By M.K. Luther -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Neither the rain nor the lack of women prevented a throng of men from attending Friday's Miller Lite Stag Luncheon and enjoying good food, beer and cigars with friends.
The annual Apple Blossom Festival event was held this year at Winchester Cold Storage on North Loudoun Street, and while the rain caused the performing band to seek shelter, the weather did not deter the guests from partaking in the luncheon's festivities.
A crowd of men, estimated to be in the thousands, donned the designated festival colors of pink and green, shunned raincoats and instead hovered under tents and the occasional umbrella to reunite with old friends as the tunes of homegrown rock were belted out by the NoDrama Band in the background.
Mitchell Rodgers, 24, who attends the Stag Luncheon every year, conceded he sometimes laments the lack of females at the gathering, but he understands the nature of the event's time-honored men-only tradition.
"This is the guy thing and the women's thing is somewhere else," Rodgers said.
Chris Blye, described by friends as a Stag Luncheon "virgin," said he was only mildly disappointed because his first time was dampened with steady rain showers. The 30-year-old Winchester native said he was finally convinced to take the day off from work and check out the luncheon to see what all the hoopla was about.
"A lot of people wouldn't show up every year if it were not a good time to celebrate the festival and the nice weather," Blye said. "And, just my luck, it was raining."
Tim Riggleman, Todd Shenk, Todd Mason and Rob Cather come to the community gathering every year and use the event as a sort of school reunion. The men all graduated from James Wood High School in the 1980s and have reunited at the Stag Luncheon over the past two decades, rain or shine, regardless of where they are in life.
"It is a tradition," Shenk said.
But for all the socializing, the luncheon is not just about a casual get-together of men -- the event doubles as a fundraising venue for local community organizations.
Volunteers from The Exchange Club of Winchester work the luncheon, selling cigars and holding a raffle to raise money for the Winchester Exchange Club Child-Parent Center, the club's child-abuse prevention program.
Volunteer Angela Rudolph was among the women at the luncheon, working the crowd to sell Dominican cigars at a cost of $8 for one or $15 for two.
Although cigar-selling is now more challenging because smoking is a less prevalent habit than in previous years, Rudolph said the cigars still prove a popular choice at this male-dominated event.
"The guys just stand around and drink beer and smoke cigars and see people they haven't seen since last year and have a really good time," Rudolph said.
Bryan Hahn, 24, of Winchester, an occasional smoker, said the cigars go along with the ambiance of the luncheon.
"They smell good and they taste good," Hahn said. "It is what men do."