Women have been meeting, sharing lives for 50 years

In the mid-1960s, Penny Lange belonged to a chapter of the Beta Sigma Phi Sorority of Dayton, which met at a large house on Huffman Avenue in Dayton.

“I met Gretchen Locke in the sorority, and she invited my sister, Carol Gainey, and Faye Fetters, in,” said Penny. “We were all living in Bellbrook at the time. The sorority was philanthropic, and we supported the homeless when we joined, but it was also a social time for us.”

“There were probably 20-some in the sorority then,” said Gretchen, “and we all had a lot in common. We were having babies, and everything that happens when you’re a young family.”

“We became very close, so when the sorority house closed, we started taking turns going to each others’ homes,” said Faye. “We’d share what was happening in our lives — our children growing up, getting married, divorces, our parents and then our husbands dying. Sharing these events keeps us all healthy, and we don’t need to talk to psychiatrists; it’s healthy and fun.”

Members have moved, a few have passed away or are in nursing homes. “I just turned 79, my sister is in a nursing home — and it’s almost become a widows’ club,” said Penny. “We used to invite our husbands to our Valentine’s and Christmas dinners, but now, I’m the only one left with a husband. All of the women in the group now I’ve known all my life.”

Gretchen noted that “we share lots of stories and experiences, but the worst was when our husbands started dying over a 10-year period.”

“We haven’t gone to each others’ homes for some time,” said Faye. “Instead, each of us picks a month, and selects the place where’ll we’ll meet and eat, always at 6 p.m. We’re all 65 and older, the youngest is 70, I’m 78.

“It’s been 50 years now, and we always meet on the second Tuesday of the month,” she continued. “We all live in the same area: some still in Bellbrook, others in Kettering, Centerville and Beavercreek, so we usually pick restaurants south of town.”

“We started with 12 meeting for dinner each month, and are now down to nine to 10,” said Gretchen. “We miss each other when we can’t see each other, like during COVID. And I know that whatever one of us needs, the rest will be there for her. When Penny’s sister, Carol, now 85, was limited to a wheelchair and went into Bethany Village five years ago, Faye would go over and help her out and visit, and Penny does her laundry.”

Gretchen often brings Mary Sue Kuhlman, 89, to the dinners. Mary Sue’s husband was in the hospital, and she fell while visiting him and ended up in the hospital herself. Faye helped both of them until he died, and then she continued to help Mary Sue. Now, Gretchen brings her to the dinners.

“I love these ladies,” says Gretchen. “I’m an only child, but now have a huge family through them. It certainly has the sense of being part of a family — we’re a family of friends.”

“We’ve never mentioned stopping, even though some of us have trouble driving at night and we’ve been through snow and ice to get to the meals,” said Faye. “But when we have to, we’ve joked about renting a five-bedroom house and living together, like the ‘Golden Girls.’”

Contact this writer at virgburroughs@ gmail.com

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