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Saturday, March 15th, 2008

Champagne remains as remembrance of local WWI veterans

By Betty Lawrence

This 1928 bottle of Piper-Heidsieck champagne and accompanying One and Only Last. . .

When D'Meria Stover came upon the 50-year-old yellowed newspaper clipping and picture of Mercer County's One and Only Last Man's Club that her father belonged to, a question came to her mind.
Who was the last man surviving in the club who got to drink that symbolic bottle of champagne? The champagne held a place of honor at the annual dinner meeting of the 16 World War I veterans who made up the club.
Members purchased the bottle of champagne when the club formed in 1938. It was meant to be opened and drunk by the last surviving member in remembrance of those who passed before.
Charlie Spriggs of Celina said his father, Lisle Spriggs, a U.S. Army veteran who passed away in 1992 at the age of 92, was the last surviving member. It was a position he held for 10 years when member Harold Engle died in 1982.
A March 1983 Daily Standard newspaper article quoted Lisle Spriggs: "It's nothing to brag about, being the last. It makes me feel sad to remember all the good times we had."
"But Dad didn't drink the champagne," Charlie Spriggs said. "The champagne had gone bad and you couldn't drink it. Dad ended up donating it to the Celina American Legion."
Lisle Spriggs was a 70-plus year member of that Legion. Following closely in his footsteps, Charlie Spriggs is now a 60-plus year member and is a World War II veteran.
During a recent visit to the Legion hall, Charlie Spriggs took a trip down memory lane as he opened the plastic box that protects the historic bottle.
Along with the bottle of 1928 Piper-Heidsieck champagne were several yellowed brittle papers consisting of the club's records, funeral cards of deceased members and newspaper clippings.
The clear box also contains a brown paper sack filled with the members' white cross-shaped place cards, which were an important part of the club. Each year at the annual get-together, the table was set with the place cards, including those who were deceased. The empty chairs of the deceased members were tilted against the table.
"Look, there's even the original bag that held the champagne," Charlie Spriggs said as he carefully examined and then returned the contents of the box.
History shows that Last Man's Clubs have been around since the Civil War. Nearly every club had the symbolic bottle of champagne, reserved for the last surviving club member.
Stover's 50-plus-year-old photograph clipping from The Daily Standard showed nine members in attendance at the Legion hall in Celina on the 20th anniversary of the club. Posing for the picture were Fred Fisher, Harold Engle, Merle Casey, Dan McKirnan, Gene Heckler, Homer Hinders, Lisle Spriggs, A.R. (Bud) Hartzell and Rue L. Strayer. Member, John Pleiman, was not present.
The picture clearly shows the bottle of champagne and the cross-shaped place cards on the table. At that time, six members were deceased, including James Weidman, W.E. Moody (D'Meria's father), Charles O. Albaugh, Ray Casteele, Ben Adams and Ado Pulskamp.
In the colorful written account of the history of the club provided by Stover, it is noted the former local 40 & 8 club was dissolved to allow formation of the One and Only Last Man's Club in 1938. It stated The Citizens Banking Co. offered a free lock box to store the champagne.
Louise Hinders of Celina remembers that her father, Homer "Scrubby" Hinders, was a member of the club, serving as club secretary most of the time.
"We had kept that bottle of champagne in our basement at home. I guess you could say Dad was custodian of the bottle," she said.
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