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    Don Hussey typically arrives first. Just before three in the afternoon on Wednesdays, he’ll walk into Diamond Pub and Billiards in St. Matthews, slide his black pool cue case from his shoulder and head to the bar for a set of billiards balls. On this recent Wednesday, the afternoon bartender is expecting him, knows full well the others will follow. The bartender has kept their preferred pool table reserved, just as he does every week. He doesn’t know their last names. But the full lineup by first name? That’s easy: Don, Don, Don, Don and Dave, aka the Four Dons and a Dave, aka (in jest) the Four Dons and That Other Guy.

    Dressed in a burnt-orange sweater and khakis, Hussey, who has a trim mustache and a head of silvery-white hair that’s full at the sides and scribbly on top, looks and moves far younger than his 82 years. (I’ll soon learn that’s a theme in this group.) Hussey snaps his cue together. “I’m more into pool than they are,” he says. “I’m the only one that got my own sticks. They all use house sticks.”

    82-year-old Don Hussey

    In walks a tall, fit man in flannel and jeans, his hair and mustache as bright and white as a sun-speckled ski slope.

    “There’s another one,” Hussey says.

    “Another Don?” I ask.

    “Yes,” Hussey says.

    This Don, Don Habig, is an 86-year-old whom Hussey has known for “umpteen years.” “I’m not the oldest one,” Habig says with a smile. “You just look like it,” Hussey jokes. The Four Dons and a Dave enjoy gentle ribbings, each jab carrying the wattage of a firefly.

    86-year-old Don Habig

    Out in the parking lot, Don Robinson parks his 1999 Ford Taurus, reaches for his cane and heads inside, his brown leather shoes shuffling along, slow but steady. Habig and Hussey spot him walking in.

    “Here he comes!” Habig announces.

    “He’s our star,” Hussey chimes in, grabbing him a chair. Robinson doesn’t sit, instead setting his pageboy cap and fleece zip-up on the seat. He swaps his cane for a pool cue and is ready to go, knowing he’s only got about an hour. It’s not that he’s short on time. It’s that he’s 103, the oldest Don, and tires easily.

    Barely a hunch to his spine, Robinson’s mouth often curves upward into a smile. He wears 103 like it’s 75 or 80. Even with deep folds at his cheeks and white wisps for hair, there’s a boyish fullness to his face, a remnant of the kid born in 1915 in upstate New York.

    The baby of the group, 78-year-old Don Filmer, slips in, quiet and unassuming. That Other Guy, 79-year-old Dave Vislisel, will show soon. The four Dons pair off — Hussey and Habig versus Robinson and Filmer — and start their first game of eight-ball. “You’re the boss,” Hussey says to Robinson, signaling him to take the opening break. Robinson leans over, lines up his shot and — crack! Game on.

    When I ask how long these weekly pool meetups have been going on, one Don says “forever,” another says “at least 10 years,” and Robinson says, rather definitively: “It’s been eight years.” Robinson, I’m told, has the best memory of the bunch. At 103, he’s nimble with a timeline: He met his wife, Mary Marguerite, in the late 1930s on a cruise of the Great Lakes. They married Aug. 20, 1940. (“I might be off a couple days, but I’m close,” he says.) They moved to Louisville in 1965 while he was working as a salesman for Burroughs adding machines. He bought his home in St. Matthews that same year. That’s where he and his wife raised four of their of seven children. Fifty-four years later, he still lives there with the help of two daughters who live nearby. He retired Aug. 1, 1977, with plenty of time to spend with his “darling” before she died on May 25, 2009.

    103-year-old Don Robinson

    As for how the Four Dons and a Dave came to find one another, that can be traced back to one of the Dons and Dave. Habig and Vislisel met in the late ’50s or early ’60s. “We met in prison,” Habig says, smiling. (He loves that line.) Habig was working as a social worker, Vislisel as a teacher at the Kentucky State Reformatory in La Grange. Habig left after a few years and became a bartender, but the two remained close. Vislisel moved on to teach at a school near Shelbyville, where he met Hussey, then a chemistry teacher. Filmer, he was a friend of a friend. Finally, one of Robinson’s daughters hooked her dad into the group. He had to give up golf in 2011, at age 95, and billiards became a great replacement — minimal strain, plenty of chitchat.

    78-year-old Don Filmer.

