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War bonds: Friendships formed through women's club strong after 61 years

They are quintessential members of what author Tom Brokaw calls "the greatest generation." As young women, they sent their husbands and boyfriends off to war. With that behind them, they turned their attention to raising their families, serving their community and living a good life. Most are now grandmothers; many are widows.

Through it all, there has been one particular constant in their lives — the bonds of friendship that were formed 61 years ago through a club they called Agalia Mu.

Agalia — meaning "seek ye the heights." Mu — the 12th letter of the Greek alphabet — because they originally wanted 12 members.

The world in the spring of 1942 was a scary place. Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the United States had launched itself into the war effort. Young men — even young, married men with families — were going overseas to fight, leaving wives and children behind.

"We were just the right age," says Wanda Badger, whose husband served as an LDS chaplain in the Navy.

And the women were drawn to other women in similar circumstances. "Everyone's home was disrupted," says Dorothy Pace. "We were newlyweds, and we saw our husbands only off and on for four years."

Barbara Smith remembers exactly when the club was formed. On March 17, 1942, a few of her friends had planned a baby shower for her and wanted to discuss the idea of a club. But Smith was having labor pains. On March 21, Smith had her baby, and when her friends delivered the gifts at the hospital that night, Agalia Mu, too, was born.

In addition to Smith, charter members included Mary Peterson, Virginia Zobrist, Mary Lou Roylance, Athelia Tanner, Boots Fenton, Elaine Romney and Ruby Haslam. Peterson and Roylance have since passed away, but the other women are still going strong.

Over the next few years club membership expanded. They met at least once a month; sometimes twice. And during the time they decided to take a first-aid class, they met weekly.

It was about supporting each other, says Smith, who was one of the few members whose husband did not go overseas. But it was also about learning. "We decided we wanted to study child development, home decor, food preservation, furniture recovering, everything we could so that when the husbands that were away came home, we could make our homes special for them."

Their club song talked about how "we'll study and work, just watch us climb/While still enjoying an excellent time./The bridge and gossip and modern twirls,/can be for less far-sighted girls."

Those lyrics sound kind of corny now, Smith laughs. "But we had goals, and we knew how important they were."

Agalia Mu now meets four times a year. It still has 28 active members, most of whom still live in Salt Lake City. But when the club recently held its founder's day celebration at the Grand America hotel, Catherine Holland came from California to meet with her friends. "In all the places I've lived, I've never found another group like this."

The meetings are a time to catch up, to enjoy one another's company. But the current world situation also has them thinking back to that other war.

Back then, of course, no one knew how WWII would turn out. Pace's experience was one of the more traumatic among the group. Her husband was in the Air Force. "He fought in the Battle of the Bulge. On his 13th mission, his plane was crippled. On New Year's Eve, we got word he was reported missing in action."

For six weeks, she heard nothing more. "Then on Valentine's Day, we were at an Agalia Mu party, and we got word that he had been found, that he was a prisoner of war. I'll never forget that day." And one thing she remembers is how all her friends were so happy for her. "I have a picture we took that day. And their faces were all so thrilled."

Her husband spent six months as a POW, and she still did not know what would happen to him. "This group," she says, "kept me sane. And during the long years since, as we've raised our families, they have been stimulating and supportive. I couldn't get along without them."

Anytime anyone got a letter, she would share it with the group, says Fenton, whose husband was in the 943 Field Artillery Battalion under George Patton. "I remember that exactly; I wrote it on enough letters."

Gene Brocklebank's husband was in the Navy. She remembers getting letters with some of the words cut out by censors. "He was in the first destroyer that went into Japan after the war."

But she also remembers how her first child was born while he was away, and he didn't see the baby for nine months. That also happened to Barbara Williams. Her husband towed gliders in Europe. "We didn't hear much from him. I lived with my parents. My husband didn't see his son until the boy was a year and a half old."

And so, she says, "the closeness of dear friends you could depend on meant a lot."

After the war, some of the husbands went to school on the G.I. Bill, becoming doctors and lawyers and businessmen. Some of the women, too, went to exciting endeavors (Barbara Smith, for example, served as general president of the LDS Relief Society).

As they got busier, club meetings grew less frequent. But they continued. The focus shifted somewhat from their own families to community service. "We did so many service projects, helped so many, many groups," says Smith.

Above all, she says, they learned "the value of life and the joy of living. After all these years, we've come to appreciate people and places and things and the beauty of nature. But we've also come to appreciate each other and what matters most." They have found the heights of Agalia Mu.


E-MAIL: carma@desnews.com