Tom Roessler brought Bingo to the William R. Witty American Legion Post 37.
He and a group of friends were the first to hand out the Bingo cards. Over the last 14-plus years, they became known as the “A-Team.” The A-Team volunteered for the last time on Wednesday night.
Roessler and John Kennedy were in Lake Osakis, played Bingo there and enjoyed it in early 2004. They “saw what a good time everyone was having” and decided to make it happen in St. Peter.
“We needed money,” Roessler said of the Legion.
Kennedy died in April 2004; the first Bingo was played in May.
On the first night, Roessler said, he and friends had been at the Flame Bar next door. They needed volunteers to work Bingo and “we did it,” he said.
“That first pot was $7 or $8,” he said, shaking his head. But Bingo quickly caught on and the pot escalated to $100 at the height of it.
“We’ve been hanging out together forever anyway,” Dennis Strand said.
They made Bingo happen every Wednesday night, sometimes coming in at 3:30 p.m. to get tables and chairs set up. Their main duties start at a quarter to six o’clock, when they weave through the tables and sell the Bingo cards. As players call, “Bingo,” team members take the winning cards to be verified. Then, local nonprofits began working a night of Bingo to get donations from the Legion.
“They donate their time and the Legion donates money for them to work a night of Bingo,” Strand said.
That gave the group a bit of a break, allowing them to work the third Wednesdays, fifth Wednesdays when they happened and occasional special Bingo events, like New Years Eve.
The A-Team doesn’t know who’s going to take their third and fifth Wednesdays.
“It’s time for change,” Strand said. “It’s time to pass the baton.”
But they’ve enjoyed their run.
“It’s been a lot of fun over the years,” Greg Witty said. “It’s good people that are involved with it and it’s for a good cause.”
The A-Team has developed relationships with many of the regulars over the years.
“They all have their own table and know where they sit,” Witty said.
Many arrive up to 90 minutes early to claim their seats. After a rough round, they may call for a different team member to sell their next card.
Some of the players are very superstitious, Strand said. “‘You sold to me last time, not this time.’”
But none of the team members are considered luckier than the next one, the regulars said.
“We have thoroughly enjoyed playing Bingo here,” Carole Benz, Le Center, said for herself and her husband, Dareld. “They do such a good job.”
They’ve been coming almost since the beginning, she said.
“Those guys have been wonderful,” she said.
Rosie Skramstad, St. Peter, said, “They’re all very nice men. I’m very disappointed they’re not going to be giving out cards anymore.”