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Rebels with a cause

If laughter really is the best medicine, the ladies who meet at Brass Lantern every Thursday morning will never need a prescription. "Instead of a pill, just come and talk to us," Mary Kilpo said loudly, to ensure being heard over the loud guffaw...

If laughter really is the best medicine, the ladies who meet at Brass Lantern every Thursday morning will never need a prescription.

"Instead of a pill, just come and talk to us," Mary Kilpo said loudly, to ensure being heard over the loud guffaws. "Everyone has such a good time. It's a nice release and a good stress reliever."

The good times have been rolling for this circle of talkative coffee drinkers since March of 1991, when the "originals" in the group met through the Newcomers Club in Alexandria. Over the next year, as other women joined Newcomers, they were welcomed to the Thursday morning coffee soiree.

It now includes 10 women, ranging in age from "50ish" to 78 - Verlie Blank, Sue Borden, Brenda Bollen, Marian Schoeberl, Susan Jordan, Judy Doucette, Grace Peterson, Mary Kilpo, Barb Boelsen and Bev Williams.

And there's nothing that will interfere with their weekly sessions of laughter, conversation, sharing and caring.

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"No one makes appointments on Thursday mornings," one lady said with emphatic nods of agreement from all in attendance. "It's a priority. It's automatic."

At the Brass Lantern since 1993, the group originally met for coffee at The Other Place in Alexandria, but they joke that they got kicked out.

"We got high on caffeine," joked Marian.

"We were having too much fun and were too loud," teased Grace Peterson, who modestly refers to herself as "Amazing Grace."

"Or so she tells us," quipped Verlie.

"I'm the rebel," Grace admitted. "I'm usually the troublemaker."

"I think it's a tie between you and me," Judy said, indicating fellow "party people" Marian and Verlie, two other rebels with a cause - inciting their tablemates to frequent bouts of laughter.

Like when Grace asked everyone if they remembered when she did a belly dance at the bowling alley in her grass skirt.

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"The guys came over and put money in my skirt," Grace said, as the entire table laughed so hard that Verlie spilled her water.

"Hey, I got $6!" Grace exclaimed.

"Oh Grace!" said a blushing Sue Borden, who, along with Brenda, tend to quietly observe the antics of their more boisterous friends.

"Brenda, you shouldn't be shocked with this group anymore," Verlie said, as everyone laughed in unison, again.

You can bet that when Brenda or Sue do speak, everybody listens.

"We know it's important if they are talking," one woman quipped. "When they talk, we shut up."

But the silence is shortlived. There is never a lack of lively conversation, most of the time several going on at once - from politics to sex, marriage and divorce to current events, the weather and travel, to their continual battle over who has the most grandchildren.

Their friendships and get-togethers also extend beyond the coffee circle at Brass Lantern. All of them play cards, with several belonging to bridge groups. Some are in birthday and quilting groups, they have couples card groups and a yearly Christmas party with their spouses, they go on shopping trips, and some of them go to the casino.

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"Namely Grace," Judy tattled. "Slot-machine Grace - that's when she loses the halo."

Beyond the teasing and the weekly fix of companionship, there is a deeper bond between these ladies that their coffee gatherings have forged. They are always there for each other, in times of laughter and sadness.

When one of them is in the hospital the others set up a "babysitting" schedule, bringing meals and visiting. They have watched each other's children grow up and have shared the excitement of graduations and weddings. As grandchildren arrived, they eagerly shared in their companions' happiness.

They have even gotten their spouses into the act. About 10 years ago, several of the women's husbands, who have met through card groups and other parties, started their own Thursday morning coffee circle - at a different location.

And despite their varied personalities, the women all get along and truly like each other.

"It's also more of a support group," Susan Jordan said. "Whenever someone is having a problem, we try to help."

"There have been lots of tears shed," Judy agreed.

"We have a good time, but we're a caring group," Marian added. "Even Grace."

As to future plans for disbanding the Brass Lantern coffee group - the chances of that happening are as slim as a moment of silence or a Thursday morning without laughter.

"We're not going to quit coming until we die or can't walk," Grace concluded.

Should old age put an end to their nearly two decades of meeting, Judy has the perfect solution.

"We're trying to figure out how we could all get into the same nursing home."

And you can bet they will have the last laugh.

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