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The Coffee Gals
Circle of friends have bond that extends nearly 5 decades
By By Jill Meier
Challenger editor

March 07. 2013 9:30AM
What began over a cup of coffee has brewed into a friendship for that has been percolating for nearly five decades.

Over the last 48 years, a group of coffee-guzzling gals have shared advice, recipes, heartache and happiness, birthdays and holidays. And Saturday morning, they came together for their usual monthly coffee consumption, chatter and celebration.

“When we say ‘the coffee gals’ to our husbands, they know what it means,” says Donna Knutson, the go-to gal of the group of the dozen gal pals.

“The main stop is always Donna’s place,” informs Betty Kielman, of Brandon. “It’s a central location where you’re always welcome, and that’s a gift.”

The coffee gals started in a Sioux Falls neighborhood in 1965, where Donna, Joan Sebesta and Yoshiko Barber lived across the street from one another. At the time, Yoshiko’s husband was serving in the Air Force, and they had moved to Sioux Falls to be near family during his deployment to Vietnam. Each day, Yokshiko and her two children would walk to the grocery store or to Lewis Drug to mail a letter or voice tape. It was on one those daily ventures that Joan invited her in for a visit and a cup of coffee. The two women had boys who were similar age and loved playing together.

Donna, too, had a little girl, Kerrie, who was the same age as Yoshiko’s daughter, Brenda. “It was a great time,” Donna recalls. “We’d bring our kids to a birthday party, share recipes, have coffee and talk – just good friendship.”

But the group of friends would not be contained to the trio.

Not long after Joan, Donna and Yoshiko became friends, Deb O’Hara and her family moved in across the street, and so the yet small-in-number the coffee clack invited her in, along with Donna’s sister, Julie Roach.

The coffee gals added Vicky Voss to their friendship roster when her family moved into the neighborhood. The friendship forged ahead fast, as Vicky was a cousin of a friend of Donna’s.

“We’d call or walk over to invite her to join in our morning coffees,” Donna said. “It seemed everyone needed a mid-morning break and sometimes we’d have a new recipe to taste test.”

It would be childbirth that started a friendship between Betty and Donna. The two shared a hospital room when their sons were born hours apart on the same day.

“So, again came the opportunity to join and get tips on raising children plus sharing new ideas or another recipe,” Donna said.

After living in the south for some time, Val Ohrt and her family returned to Sioux Falls, where she would become acquainted with Donna as a “housemate” at the YWCA.
“I had just moved in and Donna moved out weeks later to marry Lloyd,” she remembers.

Over the years, the friendships – and the group – continued to grow.

“There were sicknesses, some sad times, stressful times, new jobs, moving and keeping within our budgets, but there was always a bond of friendship,” Donna said.
It would be Donna’s sister, Julie, who later would bring co-worker Aleida Meyerhoff into the group.

“Just one time, and she was hooked,” Donna tells.

Brenda Thompson, Yoshiko’ daughter, and Kerrie Arens, Donna’s daughter, have also become regulars in the group. Daughters, daughters-in-law, sisters and friends have been invited on special occasions.

Donna’s mother, 98-year-old Bernice Gilkison, gas also been part of the coffee gals pack.

“Bernice is the ‘grand’ mother to all the gals,” Donna said. At age 98, she enjoys a good laugh and sharing her tips of wisdom. “And she counts on all these gals as a very special part of her life,” Donna said.

While there’s visible differences in their ages – now spanning from 48 to 98 – the women remain bonded by friendship.

Brenda says the most notable difference comes to light when they’re dining out.
“They can all order from the back – the 55 and older menu,” she jokes.

The coffee gals sometimes meet for an evening supper or at one of the member’s homes, Brenda said.

“If we meet in someone’s home, everybody brings a dish to share,” she informs.

Besides their monthly coffee sessions, they’ve been known to venture out of town, too.

“We’ll have to take another road trip like we did,” Betty says, bringing up an overnight trip to Jackson, Minn. “We just had fun. We laughed and laughed and laughed,” she said.

En route to their Minnesota destination, the gals sped by Luverne, where it was planned they would pick up Vicky.

“They were talking so much they forgot me,” Vicky says. “So they had to double back and get me.”
Joan, one of the first three members of the coffee gals, says the group provides her friendship and togetherness.

“We share a lot of joy. We’ve had some sorrow and somebody is always there to talk to,” she said. “And we don’t judge. That’s one of the big things – we don’t judge each other.”

All of the coffee gals say they can’t imagine their lives without one another.

“We all agree that none would give up our coffee times for anything in this world,” Donna said. “We are bound and stamped with caring, friendship and bonds.”

“And to be perfectly honest,” Vicky adds, “This friendship has lasted longer than some marriages.”

Ten of the 12 "coffee gals" gathered Saturday at a Sioux Falls resident. The circle of friends has grown from the initial three to a dozen over 48 years. Pictured are, from left, row one: Kerrie Arens, Donna Knutson, Joan Sebesta, Yoshiko Barber and Brenda Thompson; row two: Betty Kielman, Val Ohrt, Aleida Meyerhoff, Deb O'Hara and Vicky Voss. Bernice Gikison and Julie Roach are not pictured. Photo by Jill Meier

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