GOODLAND — Before his death in June, Stan Gober talked at length with his son Steve about the future of the family's iconic Goodland restaurant.
Stan told his son to keep the restaurant in the family after he was gone, to continue the Sunday traditions that made Stan's Idle Hour world-renowned.
Sunday, Steve Gober and hundreds of customers fulfilled Stan's wishes. Bands jammed. Patrons chatted. Alcohol flowed. And the Buzzard Lope was, well, loped.
"It's a pretty emotional day to start the season back up without him here, but that's what he wanted," Steve Gober said Sunday, taking a break from racing around the restaurant. "We discussed it many times, so we're just going to go on."
For the first time, a season at Stan's Idle Hour Restaurant opened Sunday without its gregarious namesake, who died at age 86 of congestive heart failure. Visitors and snowbirds came from Massachusetts, Michigan and Minnesota, all falling back into their habit of spending Sunday afternoon at Stan's. Some came intrigued by what a Sunday without Stan would entail — and on the surface, it looked no different.
But ask any regular — and there are plenty to ask — and they'll say it's not the same without Stan on-stage, singing his songs and lobbing his jokes.
"Over the course of time, there's no one that approaches Stan's name or image as an icon in the village of Goodland," said Walter Kane, who collected signatures Sunday for a petition to rename Goodland's bridge after Stan.
Steve Gober said per his father's request, some trademarks of the Sunday shows will stay. The national anthem will be played at 1 p.m. Live music will be featured. And the Buzzard Lope will live on. But over the next few months, a few new wrinkles will be installed, such as more modern bands being rolled into the rotation.
Nobody, however, will try to imitate Stan's stand-up routine or match his outsized personality.
"We're certainly not trying to fill his shoes because there's no way to do that," Steve Gober said. "But we're still going to go on and do the same things the best we can."
Some regulars noted that attendance for the opening Sunday seemed a little lighter than usual, but Kay Lenart, a staff member at the Island Woman shop adjacent to the restaurant, sounded optimistic the crowds will pick up.
"We weren't sure maybe how busy we would be today, that people might be a little reluctant to come," Lenart said. "But I think everybody is looking forward to it very much."
While Steve Gober admitted a bit of pressure taking over the Sunday show, several voiced support and encouragement for those maintaining Stan's legacy.
"I hope they can pull this off without Stan," said "Queen" Mary Martin, an iconic crowd favorite in her own right. "We're just holding in there as best we can. But it's good to be back."