More than 70 players queue up weekly in north Spokane for Ellie’s Bridge Club, a nod to the group’s director, Ellie Lund.
The Wednesday sessions held at Country Homes Christian Church are an unlikely draw for Lund, who 12 years ago told a sibling she lacked the brain power to learn the strategy card game.
Her paraplegic brother, Jimmy Jangula, who lived with her in 2003, brushed off Lund’s comment. Instead, he dealt the cards.
“I told him, ‘I’m not smart enough to learn that game,’ ” Lund said. “He said, ‘Don’t be silly,’ and he dealt a round. He had a stack of cards ready, and he said, ‘Here’s your first lesson.’ I never went to any bridge classes. My brother just gave me a few lessons.”
Lund, 81, went on to launch the club in 2006 with 12 people. Today, the club’s 110 members come from as far as Loon Lake, Cheney and Colbert. On Mondays, she holds free lessons for newbies in her home.
Her brother died about a year after she started the club, but she said his gift of teaching the game has brought her and many others joy, more from the friendships bridged than the game itself.
“My brother left me a great legacy,” Lund said. “He taught me how to play bridge, and that’s the love of my life now, not bridge, but helping senior citizens to have fun. They’re just peachy. They can’t wait until Wednesdays.”
Lund said the club, which regularly sets up at least 18 tables, plays what is called party bridge or contract bridge. Four players pair up in twos at a table in competing partnerships. The players must pay close attention to cards played, strategy for making bids and cues from partners.
That brain agility helps club members stay mentally active, Lund said. Most players are in their 60s, 70s and 80s, but seven members age 90 and over regularly get the highest points.
“If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it,” Lund said. “You have to do word puzzles and different things to keep your brain in tune. They say bridge is one of the best games to keep your brain healthy.”
Husband-wife duo T.J. and Sue Summerson, both 90, achieved a 7,600-point high within the past year. Katie Adams, 97, and a partner got 7,200 points recently.
Adams said she’ll turn 98 on July 30.
“I’ve been bridge playing about 40 years, give or take,” Adams said. “It’s a wonderful group. I think it makes a lot of people happy.”
Sue Summerson credits Lund’s energy.
“She’s very organized,” Summerson said. “It’s all word of mouth, and it’s because Ellie is one of a kind. You’ll never find anyone who works harder, who always tries to please this potpourri of people.”
Lund estimates she’s taught at least three dozen people to play bridge. She doesn’t charge for lessons, because her brother never charged her. Her best advice: Learn by just doing.
“They have to do some studying themselves, but I’ll sit down with them and teach them what I know,” she said. “Within a month, they’re playing.”
Colbert residents Lois Canter, 67, and Jerry Canter, 73, are among Lund’s pupils. Lois Canter admits being a little overwhelmed at first, but it passed quickly.
“My head was swimming when I left about all the details, so I went to the library and checked out a book,” she said. “Ellie is an excellent teacher. You can learn in one or two sessions.”
Once a month, Lund has club members switch partners, Canter said. “That’s how she keeps us happy. When you’re playing with new people, you have to find some new ground. There’s a couple of different ways to bid, and you learn to work with new people.”
Roy Steigleder, 75, first learned bridge five years ago after military retirement. He enrolled in a Spokane Falls Community College bridge class, but soon heard about Lund. “Everybody I ran into said, ‘You’ve got to meet Ellie,’ ” he said, adding that the group is welcoming.
Aside from club organization, Lund coordinates three celebrations annually for the group at Thanksgiving, Valentine’s, and a combined Mother’s Day-Father’s Day event. On July 8, she added another party with a round of pizza and cake to mark birthdays for members 90 and over.
Lund thinks her brother, who moved here in 2002 from California, knew what would happen after he dealt that first round.
“I was his caregiver, and he knew if I learned to play, I’d bring people in to play bridge,” she said. “Before he died, I think he had 65 friends coming over to play bridge. He just loved it. I can still hear him laugh.”
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