This year’s “A Celebration Of Friends,” an annual convention for mature gay men, will be held on the weekend of June 21-24 at the Fort Lauderdale-Airport Hilton Hotel.
Tom “Tomcat” Pence, a former Marine and the founder and president of A Celebration of Friends, Inc., says that “maturity matters” in a youth-oriented gay world, and that there should be a time and a place for maturity to be celebrated.
Operating on a tight budget, the first event was held in 2002 in New Orleans, where 100 men enjoyed a wonderful weekend and raised $1,000 for “Buzzy’s Boys,” a non-profit organization benefitting hospitalized children living with HIV.
In 2003, ACOF moved to Fort Lauderdale and, except for a one-time excursion to Miami, has met there ever since.
“We have quite an age difference in members who attend the Celebration,” said “Tomcat” Pence.
Last year, they had a member who was 92 years young – their pianist Jim Baker is also 92 - while their youngest member was 22 years old. The average age of attendees last year was 59, according to Pence.
“We attract many from small towns who do not have many opportunities to shake their booties. Many of our members work hard all year long to save their pennies so they can attend the Celebration weekend and we work hard to keep the costs down while providing as much as we can for our members,” Pence said.
ACOF provides members with a free daily breakfast, a bus to Wilton Manors, a nightly free cocktail hour (with a full bar), and free entertainment at the hotel.
This year’s Celebration showcases some of the best Fort Lauderdale local talent has to offer.
Andy Fiacco, half of the production company “2 Guys on a Mic” will be bringing his extensive years of entertainment experience to the Celebration, providing shows, singers and dancers.
A new addition is pianist Jim Baker. Country music singer and songwriter Jamie Mitchell comes to the area straight out of Nashville, and is currently living in Pompano Beach. But the biggest and most famous event of the Celebration is the “Saturday Night Pajama Party.”
“I know, most people think that pajama parties are only for straight men, but you would be surprised how many big burly gay men sleep in Bugs Bunny PJ’s,” Pence jokes.
Two of the major ACOF sponsors are Tony Dee and Charlie Mielke, who own Tropics Restaurant and Bar, a popular venue for mature men. Pence calls Dee and Mielke “the two men who originally helped put the gayness into that rundown bumpy highway called Wilton Drive.”
In addition to the Tropics connection, the Tuesday’s Angels, an organization that provides support to men, women and children with HIV/AIDS, will be out in full force at the Celebration, while the Pride Center will be giving free rapid HIV testing to their members.
In addition to being a social event, ACOF is also a major community fundraiser.
Last year, ACOF and Pence were acknowledged by Tuesday’s Angels for donating over $100,000 to the group. ACOF will also contribute this year to a new organization, “A Habitat of Friends,” which plans to establish a low-cost retirement community for men.
“If you are a mature man or someone who admires maturity, come join us this weekend. It will change your life forever,” Pence says.
Those who are interested in learning more about “A Celebration Of Friends” can visit the ACOF’s website at www.celebrationoffriends.org.