Charles “Skip’’ Polio had never heard of a “retired men’s club’’ when he left the workforce 16 years ago after decades serving as a computer systems specialist.
“I didn’t even know they existed,’’ said Polio, a 78-year-old Brewster resident who belongs to the Retired Men’s Club of Cape Cod. “I didn’t know what they were. Someone mentioned ‘retired men’s club’ to me once and I went, ‘Huh?’ ’’
After retirement, men and women get involved in a variety of activities, whether it’s joining book clubs, volunteering for charities, playing golf, or traveling. But some men also join what are known as “retired men’s clubs.’’
These men pay a small fee - usually less than $50 a year - that entitles them to meet for coffee, card games, day trips, and events with guest speakers. There are “retired women’s clubs’’ scattered around the country, but not nearly as many.
Retired men’s clubs are not secret societies. There are no secret handshakes or oaths. They’re usually not affiliated with any religion, ethnic group, or political cause. There’s no overarching national organization linking all the clubs, which are independent of one another. Their origins are somewhat of a mystery even to their longtime members.
But they’re all over the place - hundreds of them across the nation, including Massachusetts, where they operate in Sudbury, Saugus, Canton, Arlington, Needham, the Cape, and other communities.
“They’re all over the country,’’ said Jack Puleo, 73, a retired electric-equipment salesman and president of the 330-member Retired Men’s Club of Cape Cod, which holds meetings every non-summer month at the Dennis Senior Center.
“I don’t know where they sprang from,’’ said Puleo, who lives in Yarmouth. “But they’re just a way to network and to socialize after retirement, to keep guys busy.’’
The fee to join the Retired Men’s Club of Cape Cod: $20 a year.
The Cape Cod club, which traces its roots to the early 1950s, sponsors golf and bowling leagues, as well as regularly hosting guest speakers at its monthly meetings. A guest speaker can be a town official, author, or other notable person of interest.
Polio, who has been a member of the Cape Cod club for 11 years, said he likes meeting up with retired men from many different backgrounds. There are both former white-collar and blue-collar workers who belong to the Cape club, he noted.
“Once you join, we’re all the same,’’ Polio said. “We’re very proud that our members come from all walks of life.’’
The Retired Men’s Association in Sudbury, which boasts 220 members who pay $48 a year, has been known to attract well-known speakers. Former Boston University president John Silber was scheduled to talk to the club this month, and previous speakers have included Attorney General Martha Coakley, department heads from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and other notable residents.
“The big attraction for most of our members has been the speakers we get to our meetings,’’ said Frank Lyons, 72, a retired medical-electronics engineer and manager who serves as the Sudbury group’s president.
The Retired Men’s Club of Arlington, which also serves neighboring towns, is among the bigger clubs in the area, with 648 members who each pay a $25 annual fee.
“You just start up your own club,’’ said Lee Gera, 76, a retired computer data manager and president of the Retired Men’s Club of Arlington. “There’s no national affiliation. Each club does what it wants.’’
The Arlington club, unlike most other similar associations, actually has a “headquarters’’ - a rented hall at St. Camillus Church in Arlington, though the club isn’t affiliated with the church, Gera said.
Each day, members can drop by the hall to drink coffee, play cards, shoot pool, or just meet friends, Gera said. The club also hosts guest speakers at meetings and organizes trips to historic sites and other places.
Many members are widowers trying to find something to do. “They miss their wives,’’ Gera said. “This is a way for them to get out into the community.’’
Puleo, of the Cape Cod club, said his group’s all-male tradition dates back to its founding in the ’50s, when men - often the sole bread winners in their families - were surprised by how little they had to do in retirement. Though workforce and gender roles have dramatically changed since then, Puleo said, men still sometimes find a need to get together with other men as they adjust to retirement.
“It’s not against women,’’ he said. “It’s just a place for retired men to get together, to get them out into the community and to socialize more.’’
Indeed, finding clubs for retired women is not easy.
Marie Waller, treasurer and acting president of the Retired Women’s Club of Milford (Conn.), said her 30-member group has existed for nearly 28 years. It recently changed its name from “Retired Professional Women’s Club of Milford’’ because too many potential members thought it was an exclusively white-collar organization, she said.
“We’re open to anyone,’’ said Waller, a retired law office secretary. “There’s a need for the club. There’s camaraderie, and it makes sense.’’
Waller said she has no explanation about why there aren’t as many formal “retired women’s clubs’’ as there are for men.
Stacy Blake-Beard, an associate professor at Simmons College’s School of Management, thinks she knows why.
“Women network differently,’’ said Blake-Beard, who specializes in the study of gender and mentoring within society. “Women have their own activities and groups. But they usually do it through existing civic organizations, charities, and town boards. They just don’t call it a ‘retired’ women’s group.