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Night out with 'the boys' brings joy to Ashland man

When Ashlander Larry Frires grew up in Cleveland in the 1960s and '70s, he had a dozen guy friends who all shared the same great music, the struggles and adventures of adolescence, dating and coming of age — and a tribe-like bonding they've managed to maintain over the decades.

Now, as Frires copes with multiple sclerosis, "the boys," as they call themselves, all flew in for a weekend of storytelling, dining out, sightseeing, toasting the good times on Frires' view deck — and supporting an old pal.

"We're having our 40th high school reunion next year, but the boys wanted to get together this year," says Frires, who is retired from health care sales. "We went through everything together. I've known some of them since '67. The music of those times was a big part of it. We had a garage band and jammed a lot. I was on guitar."

Amid uproarious laughter, jokes and stories Friday evening, they all lifted wine glasses and dined outdoors at Peerless Restaurant in Ashland, recalling the 1972 class of Beachwood High, in the suburbs of Cleveland.

"We all wanted to make it easy on Larry and help and support him," said David Fine of Cincinnati. "We shared a lot of experiences together, and it's wonderful to reconnect. We cherish it."

The instigator of the gathering, Jay Salamon of Cleveland, said, "I suddenly had the feeling we all had to get together before people started kicking off. These are really the guys who kept me sane. They're all incredible. We went through junior and senior high and some of us were roommates in college. We're all just very close and have an affinity for each other — and we all had the same disaffected attitude."

The guys were 15 when the '60s ended, and they got to savor the great music of that era, which they ticked off: the Allman Brothers, The Band, the Grateful Dead. Their musical journey peaked with a trip to the "biggest rock festival ever," Watkins Glenn, N.Y., attended in the summer of 1973 by 600,000 people, says Salamon.

"We decided if we have to travel this far to get the boys together, we're not going to make Larry travel to us; this is the ideal place for us to get back together," he notes.

The men all had "a great childhood and it's amazing we've all stayed together," says Rusty Wohlwerth of Los Angeles, adding that, "with Larry in difficulty with a life-threatening disease like this, we're going to have a nice big party, catch up on our lives and show pictures of our families. I was telling a friend in L.A. about it, and she started crying."

What's the glue that holds such a large group of childhood pals together?

"It's genuine love and friendship," says Wohlwerth. "Larry, we would do anything for him — and it's a great opportunity to get back together. It's almost half a century now, but if you look deep inside of any one of us, you see the same person."

Email freelance writer John Darling at jdarling@jeffnet.org.