Girlhood friends gather for 75th birthday bash
By Polina Olsen
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“Champagne is always good for you,” she said, as her friend of 65-years reached for a glass. In fact, the whole place was bubbling when 24 women who grew up together in Portland gathered for the 75th Birthday Bash. Giant red balloons and photographs of the women as teenagers set the scene at the Stockpot Restaurant’s (8200 SW Scholls Ferry Road) private banquet room on May 5.
“My tuna fish sandwich friend,” said Naomi Silverstein, who couldn’t believe her eyes. Up from California, she hadn’t seen Ginny Siegler in years. They routinely swapped lunches as students at Irvington Elementary School—peanut butter for tuna. “I still love tuna fish sandwiches,” Silverstein said.
The idea for a reunion started when Shirley Nudelman and Donna Jackson decided celebrating their 75th would be more fun with friends from teenage Jewish clubs. The girls attended Grant, Lincoln and other schools, but connected every Sunday for Queen Esther’s Daughters (Q.E.D.), K’Maia or Sub Deb. Nudelman and Jackson got together with Wilma Jane Balick and Bernice Gevurtz and narrowed the list to members who graduated high school in 1949 and 1950. They researched current addresses through Portland connections and sent invitations around the country.
“K’Maia was just like Q.E.D. but the meetings were on the same Sunday,” explained Gevurtz. Since Sub Deb met on alternate Sundays, girls could join two-out- of-three clubs. “Twenty girls met in each other’s homes. There was a president, a secretary and a minutes person.”
They planned parties, formal balls held at the Tualatin Country Club, and an annual Man of the Year Picnic. “We’d elect one of the guys in our Jewish circle that we considered just really groovy.”
They met at Jolly Joan in downtown Portland for an ice cream soda and Turkey Dinner Sandwich—wonder bread, turkey slices and mashed potatoes. And, Yaw’s “had the best hamburgers in the world,” Gevurtz says. During the war, they planted a victory garden at Shattuck School, held bond rallies in the South Park blocks, and sang songs like Bluebirds Over the White Cliffs of Dover and Coming In on a Wing and a Prayer.
After high school, several kept in touch, even as they settled across the country. Some roomed with each other at college; they attended each other’s weddings. When they visited family in Portland, they’d contact old friends still living here.
“We see Shirley every October. We spend a month together in Maui,” said Ginny Siegler as she sat down to lunch. Plates were pushed aside for photos of weddings, grandchildren and pets. Non-stop conversation moved seamlessly between present and past.
“For my 75th birthday we all went to Club Med in Florida.”
“My children took me and four friends to a Chinese kosher comedy hour for my 75th. What can you do when your birthday falls on Christmas and you’re Jewish?”
“My grandma had front row seats at Ahavai Shalom. We’d go there first and give Grandma her orchid, and then we’d go out with the other kids.”
“My grandparents sat in the first row at Neveh Tzedek. It was wonderful—we could get out the side door.”
After lunch, each woman stood and summarized the 58-years since high school. Overwhelmingly, the focus was family and grandchildren— “That’s what we get married for, to have grandchildren”—followed by volunteer and then professional work.
Betty Sherman, now living in Richland, Wash., was the first one in the group to marry. “Four of my bridesmaids are here today,” she said.
Sherman visited Uzbekistan twice to teach dental hygiene. Today, hobbies include air racing and flying.
Joan Silver thanked Donna Silver Jackson for “donating her brother to a good cause.” She owns a small ranch in eastern Oregon and raises cattle. Marian Brown lives near Las Vegas and volunteers at a woman’s hospital and a library. “It’s wonderful to see all of you,” she said, “and I think we’re all gorgeous.”
“We are unique in this long-time friendship,” Shirley Nudelman said. “It doesn’t matter where we live. When we get together, it’s like we talk to each other everyday. I can tell we’re all very happy ladies. It’s the last of life for which the first was made.”