November 20, 2008 in Voices

Truly friends forever

Women have kept in touch for more than 70 years
Jill Barville Correspondent
 
J. BART RAYNIAK photo

West Valley graduates of 1940 Dorothy Penniman, Ruth VanBelle, Ruby Witham and Dolores Keck have known each other since kindergarten and have been meeting for monthly luncheons for decades. They’re shown here Oct. 20 at Percy’s in Spokane Valley.
(Full-size photo)

If new friends are silver and old friends are gold, then a group of Spokane Valley women have platinum friendships.

Friends for more than 70 years, the group met in kindergarten at Millwood Elementary School in the West Valley School District. They grew up together and have maintained their friendships since graduating from high school in 1940 by meeting monthly for lunch.

At first the group included seven or eight friends, said Dolores Keck at a luncheon this fall at Casey’s Place in Spokane Valley. But the toll of time has whittled the group down to a faithful four, all now in their 80s.

“We all stayed together and stayed in touch,” said Ruby Witham. “That’s what brought us close together.”

Their longtime support of one another was evident in the easy laughter and cheerful conversation as they reminisced about childhood memories and caught up on their lives and the lives of their children and grandchildren today.

“See what I found?” Ruth VanBelle said, pulling a faded green autograph book from her purse.

She passed the book around, and they thumbed through the pages filled with quotes and notes written by school chums in 1939. It brought back many memories – but then the luncheons always do bring back memories.

Together they chuckled, remembering how, as teenagers, they sometimes cut school or hitchhiked to town to go to the movies. Keck was the shortest and got in for a mere 5 cents, while the rest had to pay a full dime. They talked about swimming in the Spokane River and even in an irrigation canal they dubbed “the ditch.”

“And dang, but none of us ever drowned,” said Witham, adding that “those were the good ’ol days.”

They remembered when Keck wrote a play, and Witham and VanBelle played parts in it.

“They were all fun times,” said VanBelle. “Us girls were so close.”

They remembered how they used to go to the bandstand in Millwood on Thursday nights, and how they sometimes played pranks.

Keck recalled the time they shut the lights off at a neighbor’s electrical box and then ran away, laughing while he yelled. They laugh about it still.

The luncheons are a good way to remember things, said Keck. They have a lot to remember.

After high school, as the women married, had babies and watched their husbands go off to war, their friendships were a bulwark and outlet. Then they usually met in their homes, each taking a turn to host and the rest bringing their children along to play.

“We never thought of quitting, even though we lost girls,” said Keck, referring to friends from the original group who have died.

“We are kind of like sisters,” said VanBelle. “We had lots of fun and still do.”

Contact correspondent Jill Barville by e-mail at jbarville@msn.com.


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