By Gary Fletcher
Observer Staff Writer
A group of women from La Grande High School's Class of 1974 have developed their own divine secrets of sisterhood.
The women established a network of friendship and every year they gather for a reunion. This year they rented a house at Wallowa Lake.
Although they're rediscovering their lives and friends from almost 30 years ago, there's no trace of the peer pressure of high school. The Class of '74 sisterhood is a support group.
"That's why it's so great," said Joanna Engle of Eugene.
"The women who show up come in all shapes and sizes," she says. "We have different political and religious beliefs, and hold a variety of occupations."
There's a teacher, an office manager and a legal assistant.
"We're all so different, from the cautious, Â‘Shouldn't we be using coasters with our drinks out here?' to the more risky, Â‘I'll just get up on the roof to take a picture'; from the introverted, Â‘Let's not draw attention to ourselves' to the extroverted, Â‘Hey watch this!'
"We are a truly remarkable group, and every year I feel blessed that I get to spend a few days with the most fabulous women on earth," Engle said.
Their annual gathering may take place in condos or tents. The women have rendezvoused in locations ranging from Sunriver to the Wilson River.
On the third weekend in July of every year the women rediscover the joys of being 16 again.
The unrestricted freedom of being able to act 16 again is coupled with the advantages of maturity, including empathy, compassion and caring for one another. It's a network of unconditional love.
They share rooms, pamper each other and clean up after each other, laughing and talking all the way. Tears and victory salutes often mingle as they gather strength from each other.
The one thing they have in common is that they all graduated from LHS in 1974.
Darla (Ackley) Meyers, and Sue (Omohundro) Bailey, now of Albany and Corvallis respectively, have known each other since age 4. Most of the women became acquainted in junior high school. By 1974, some of them were best friends, and some only knew each other in passing.
"Over the years, though, we have all become the kind of friends that, as Marlene Dietrich said, you can call at 4 in the morning" about anything, Engle said.
Through the years they have shared the ups and downs of life: marriages in crisis and marriages revived, children in trouble or success, illnesses and recoveries, and more recently, caring for and losing parents.
The first year only four met: Engle, Diane Ashton-Rollins of Burns, Cheryl Hansell of Corvallis and Diane (Williams) Arnst of Clatskanie.
They set only three simple rules, to which they still adhere: no men, no kids and no dogs.
It worked so well that they decided to offer the benefits to some others. So each invited someone else the next year.
Since then the group has grown to 15. They include Penny (Adlard) Anderson of Sandpoint, Idaho, Sheree (Baker) Rabourne of Eagle Point, Jakki (Berg) Boehene of Cove, Bobbi (Bird) Laird of Aloha, Tammy (Boydstum) Yedinak of Missoula, Mont., Laura (Cobb) Stuart of Cannon Beach, Kim (Gayman) Navratil of Pendleton, and Sherry Hoffman of Boca Raton, Fla.
The new blood brought new ideas. A craft day was initiated with tie dying. Now they even do one another's nails and hair.
Then they started drawing secret pals for the coming year, whose identities are revealed at the next year's gathering. They e-mail each other regularly.
When Glee Rutherford of Canby checked classmates.com, she found another classmate she hadn't seen since the 20-year class reunion. It was Bruce Craig, now with the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs in Salem.
In catching up, Rutherford and Craig learned that each of them was divorced. They began seeing each other the end of January. By the end of March they were engaged.
Surely a pre-nuptial agreement will be the acceptance of 14 very special sisters-in-law, at least once a year.
Next July, Rutherford will again leave home to divvy up the duties of the weekend Â— a weekend that is all about sharing in more ways than one.
The gathering of the women of '74 is all about unconditional love and sharing in a safe place.
This year was the first time Â— and maybe the last Â— they came together in a place this close to their old alma mater.