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May 28, 2014

Breakfast group celebrates 30 years

TERRE HAUTE — They’ve met for breakfast each week for the past 30 years — no small accomplishment.

Members of the Wednesday Breakfast Group celebrated their 30th anniversary Wednesday at Crossroads Cafe, where they’ve gathered for the past 20 years.

They share friendship and conversation, whether about the Terre Haute community or world events. Over eggs, fruit and coffeecake, “we solve the world’s problems,” said one member, Eileen Prose.

Members include Dorothy Jerse, Dorothy Drummond, Becky Buse, Betty Martin and Char Minnette — women who’ve been community leaders. The group is an outgrowth of the “Women’s Breakfast at the YWCA” started by Jerse, former YWCA executive director.

The group meets informally and there are no dues, rules, officers, committees or attendance records.

That’s what initially drew Martin to join many years ago. “It was a chance to relax with other women and not have any responsibilities. You could come, or not come,” she said.

“I think it was that freedom we gave each other; that really was special at that time and what has kept us together,” said Martin.

The friendships are what bring Martin back week after week. Years ago, when her husband was ill and at the Cleveland Clinic, members of the breakfast group sent her cards and contacted her by phone. Their concern and support meant a lot, she said.

When meetings began 30 years ago, about eight people attended, ranging in age from 30s to 70s. Now, about 10 to 14 people attend breakfast, and members’ ages range from about 60s to 80s. One member is 90.

While some members have attended from the start, others have come and gone — and new members have joined. Six have died, and “each woman holds a special place in our hearts,” Jerse said.

It’s not a static group, she said. Anyone is welcome.  

Originally, members each worked for different employers. Now, most are retired, although many remain heavily involved in volunteer activities.

When it started, “it was the most dynamic group I’ve ever been in,” Jerse said, and she’s lived in seven states. “There was nothing going on in town we didn’t know about. We kept up with everything.”

Not gossip, Jerse emphasized, but community happenings.

Now, the Wednesday Women provide each other with camaraderie and support.

Others have told Jerse they’ve tried to start similar groups, but none has been as long-lasting as the Wednesday Breakfast Group. The key to the group’s longevity? “I guess the personalities involved,” Jerse said. “We care about each other and are interested in each other.”

The women who participate are interesting because they have a lot of interests, and they care about what happens in their community and their world, Jerse said. “That’s what makes it so neat. We don’t just talk about the weather,” she said.

Group members have participated in some memorable events. When George Stephanopoulos visited Terre Haute in January of 2000, he joined them for breakfast and interviewed some of them.

ABC network television sent Stephanopoulos to Terre Haute “to try to find out why — and how — Vigo County voters have picked the [U.S.] president in all but two elections since 1900,” according to Jerse’s “Looking Back” column that appears in the Tribune-Star each Sunday.

In March 2009, NPR’s “All Things Considered” program interviewed Jerse and the late Carolyn Toops. They were interviewed about President Obama, Jerse recalled.

The group also has participated in special projects, including publishing a cookbook in 2003 and putting together a poetry collection in 2009 dedicated to those members who had died.

The group also has contributed to the Tribune-Star Christmas Basket Fund, and this year, members are buying a brick for the Terre Haute Children’s Museum.

Carol Heine Botros had joined many years ago but then stopped attending to raise two sons. Now, her sons are in college and she has retired — and rejoined the breakfast group. “I never lost the friendships. I’ve still been in touch with everybody,” she said.

Longtime member Mary Hood keeps returning because “it’s just such a great group. You can depend on them for any help you might need. They are just loving, caring people.”

When they gather, they talk about “anything and everything,” Hood said. They also remember each other’s birthdays.

Members come from varied backgrounds, Jerse said. “What I like is we don’t all go to the same church. We don’t all belong to the same political party. We don’t all live in the same neighborhood. We come from everywhere in town. This is what gives us the diversity that makes it fun,” she said.

They may have vibrant political discussions,  but “everyone is polite,” she said.

Jerse doesn’t see the fun ending anytime soon. “Hopefully as some of us fade out, there will be younger people taking our places,” she said.

Member Suzanne Van Reed put together a commemorative flier marking the 30th anniversary, incorporating words or phrases submitted by members.

One member wrote, “Now and a year from now, we will always be good friends.”

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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