Story and photos by Joyce Coronel
When I was growing up in the Valley back in the 1960s and ‘70s, we knew the name of every family on the block. Heck, we knew the names of most of the pets in the neighborhood, too. Nobody had a garage either—there were carports.
Times change, and these days it’s not uncommon for residents in our area to drive into the garage after a long day at work and immediately shut the door to their castle.
For a group of women in South Tempe, however, that’s not the case at all. They’ve been gathering on the second Tuesday of each month for an evening of entertainment for the last 20 years. In the process, deep friendships and a sense of community have taken root and blossomed.
It all began when one of the ladies, Theresa Scholes, and her neighbor, Donna Johns, formed a bunco group in the area. For the uninitiated, bunco is a game of pure luck involving the roll of the dice. Forget developing a winning strategy or poker face. This is kismet.
A small bowl of snacks sits mostly untouched as a bell rings and the rolling of the dice commences.
As I thread my way between card tables, the ladies are engrossed in conversation. “Oh yeah, we need to get started,” one of them says.
Laura Reisinger, an original member, remembers when the Oasis neighborhood near Elliot and McClintock was first taking shape.
“I look at this group as the sisterhood of the traveling bunco box,” she said, garnering a laugh from the ladies seated inside Scholes’ spacious family room. Members of the club take turns hosting the event each month and 12 ladies show up, including a substitute player if one of the regulars can’t make it.
Dinner and prizes are part of the mix, too. And take heart, oh ye of scant luck: there’s even a prize for the lowest scorer. A poster depicting two decades of their friendship shows bunco champions mugging for the camera, adorned in tiaras.
“We are our little support system for good things, and also the serious events that happen,” Reisinger said. “It’s a really close bunch of ladies.”
Every month, they celebrate the birthdays of their members. Like any group of close friends, they’re also there when tragedy strikes.
“When someone needs you, you jump,” Scholes says.
Reisinger said she never expected to experience this type of friendship during her senior years. “When you move to a new place, you make friends with people you have kids with—the kids are in common. None of us were in that situation,” she said, looking around the room of ladies, nearly all of them senior citizens.
Not including Diane Petteruti, the youngest member, it should be noted, who started out as a sub.
“I just planned on going one night and I happened to win. They needed somebody else in their group and they said, ‘Well, you won, so you can’t leave! You’re part of the group.’ Now it’s 20 years later.” The monthly gatherings, she said, bring a smile to her face as the bunco bunch trades jokes and humorous stories.
“I enjoy listening to their perspective of things at their age—they are just a fun group. They’re a very nice bunch of ladies.”
Marilyn Smith grew up in Tempe and has known some of the members of the sisterhood for 50 years. “It gives us something to look forward to once a month,” Smith said. “Some of our husbands are good friends too.”
That’s because 10 years ago the club began holding a Christmas bunco gathering that included husbands, some of whom wondered about all the fun their wives were having.
“They think we talk about them,” Reisinger laughed. “No.” Out of the holiday bash, the men’s friendships have taken root, as well. A group of them goes to a local shooting range every Thursday morning; others play golf together.
Scholes, who’s lived in Tempe since her 20s, has known many of the women for years, too. “I just love this group. We’re all close,” Scholes said.
Carol Stes, who started coming two years ago, agreed.
At a time when many in our midst suffer from loneliness and isolation, the bunco club shines as an example of what can happen when neighbors don’t hide behind garage doors but walk along a common path of community.
“The best part is the friendliness,” Stes breathes. “Everybody is so friendly and happy.”