South Charlotte

They've made their lunch a tradition

It all started in 1974, when a one-time lunch turned into a monthly gathering for 12 women in Beverly Woods.

Now, 37 years later, the "Lunch Bunch" still meets at one of the members' homes every month for a homemade meal and female fellowship.

The group started with 12 women who lived on three adjacent streets in the Beverly Woods neighborhood in south Charlotte.

Each woman serves as a hostess and a co-hostess once a year. On the second Thursday of the month, at 1 p.m., they meet in the hostess' home, where they are served iced tea or wine before lunch, then treated to a meal prepared by the hostess.

"Every month we do a menu and make copies to put under each plate so you can make it again if you want to," said 64-year-old Betsy Santospago, the youngest woman in the group. "We've had some big flops and some wonderful meals."

Of the 12 original members, four are still part of the group. The rest have moved to places ranging from Ohio to Hong Kong. Founder Dot Holt died in 1999 at age 79. One of the original members who now lives in Ohio, Sharon Zolan, joins the group each summer for its annual beach trip to Ocean Isle.

When the group lost a member, they would replace her, always maintaining 12 members. Despite some turnover, most of the current members have been in the group since the 1970s, and there have been no changes since the mid-1990s.

While only one member still lives in Beverly Woods, the rest still are in south Charlotte.

"The most important thing about our group is that we know everything about each other's families," Santospago said. "We are a great support group for each other and have always been there, through thick and thin. It's not really about the lunch."

In 37 years, the group has had much to celebrate. Members have seen each other's children grow up, get married and start families. Within the group there are 29 children, 54 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, either here or on the way.

There have not been any divorces.

Every fall, the women and their husbands get together for a backyard picnic, and at Christmas the women have a party and donate money to a good cause.

There have been difficult times, too.

"When our husbands died, that's a hard thing," said Betty Coleman, one of three current members to have lost a spouse. "But they were all there for me."

The current group ranges from age 64 to 83, but when they're together the members act much like young girls at a sleepover.

"One of the requirements to be in this group is to have a good sense of humor," said Peggy Adams, another original member.

"We always love to share a good dirty joke," said Santospago. "We'd save up good ones to share and tell the group over wine."

During the August luncheon, the women encouraged Santospago to tell a favorite. With enough cajoling, she stood in the middle of the room and complied, blushing as she did.

Laughter filled the room, and the women explained how, in 1994, their sense of humor led to the creation of photo calendars for their husbands based on the movie and book "Calendar Girls."

"We all picked a month and didn't tell anyone what our outfit would be," Ann Ducket said.

"I had a new digital camera and I was learning how to use it," said Elaine Langstaff.

Once the calendars were made, the women gave them to their husbands at the annual picnic.

"They had a good sense of humor about it," Adams said.

It's rare for a woman to miss one of the monthly gatherings. When a member gets a job, she informs her employer that every second Thursday, she will require a long lunch. The group is of paramount importance.

Before each lunch, the women stand, hold hands and recite a preschool rhyming prayer of thanks for their friendships: "Thank you God for happy hearts, for rain and sunny weather. Thank you God for these our friends and that we are together. Amen."