About 300 people are expected to attend the 31st annual Lockport Day in Florida on March 7 at the Capt’n Fishbones Seafood Grill in Fort Myers.

The tradition of Lockport natives getting together in Florida was started in the 1970s by the late Charles and Dorothy Steiner. Over the years, as many as 800 snowbirds, vacationers and relocated retirees have met on the first Tuesday in March.

“We get a real mixture of people down here,” said Lorraine Thomas who is co-chairing the event with her husband Paul. “It’s a chance to get together.”

Lorraine and Paul Thomas live in Estero, Fla. which is about 20 miles from Capt’n Fishbones on the Gulf Coast. They are snowbirds who spend the winter in Florida and the summer and fall in Lockport.

“Many make a trip from the other coast,” said J.R. Reid, a former sheriff’s deputy and radio personality who serves as the master of ceremonies. “It’s fun seeing people you haven’t seen, seeing how they’re enjoying themselves and reminiscing about old times.”

At one time, Buffalo specialties were shipped down to the party, but that became too expensive. “We used to have Buffalo food, beef on weck,” Lorraine Thomas said, “but the people in Florida really don’t understand.”

Now, the Lockport natives enjoy a buffet with hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad and a fruit cup for $11 in advance. It’s $15 at the door.

Last year, 800 invitations were sent out and 291 people attended. This year, with an updated data base, there were 275 invitations. More than 200 have responded positively.

“It’s picnic-style and everyone seems to enjoy it,” Reid said. “We try to keep it as inexpensive as possible.”

Activities include a 50-50 split raffle and raffles of items donated by Lockport merchants.

Paul Oates of WLVL-AM 1340 will broadcast his morning show from 6 to 9 a.m. on March 7 from Capt’n Fishbones. He will also interview party-goers from 1 to 2 p.m.

“We try to draw from all portions of Florida,” Reid said. “Some people line up their vacations to come down and come down year after year. It’s part of their vacation schedule. It’s a nice cross-section.”

The Lockport party started when the Steiners sent out postcards to 15 people suggesting pot luck dinner. They were amazed when 125 people showed up, according to Thomas.

Lynn, David and Mary Foote were hosts to the first Lockport Day in South Florida from 1998 through 2001. Paul Thomas, who retired from Harrison Radiator in 1991, and Lorraine Thomas took the chairmanship last year. With the help of grandson Jonathan Kleinhans they have a computerized list.

“They were looking for a new chairman and I wanted to stay involved,” Lorraine said. “It’s really nice. I get mail every day. It’s fun to see who’s coming.”

Last year, Lockport Mayor Michael Tucker presented Paul and Lorraine Thomas with a Lockport Day in Lockport proclamation.

Contact Bill Wolcott at 439-9222, Ext. 6246.

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