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The happy Wanderers

One of the unfortunate side effects of my recent pneumonia experience was that I was forced to cancel a trip Olivia and I had planned to take to New York to visit family and attend a few minor league baseball games. These trips have become a semi-annual family tradition, and I’d really been excited about taking Olivia to participate, especially since we’d be meeting up with some cousins I hadn’t seen in awhile. Life had other plans for me, sadly.

One of my uncles spoke to a writer at the hometown paper about the experience. Here it is, so you can see what we missed out on.

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — They call it the Wanderers tour — a journey that began in 1994, when the children of Charlie and Jessie (McLaren) Kuffner met in Chittenango State Park near Syracuse, went camping, played Scrabble and cheered at six minor-league baseball games, including one played in Cooperstown. And it was at Cooperstown that Charlie, Ken, Jim, Dan and Bill — and their sister, Judy — who was not with them on the tour — decided to call themselves the Wanderers Minor League Baseball Touring Company in honor of their father and his brothers, who grew up in Stapleton during the 1920s and ’30s and played semipro baseball, basketball and football as the Stapleton Wanderers.

According to Bill Kuffner, since 1994 there have been eight Wanderers Tours that covered Indiana, Illinois, Western New York, North Carolina, Texas, Oregon and Montana. Along the way, participation in the tours grew to include Judy, their children, grandchildren and several Kuffner cousins.

This year, we hear, the tour focused on the New York City area and ran from July 8 to 14 — including stops at Brooklyn Cyclones, Staten Island Yankees and Newark Bears games — so kinfolk decided to get the entire family involved and gather on Staten Island with Kuffner cousins and their families and McLaren cousins and their families. The host for the event was the Rev. Pat Kuffner, who was gracious enough to extend the use of his parish hall and gym over in Metuchen, N.J., to the out-of-state tour members, to be used as their campsite.

Karen Kuffner Benson and her husband, Kevin, were hosts for the Kuffner family reunion on July 11 — and Ann McLaren Lutkenhouse hosted the McLaren family reunion on July 12 — after the Staten Island Yankee game. In all, the get-together comprised about 50 people.

“We had an absolutely wonderful time at the reunions,” says Bill, as well as at the baseball games. “We sang the national anthem at both the S.I. Yankees and the Newark Bears” and went swimming at Hillside Swim Club — courtesy of cousin Karen Kuffner Benson and her husband, Kevin. Also, they got to swim at the South Shore Swim Club, courtesy of cousin Ann McLaren Lutkenhouse.

Cousin Hap Kuffner and his wife, Karen, hosted a picnic at their house — where revelers played stickball, took a ferry ride and visited the firehouse of Engine Co. 157/Ladder Co. 80 in Port Richmond, where their dad worked for 22 years (an alarm came in while they were there) and where one of the firemen produced a ledger from 1944 showing their dad reporting in for duty! Quite a thrill, says Bill.

“We visited our homesite at 226 Oakland Ave. and marveled at the beauty of the neighborhood. We visited St. Peter’s, from which we all graduated, in ’54, ’59, ’61 and ’64. We visited the cemetery and laughed and cried with our parents and Kuffner and McLaren aunts and uncles who are buried there,” Bill adds.

They further reminisced when indulging in pizza at Denino’s and Italian ices at Ralph’s over in Port Richmond.

All in all, Bill says it was just a spectacular event and experience.

At least there’s pictures, and wherever my family is there’ll be stories. I’ll have to make do with that. There’s another trip being planned, possibly for spring training in Arizona. As they say in baseball, wait ’til next year.

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One Comment

  1. William Hughes says:

    I’m sorry you had to miss coming home. You would have seen two of the best ballparks in the minor leagues (Brooklyn’s Keyspan Park is ranked first or second in most listings, while Staten Island’s Richmond County Bank Ballpark is in the top five and usually considered underrated.) If you had added Trenton’s Waterfront Park (Yankees AA affiliate), you could have seen a third member of the top five.