Bob Snyder: Growing ‘Q’munity in the ‘burbs

“Darkness falls across the land/

The Bingo hour is close at hand

Creatures crawling in search of blood/

Will terrorize Westover Country Club.”

Yes, folks, Halloween is almost here, that high holy holiday for our community. There are plenty of things to do: the Henri David Ball, several versions of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”(including a screening at the Keswick with Barry Bostwick, the original Brad Majors!) and, one of my favorites, Boo at the Zoo (c’mon, toddlers in little penguin costumes? Too cute!). But Philadelphia isn’t the only place to get your zombie on. If you live in the ’burbs, the LGBT Qmunity Center of Montgomery County is having its first-ever Halloween Bingo fundraiser and it’s guaranteed to be a scream — an evening loaded with tricks and treats, Bingo and a fabulous Masqueerade costume contest all for a good cause! And did I mention there are prizes?

We spoke to organizer Bob Snyder about the fright night and what’s happening in MontCo for the LGBT community.

PGN: I understand that you are a Montgomery County native?

BS: I am, I grew up here. I actually grew up not too awfully far from Tim Johnson, who you interviewed recently.

PGN: Oh wow, small world! Which city did you grow up in?

BS: Worcester.

PGN: Ha. I don’t think I ever quite pronounce that correctly!

BS: [Laughs] It depends on what part of the country you’re in.

PGN: I was reading up on Montgomery County and found some surprising facts. Apparently it was recently voted one of the top-10 places to raise a family in the country and is ranked as the 51st-wealthiest county in the country.

BS: Oh yeah, you wouldn’t ordinarily think it — most people associate us with Norristown, which doesn’t scream wealth — but if you knew certain areas we cover, you’d believe it.

PGN: Yeah, MontCo covers a lot of territory, from Norristown to Valley Forge and even to parts of Bryn Mawr and Ardmore.

BS: Yup, yup.

PGN: Tell me a little about the fam.

BS: My parents are both retired; Mom was a school-bus driver, Dad was amaster draughtsman. I had a sister who passed away about 20 years ago.

PGN: Sorry to hear that. Did Mom drive for your school?

BS: No, she drove for the next district over.

PGN: What school did you go to?

BS: I went to a small school in Eagleville, Methacton High School. I was a good kid, I was on the diving team, straight As, church on Sundays, all that. People used to laugh at us when they came to our school to play football because our field backed right up to a cornfield.

PGN: So jumping back, what was a first sign you were gay?

BS: I didn’t come out of the closet or act on it much until I was in my mid-30s. But I did meet someone when I was younger at a job and I don’t know how to put it but I always felt there was something there. But he moved out of the area and we lost touch. Then in the summer of 2000, I found out that he was back in Pennsylvania and invited him over … and he never left! The rest is history.

PGN: Tell me a little more about him.

BS: His name is Mark Supplee and he was my first (and forever) love. Red hair and blue eyes … perfect! In 2003, we bought a house in Norristown. We were married about two years ago when it became legal in Pennsylvania. His professional roots are also in the service and retail industry. Mark is a floral designer at Petals in King of Prussia.

PGN: That’s great! What’s been the biggest challenge?

BS: We have an old Victorian house that we bought that we’re slowly trying to put together. We’ve been here 10 years and there’s always still more to do.

PGN: The worst disaster during rehab?

BS: Oh, they almost blew up the house. We had a company install the furnace and they put it in wrong; if they’d tried to fire it up that day, the gas lines would have exploded. We had to have a second company come in to fix it so we were without heat for about 10 days during one of the coldest snaps that winter.

PGN: Eeek. So how did you first get involved with the LGBT Qmunity Center?

BS: My husband and I were told about the center by a couple of friends so we went and decided to get involved with the core group. I have a lot of ties with the local community because I used to tend bar right in the area. We had a big karaoke night at one of the bars you mentioned in Tim’s column, the Blue Sky Café. That’s where a lot of the LGBT community relocated after the Lark Bar in Bridgeport closed.

PGN: Ah! That’s what it was called. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember the name. I have a lot of fond memories from that bar.

BS: Oh yeah, the Lark was there forever and ever.

PGN: In fact, I think the last time I really tied one on was at the Lark!

BS: Was it at the closing party?

PGN: Sadly, no. I think it was on a Monday night at karaoke with Penny. Apparently I sang TLC’s “No Scrubs” with great enthusiasm the entire way home.

BS: Penny! When the Lark closed, Penny came with me to Blue Sky and did karaoke on Wednesday nights for a couple of years.

PGN: She’s great. I hosted karaoke at Sisters for 17 years but if I went anywhere else to do karaoke for fun, Penny at the Lark was my first choice.

BS: I was in Sisters a few times, not as often as I’d like because I was working most nights on weekends, but it was nice. Unfortunately, no more Sisters now either. That’s such a problem. To a degree, those bars were not only a place to go for fun, they were our community centers in many ways too. Everybody knew what was happening because they went and found out about it at the bars. It became a noticeable gap, especially in Montgomery County where there are no exclusively gay bars anymore. There’s a real vacuum here.

PGN: Agreed, just to have your own place to meet or have meetings is important.

BS: Exactly, so we decided to have a fundraiser to build our own community center. We did our first Gay Bingo in April and it was a real success; we had about 300 people show up. And now we have another one coming up on Oct. 29, which we expect to be even bigger! We’re expecting about 400 people. It’s really cool because we see a lot of faces that we haven’t seen since in quite some time.

PGN: That’ll be great. Did I read that the Lark bar does a reunion party?

