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Stirring Up Memories, and Maybe, Another Year

Originally, the sole requirement for men to join was that they had to have been born in city of Manchester before it was annexed in 1910 — or else be a legacy. Since then, the geographical constraints have more or less been modified. So have the stories.

Nelson "Pete" Phillips insists he and his buddy took the bus to Hull Street the time they broke open his piggy bank and spent all $12 on candy. His friend bets they rode their bikes. They gulp lemonade and dip thick pieces of white bread in their Styrofoam cups of stew. What matters in terms of truth comes between mouthfuls. It's laughter that flows steady, like the long lives spent nearby.

Many are quick to recall legends — the boon of Dogtown. Take the John Marshall High School football team of '40, for example. 'Twas the only team in the history of Virginia high-school ball ever to finish a season undefeated, untied and unscored against. You'd sooner find smoking fashionable again than a person present to dispute it.

But the team's glory days and the durable yarns that stretch through this South Side neighborhood could fade away soon. Many of the Manchester Gang's 500-member roster are not quite accounted for. "We don't take them off until we find out they've died," says Gerald S. "Jerry" Greenway, whose late father, Roscoe, was a founding member.

"Next year will be the 50th reunion," Greenway says. "We hope we can make it, but this one could be our last."

Stewmaster Johnson — who at 74 is among the sprightly — isn't ready to call it quits. After all, he says, he's mastered the art of making the concoction with just the right amounts of veal, chicken, beef, butter beans, corn and tomatoes. Johnson and his son-in-law hitched up his specially rigged trailer and hauled four 45-gallon, cast-iron vats of ready-to-be-stirred Brunswick stew to the park by 5 a.m.

After what appears to be a successful stew, Johnson sits for a spell, sizing the crowd. He points out old friends. They are everywhere.

"It was my idea to invite the women, not as members but as guests," Johnson says. "It's better than just having a lot of old men." — Brandon Walters

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