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Evolving friendships: After 50 years together, this group has shared it all

UPDATED: Sun., May 22, 2022

By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

In 1972, a group of Spokane Valley women began meeting monthly in each other’s homes to make crafts. Fifty years later, craft nights have been replaced by weekly coffee and breakfast at the Mangrove Café and Bakery.

At a recent breakfast, seven of the eight regulars chatted about the evolution of their enduring friendship.

“We were all doing crafts a lot in the ’70s,” Kathy Thomas said. “Some of us had kids and didn’t get out much. Whoever hosted had to teach the craft.”

There’s some dispute about the first craft the ladies completed, but it was either bread dough flowers or Reader’s Digest Santas. There was also a lot of macramé – it was the 1970s, after all.

Those gatherings provided a welcome outlet.

“I had a beauty salon in my home,” Suzie Lewis recalled. “This was my time to do something for myself. It got me out of my house and helped keep my sanity.”

As their friendship and families grew, the women launched a babysitting co-op.

“We had a notebook to track the hours,” Jill Spunich explained. “You earned plus hours when you babysat and minus hours when you went out.”

How close are the friends?

“One time I had to nurse someone’s baby because they didn’t get back in time,” Spunich said.

Even their husbands got involved when the women decided to host themed dinner parties.

“We had a black-tie dinner,” Sherry Cooper said. “All you had to wear was a black-tie.”

Spunich and her husband wore black leotards with strategically placed large black bow ties.

Then there was the “Come as Little Kid” dinner.

“I wore my first Girl Scout uniform,” Cooper recalled.

Another memorable meal was the “No Utensil” dinner – bibs were provided for guests as they tried to eat mashed potatoes, peas and other non-finger foods, sans cutlery.

The craft days and dinner parties ebbed when most of the women returned to work, so they instituted annual Christmas dinners.

“We drew names for the next year, and whoever’s name you drew, you had to make them something,” Connie Powers said.

A few of the friends launched a couples’ pinochle group, which funded their RV travels.

“Once a month, we put $40 into the pot and saved it for our RV trips,” Julann Waddle explained. “We used the money for gas, RV sites and nice dinners.”

To make it more fun, each year the six couples would rotate between three RVs. They explored Canada, went to Leavenworth and visited the Oregon Coast.

For Waddle, these friendships were an unexpected blessing.

“I moved to lots of cities. I was always the ‘new girl,’ ” she said. “This is my first group of real friends.”

As the women reached retirement age, they adjusted their meetings accordingly. For 15 years, they’ve met for weekly breakfasts.

“We were all tired of cooking,” Cooper said.

Powers nodded.

“And we wanted to see each other more often.”

They still have lots to talk about. With 23 children, 61 grandchildren, one great-grandchild and more than 300 years of marriage between them, no topic is taboo. Each week the conversation picks up right where they left off; gardening, health, recipes, technology issues and prayer requests all receive attention.

“Well, we haven’t gone into detail about hemorrhoids,” Cooper said, grinning.

While they’ve shared plenty of laughter, they also shared bereavement, divorce and cancer diagnoses. When those difficult times hit, the friends are the first to respond, with meals, groceries and warm embraces.

“You know you’ve got someone if you need them,” Spunich said.

During the COVID-19 shutdown, the ladies brought sack lunches and shared them outdoors while safely socially distant.

“We don’t need to go see a psychiatrist,” Kathy Thomas said.

Jean Rennick nodded.

“I seek advice from them, and when we meet, I feel energized,” she said. “It’s a good mental health break.”

Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com.

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