BS: Well, nothing formal. Two or three of the old bartenders do a reunion party at their house each summer. They’ve been doing that since the bar closed. One of them is actually the president of our board.

PGN: What’s the nicest or most fulfilling thing you’ve had someone say or do to/for you as a bartender?

BS: There are so many things that happened over the years. I’ve received concert tickets, back-stage passes and help with things like car repairs. Compliments on my cocktails and attentive service are probably the most fulfilling!

PGN: What was a fun or favorite and also the worst memory from the Lark?

BS: I wasn’t a regular bartender — I did mostly special events when they needed extra help — but we went there a lot. The most fun was whenever they did a drag show. They had some very talented performers. The worst was when we were watching the building being torn down. Someone filmed it and I have a link to it on my [Facebook] page. Even the Lark sign with the bird on it, which hung in front, was torn down. I don’t know where it is now. But I do have some items to keep for posterity, which is pretty cool.

PGN: Now you’re at Blue Sky?

BS: No, they unfortunately also closed during the recession. On the weekends, I bartend at Rivercrest Golf Club near Phoenixville and during the week I work at a company called 1&1 Internet, which is a global tech company.

PGN: So I can come to you when I get that spinning wheel of death?

BS: [Laughs] Well I’m in sales, but on my own I’m a little bit of a tech head so I might be able to help some. Or help you find the latest thing to help you.

PGN: OK, so what’s the tech trend coming down the pipeline?

BS: More data collection, which is kind of cool because it lets you know about all sorts of new things based on your preferences and makes things connected, like it can pull dates from your emails and put them right into your calendar. It’ll become more and more automatic.

PGN: Hmmm, cool and scary at the same time.

BS: Ha. I say cool. We’re also going to see flexible phones too, ones you can almost bend in half or roll up and put in your pocket.

PGN: Any other hobbies?

BS: If we have the time or energy, we like to go out to eat. We have a little Pomeranian named Zachary. He’s right here, sitting and listening to every word right now.

PGN: Hey, I just recalled something. Isn’t Montgomery County the one where the county clerk got national attention when he decided to start issuing same-sex marriage licenses even before it was legal?

BS: Yes, D. Bruce Hanes. We live about five blocks from the county courthouse. We found out that he was starting to approve licenses and our neighbors from across the street decided to go right away and get married. A couple of weeks later, they pulled the licenses back. We decided to wait until it got sorted out and then got ours.

PGN: What are some of the challenges LGBT people face in the ’burbs that are different than folks in a major city like Philadelphia? What is a need that the Qmunity Center of Montgomery County serves?

BS: Well, major cities like Philadelphia and New York have well-established LGBT resources providing counseling, medical services, programs for LGBT youth and seniors, etc. In a lot of rural or suburban areas, you have to travel to a major city or more urban area to get access to those resources. It’s time for us to expand the network and connectivity of resources beyond Philadelphia to the surrounding counties and communities. Our goal with the LGBT Qmunity Center of Montgomery County is to make services like these available more locally.

PGN: What are some of the benefits of the Qmunity Center?

BS: The Qmunity Center is now in its second year of existence. We are just beginning to launch programming including a monthly book club and senior programming, aka “The Betty White Club.” Future programs will include youth programming/events and also HIV awareness/testing/PrEP outreach. We’ve been doing events like the Halloween Bingo on Oct. 29 to fund our programming and get a permanent location for the Qmunity Center. The fundraisers are fun and give our community a place to gather together and also increase awareness of LGBT needs in the county. So far, we’ve done events like Gay Bingo at Westover Country Club, Painting with a Purpose and a recent Beef ’n’ Beer event at the Bridgeport Firehouse. The Bridgeport Firehouse also welcomes all LGBT people to their Social Club Room. They’re great; folks are encouraged to stop in, enjoy a favorite beverage and meet new friends!

PGN: What were some of your favorite center events and what’s coming up this (and next) year, aside from the Halloween event?

BS: My favorite event over the last year was our first Gay Bingo that was held in April. It was our first major fundraiser for the center, and it was a huge success. I have a long-time background in the service and event industry, so it’s very fulfilling to plan and execute successful events such as this. Our next two Bingo events will be Masqueerade Bingo Oct. 29 and Holly-Gay Bingo Dec. 10. Both events will be held at Westover Country Club. There are also two more Bingo events scheduled for February and April 2017. Other upcoming events in the planning stages will be a Qmunity Summer Picnic and others to be announced soon.

PGN: What was your best Halloween costume?

BS: Probably Dracula. But I’ve worn a number of costumes over the years and had some big parties. Back in 1999, some friends and I had a party that we billed as the last Halloween party of the century and did it big. We had a band and a full bar; people were leaving other parties to come to ours. It was a lot of fun. I still have a lot of Halloween decorations left over that I’ll be pulling out for Bingo soon.

PGN: What’s your zodiac sign and what things about you fit with it?

BS: I am a Capricorn, born on Jan. 1! I am a Cap through and through. I usually work six or seven days a week and I am a perfectionistic, persevering workaholic. [Laughs] You can’t keep a good goat down!

PGN: Why should someone move to MontCo?

BS: MontCo is a great place to live. There is a lot to do here, and it’s not too far from Philly, the shore or the Poconos!

PGN: Who is your ideal drinking buddy (dead, fictional or living)?

BS: A few cocktails with Joan Rivers would be awesome. Can we talk?

PGN: I think we just did!

For more information on the LGBT Qmunity Center of Montgomery County, visit www.lgbtqmunity.org.

To suggest a community member for Family Portrait, email [email protected].