    “Don, you’re up,” Habig says, making eye contact and pointing to Filmer. (Too many heads swivel without such clarification.) Filmer, who is tall and lean with gray facial hair, doesn’t say much, but he’s an adventurer, a guy who “never says no.” Years ago, a friend asked him to be an extra in a Kentucky Opera performance. He couldn’t say anything but yes. So there was mild-mannered Filmer, dressed as a warrior, toting a spear across a stage. “I’d hum along when no one was watching,” he says with a slight smile. Filmer folds over the table, forming a near-perfect 90-degree angle. His pool stick taps the cue ball, like it’s got a secret to tell. Filmer approaches the game with a gentle touch. When a ball lazily rolls and practically drips into the pocket, the guys call it “a Filmer.”

    Habig is a bit more impulsive and excited when he plays, which fits his gregarious nature. Hussey is serious, analyzing the angles and geometry before making his shot; a master woodworker and artist, he’s all about vision and precision. This afternoon, the Habig-Hussey duo plays true to form: Hussey goes on a run, Habig sinks the eight ball for the win. “I’m the hero!” Habig says with a laugh. Robinson, he’s cool and calm. “But he shoots a mean stick,” Habig says. Hussey adds, “We don’t take it easy on him.” When Robinson misses a shot, Habig says to him, while nodding at me, “Don’t curse — she’s recording all this.”

    Vislisel, who is shorter than the others and energetic, arrives. The Iowa native has a San Francisco vibe — fleece jacket, easy grin, goatee, rimless and round Kufi-style hat. He’s 79, but I’d believe him if he told me he was born in the ’60s or even early ’70s. Vislisel usually takes Robinson’s place once it gets to be 4 p.m. and the 103-year-old calls it a day. It’s only 3:45, so Vislisel and I hang back watching the Dons.

    79-year-old Dave Vislisel

    They keep to themselves in this cavernous space, blue neon and five glowing televisions providing the mood lighting. In a few hours, the music will be louder, the bar tabs more plentiful, the swarms of pool players hollering and fussing at their designated green rectangle. Right now, Diamond is low-key. Usually, no one in this group even orders a drink. Occasionally, one of them might go up to the bar with a line like: “Barkeep, give me the good stuff — water, no ice.”

    As long as all five show, they don’t need anything else. Vislisel, who once studied in a Catholic seminary (until he decided he “couldn’t live without women”), talks of his friends with deep tenderness. “I feel sorry for people who don’t have (this) kind of connection,” he says. “It’s a gift.” Advancing in age can be an act of constant retreat — from work, from activity, from friends and family who die, one absence after another and, suddenly, isolation is the prize for longevity.

    Science has proved it, but, really, the playground first schooled us that friendship lightens the heart, that friendship guarantees some joy and security in life’s unpredictability. “There’s so much evidence that social networks, having friends, even going into the grocery stores and knowing the clerks — those things, those links…are so important for health,” Vislisel says, “I’ve invited a good number of people to join us here. They might come once or not at all.” Habig, an avid lap swimmer and Habitat for Humanity volunteer, says, “The worst thing you can do is sit around and watch TV. I met someone once who said about retirement: ‘You have to plan your loafing.’ It’s true. You have to keep involved, participate. I think they should teach people how to retire.”

    Habig sinks another eight ball. “I’m the hero again,” he says with a content laugh. Robinson, who finally did lower into that chair, reaches for his cap and jacket. “It’s my witching hour,” he says with a grin. I ask him the question every centenarian must answer. His secret? “It just happened,” Robinson says. “I just got old.”

    From left: Don, Don and Don.

    He trades his pool stick for his cane. “See you Friday,” he says. Every Friday afternoon, the Four Dons and a Dave meet again, this time at Robinson’s house for a “bull session.” From 3 to 5 in the afternoon, they joke, argue and debate whatever topic arises. I ask what they discussed the previous Friday. Habig can’t recall. Neither can Hussey. Robinson: “We talked taxes, Trump, and I talked basketball.”

    Robinson makes his way to Diamond’s double door, moving in inches, not feet, and stops to grab the new issue of LEO Weekly. He’ll drive home, eat his dinner and, at 5:30 sharp, have his one highball of brandy. “Just one,” he says. “I had more in another time.”

    Later in life, the routines that dictate schedules — jobs, families — fade. Maybe even vanish. So there you are, wondering: How does this go? For these five men, it came together: Don, Don, Don, Don and Dave.

    This originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Louisville Magazine under the headline "Four Dons and a Dave." To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Photos by Mickie Winters,

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