting to stuffing bulletins.

"Nobody tells anyone what to do. We just see what needs to be done," said Dave Ringstad.

"We're here from 9 til we get the job done. Whatever it is," said Sandy Erickson.

Then they swap news, jokes and rib each other over coffee and any treats that might be left over from the most recent funeral. "We talk about what's going on around town, telling stories, made-up ones half the time," said Royal Dossett.

Nothing too deep or controversial. "We're careful to avoid politics," said Martinsen.

That loose and light format has forged a circle of tight and enduring friendship.

It all started in 2001 when Glen Hohenstein scrutinized the church's budget and figured he could shave a few thousand bucks a year by recruiting volunteers to mow the expansive lawn. Friday mornings were selected for the chore. "We wanted it to look nice for Sunday," Erickson said.

Hohenstein aimed to recruit eight guys who would mow in groups of four on alternate Fridays. But the volunteers were too eager to take turns. "Everybody showed up every Friday," he said. "Everybody started joining — and bringing lawn mowers."

Many of the donated mowers were broken down, but Erickson, an engineer who also taught auto mechanics, always got them running.

"Sandy is very good with old engines," said Dossett.

Hazardous duty

Together the Friday Boys braved hazards like mowing "Suicide Slope," the steep rise on the church property. "It's kind of like Death Valley — hard to keep your footing," said Erickson.

Blood has been shed. "I tore my head open," said Knute Gilbertson, who was pulling mowers out of storage when he tripped over one and gashed his head on the asphalt, requiring eight stitches.

Although some of the Boys have been around a lot longer than others, they're all equals.

"Nobody was ever the boss. Nobody was ever in charge," said Dossett. "We just sort of did it, which is very unusual."

The Boys have a uniform. One day they found a pile of new white T-shirts, with a red devil on the front wearing a halo, and "Friday Boys" printed on the back. "They were left on a table when we came in from cutting grass," recalled Phil Brusius.

"We suspect it was your wife," said Ringstad.

"That was the rumor," Brusius nodded. "She's never admitted it. I never saw the bill. It remains an unsolved mystery."

Through it all — the blood, sweat and weekly coffee — the Boys have bonded.

"You don't always see a group of men getting close like that," said Sue Lungstrom, campus administrator at the church. "They take care of each other." As they've lost members to death, they've served as ushers and pallbearers at the memorial services. "They all pull together for their buddies' funerals."

New guys have stepped up to join their ranks. "What's nice, as new members have joined, they've said, 'Come on in, be a Friday Boy,' " said Lungstrom. Lots of established groups get tight and closed, she noted, but the Friday Boys have continued to welcome newcomers into the fold.

After the church consolidated with Bethlehem Lutheran in Minneapolis, the Boys were relieved of their mowing duties. "It was time to move to a lawn company," said Lungstrom.

"The wives thought we were a little too old," said Ringstad. "They said, 'Enough is enough.' This is the first year we haven't mowed."

But even though they no longer mow, they've continued to gather at the church on Friday mornings. Sometimes they do odd jobs that Lungstrom finds for them. Sometimes they just hang out and drink coffee with their mascot, Abby, Wayne Engelman's golden doodle, at their feet.

Most of the current Boys live in Minnetonka, but Hohenstein hails from Plymouth and Erickson drives in from Mound.

What keeps them coming?

"Just the guys," said Erickson. "We tell stories and swap lies. I understand where they're all coming from. We help each other out. Why not be helpful for as long as you can?"

Dossett, who now lives most of the year in Texas, misses his former mowing mates and makes an effort to stay in touch. "It's the camaraderie," he said. "Every time I'm up here, I try to go to Friday Boys."

"It's fun to grow old together," said George Klacan, who couldn't resist a friendly dig at himself and his comrades. "And my IQ is low."

Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784