Tonawanda News

July 5, 2013

Never out of touch

Celebrating 70 years of friendship with Seven Girls Social Club

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — It may have been raining outside, but inside the cozy home of Betty Gardei McAninch of North Tonawanda, the laughter and friendship more than brightened the day.

In 1943, McAninch and six friends started the Septem Puillai, (Latin for Seven Girls), the original name of the Seven Girls Social Club, when they were freshmen at North Tonawanda High School. 

“We didn’t want to be in a sorority, we just wanted to meet as friends,” Alice Exner Cowles, who now lives in Florida, said.

One of the members, Betty Zastrow Kohler is deceased, but the remaining members who live locally get together often. This time all six were in town and celebrated McAninch’s birthday, their 66th high school reunion and the 70th club reunion together.

McAninch, Irene Thiele Barrett and Joan Maurer Sidell, who now lives in Arizona, have been friends from kindergarten at Wurlitzer School. Helen Winslow Furman and Cowles met when they attended seventh-grade at the former Felton Grammar School and Judith Voss Buicke joined them a year later.

“Some of us have been friends for 80 years,” Cowles said. “We named the club Septem Puillai because Irene was taking Latin,” she laughed.

The club had a president, secretary and treasurer.

The women recalled making money by selling suckers and cleaning homes. The money was saved up so they could rent a cottage at Olcott Beach in the summer.

“We were very clever and brought canned goods to the meeting that we kept for the cottage,” Barrett said. “And we had chaperones at the cottage,” she added.

In addition to raising funds for their summer fun, the club also made scrapbooks for children at DeGraff Memorial Hospital where Furman worked as a tray girl, doing jobs that ranged from delivering food trays to washing floors.

“All for $1.50 a week,” she noted.

Each of the women recalled the work they did at their homes to help out.

Barrett, whose father owned a dairy farm on Shawnee Road, recalled that she sold unpasteurized milk “with cream on top. Farney Wurlitzer was a customer,” she said. “When he came for milk and cream, he’d ask for a kiss and he’d make his watch chime,” she laughed.

Buicke recalled walking home at night, the streets dark with no street lights. “It was kind of scary, but we weren’t frightened,” she recalled. “We walked in groups to school, now our grandchildren have their own cars to drive to school,” she said.

The afternoon was full of reminiscences of things like rationing in WWII of everything from gas to groceries, to stores no longer in existence like Zuckmeier’s Department Store, Parson’s Drug Store, Yianilos Soda Bar and the Sugar Bowl, as well as the places the women worked.

Cowles recalled taking the Carpenter Rapid Transit bus to work and Barrett chimed in recalling how sidewalks were full of customers for the local shops on Fridays and Saturdays.

However, the talk was not just about days gone by, but the women’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Sidell told how she sent text messages to her family to keep up with what’s going on.

 “I’m finally getting modern,” she laughed. “But texting is a lot of fun.”

“We used to talk about our kids, not we talk about arthritis,” McAninich said.

The women also enjoyed looking through the North Tonawanda High School North Star yearbooks and the “Feltonian,” the yearbook from Felton School.

Buicke, who joked that she couldn’t get a word in edgewise with the group, said when she travels to New Orleans to visit her family once a year, she misses chowder and fish fry dinners.

“Life’s interesting,” she said, “we were all born in the Depression, we’ve shared heartaches, the good times and the bad.”

Cowles laughed at the inside jokes the group enjoys and their fun at getting together.

“It’s a wonderful thing to have such good friends,” she concluded.

Contact community editor Barbara Tucker at 693-1000, ext. 4110 or email