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Decades of monthly lunches provide social glue for women of Bellingham High Class of 1942

For a group of women who graduated from Bellingham High School 70 years ago, their reunion happens every month, instead of every year or so.

Pat Boppel (maiden name, Pat Moore) started their monthly lunches after she and her husband retired from work in Southern California and moved back to Whatcom County in the late '80s. At first, about six of Boppel's friends would meet, but attendance grew, reaching two dozen women on occasion.

With the women from the Class of 1942 now in their upper 80s, attendance has understandably declined over the years, due to deaths, relocation and the normal limitations of advancing age.

Still, 18 women, including three from the Seattle area, met last Wednesday, March 7, at Five Columns restaurant in Bellingham. Despite their shared history, Boppel said the women mostly talk about the present, not the past.

"Whatever's in the news, what they're doing, what's happened to their family," she said. "Their life today."

Not all of the women were close in their school days, and not all are close today, but their lunches let them enjoy each other's company, especially as their spouses and other friends pass away.

And while the past is the past, they share the bond of growing up when dads worked in mines and mills, kids swam in the bay, and students had their senior year splintered by the attack on Pearl Harbor.

"We all have the same roots," said Vera Jones (maiden Vera Smith). "We're all Depression babies."

Boppel's father ran a service station and used-car lot while her mother cared for the three children. Boppel played several sports at Bellingham High - intramural, for girls in those days - and worked as an usher and cashier at Mount Baker Theatre. She went to Western Washington University for a year, then joined the Navy WAVES and overhauled aircraft engines.

"They'd tear them down and we'd rebuild them and sent them back to war," she said.

She and her husband, Jack, an Ohioan, settled in the Los Angeles area, where she handled public relations and he was a photographer for the same aviation company.

Her husband died a few years ago. And while her daughter lives nearby in Ferndale, Boppel enjoys the monthly lunches, riding a WTA bus from her Lynden residence to participate.

Jones is one of the newer lunch regulars. Her father worked at a lumber mill and her mother was a nurse, but with 10 kids in the family, Jones didn't have much time for extra school activities. She worked part time at a department store, was a theater usher and taught baton at a dance school.

She left Bellingham two years after the war when her husband, Harold, took a hatchery job in Minnesota. When he retired in the late '60s, they returned to Bellingham, where he stayed busy as a carpenter and she sold real estate.

When her husband died a few years ago, Jones, who has three children in the county, began attending the lunches as a way to reconnect.

"I'm starting to get to know them again." she said.

Story update: On Feb. 20, I wrote about Janel Warrington of Bellingham, who started "Keep Afghanistan Warm" to send warm clothing to children in Afghanistan after her brother, a soldier stationed there, suggested the idea.

To help, Bellingham businesswoman Mariana Jakobsen is now accepting donations of clothing at her store, Savvy Sprouts, 2701 Northwest Ave., and is accepting cash donations for shipping costs. Store hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

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