The Lunch Bunch
Calvary Lutheran Church
This is a brief sketch of the origin and growth of a group of winter visitors of Calvary Lutheran Church of Yuma, Arizona who subsequently identified themselves as “The Lunch Bunch”. The information set down has been gleaned from the memories of Clara Euhus, Irv Goehring, and many others who have been instrumental in its beginning and the continuation of its activities each season. In a small way, it is a tribute to Irv Goehring. Irv saw a spiritual need of this particular section of his congregation and worked tirelessly to fulfill it, and to Clara and Fred Euhus who have given so completely of themselves in this … their special ministry to winter visitors.
Irv Goehring was installed as pastor of Calvary Lutheran Church in March of 1969. Congregations at this particular time were looking for a special ministry and Pastor Goehring saw an obvious one … the ministry to the visitors from the north who came to spend the winter months in the sun. In 1969 Calvary had two services and though the “snow birds”, as they were affectionately called, visited in front of the church after each service, there was no means of gathering them together and nothing to give them a feeling of fellowship and belonging. Pastor Goehring with the church council decided to find out how they could better serve these retired people who were away from home and to bring the Christians who shared a common faith together. Therefore, it was that on the afternoon of December 5, 1969, the council members and their wives invited members of the winter visitor group to a tea. Those winter visitors who attended were Marie and Charlie Fields, Bill and Mary Newman, Mr. Palmer and wife Clara, Adolph and Grace Hoffman, Elmer and Lila Borgens, Tillie and Lee Valburg, Tom and Ann Craig, Emmett and Pauline Hammond along with Clara Euhus and Pastor Goehring. As a result of this meeting, the winter visitors began meeting once a month for a pot-luck lunch at noon and a Bible study following. This did not catch on too well at first. It was not until after the group started meeting once a week that a bond grew among these people and a feeling of enthusiasm and anticipation for the meetings developed. After the lunch and Bible study, there was time for some spontaneous fund and soon a planned program followed. The visitors were brought together in the sharing of Gods word and in fun and fellowship to the point of becoming even more than friends. They became part of a “winter family” who kept in touch during the summer and looked forward to being united in the fall. It was decided to begin with the first Wednesday in December and to end with the last Wednesday in March, when most of the winter visitors are in Yuma.
That first season – 1969 to 1970, the congregation hired Pastor Michaels who was a retired minister from Canada visiting in Yuma; he would visit and minister specifically to the winter visitors and have the Wednesday Bible class. He had an interesting and colorful background and was introduced to Yuma through his daughter who was a parochial school teacher and died here at an early age. He endeared himself to the seniors through his visits, but then for reasons of health, he had to discontinue them. However, he did continue with the Bible study for the season.
In the fall of 1970, Pastor Goehring took over the Wednesday Bible studies and continued with them through the seasons from 1970 to 1978. A warm and friendly man with a dynamic personality, he was greatly loved by “The Lunch Bunch” as they were now calling themselves. He as well, had a close feeling for them and delighted in his Wednesdays with the group. He worked zealously for them and sought new approaches to increase their interest. In 1975 he decided to have Bible study before the meal with the potluck following. Instead of being groggy from having eaten a big meal, they were alert, eager, and hungry… for God’s word as well! The very first time proved a success and so he gained the results he was hoping for. He found that the people who had lived a larger part of their lives, were as eager as children to study Gods word. Some were Bible scholars and added another dimension to the study. The subjects of the studies were books of the New Testament chosen with the idea of being able to complete the book during the season.
This entire program could never have grown as it has except for the dedication and diligence of two people … Fred and Clara Euhus. They have done much of the legwork – hours and hours of planning and arranging interesting and unique programs. There is no way adequately to describe what they have done. They have accepted this as their personal calling and ministry and therein lies their thanks. Each October Pastor Goehring would meet with Clara and Fred over a noon meal at their house. The afternoon would be spent in planning the program for the season. Many people also helped to make these Wednesdays the success they were and names will not be mentioned at this point at the risk of leaving some out.
Pastor Goehring eventually accepted another calling and by 1980, Dan Brandt was installed as pastor of Calvary Lutheran Church. At first, there was doubt that anyone could fill Irv Goehring’s shoes, but in a short time Pastor Dan filled the vacant niche and was beloved by all. He shepherded the seniors for two seasons and during this time, Pastor Warren Strain became a part of the winter visitor influx, coming from Seattle to escape the mini season. Pastor Brandt was of German extraction and Pastor Strain traced his ancestry to Norway. There was always friendly banter between these two – each exceedingly proud of his own heritage. Thus, it was that when Dan Brandt accepted another calling, Warren Strain was seized upon to lead “The Lunch Bunch” in the season of 1981-82. He was truly “one of us” being himself a winter visitor; and everyone delighted in his Norwegian stories of which there seemed no end.
Here a word should be said about the people who year after year came back to Yuma and made themselves a part of “The Lunch Bunch” of Calvary Lutheran Church. They came – or come from all parts of our country and Canada; the “snow birds” from the north central and north eastern states, the “rain birds” from the northwest, and even those wishing to escape the smog from our sister state, California. They ranged in age from the fifties to the oldest remembered member – Anton Jensen, age 93. They represent all professions and vocations – from Rudy Wegner, rancher from Montana to John Rohrbaugh, professor from New York. Many have traveled extensively and come from interesting and varied backgrounds. Although they treasure their memories, they are not living in the past, but instead living for today and looking forward to the future. Their one common bond is their love for the Savior. Many are talented in music, the arts, and leadership. Whatever it be, they have happily shared their talents with “The Lunch Bunch”. Some are called to mind because they are no longer with us. Tom and Ann Craig (fun loving Ann who dearly loved mission work among the Indians), Ruby Pendo, Mary Hilmer, Beth Tanis, Lee Valburg, Alvin Swenson, Emmett Hammond, Cordie Locke – to name a few.
“The Lunch Bunch” continued to grow and in 1974, the average attendance was 90. In 1977, there was an average attendance of 111 on Wednesdays with as many as 150 to 160 for the desert outings. From the beginning, Flo Stebner has kept a guest book for each season, greeted newcomers, and taken an attendance count for each Wednesday.
After the Bible study held in church from 11:00 to 12:00 noon, all would gather in the Parish Hall for a potluck meal served at long tables. At first, it was served cafeteria style and the line was long. Pastor Goehring had a novel way of determining who would be first in the serving line. It might be those who had the largest shoe size, those who had most of their own teeth, or the couples married the shortest time, etc. This last distinction went to a couple of 82 and 84 years. These long serving lines gave Pastor Goehring a chance to walk down the line and visit with each one as they moved along. It was a time of friendly exchange of greetings between pastor and all of the visitors. However, the front ones in line were through eating before the last ones were served. It was at the insistence of Agnes Rud that they tried the system that is still used where each puts their covered dish on the table in front of them and all move to the right down the sides of two tables selecting food as they go. This cut the serving time down to one third. Of course the food was always delicious and varied.
Following the meal there was the program. Great effort was put forth to make this a fun time for all. Very early plans were made for trips to the desert to give visitors from other parts of the country a feel for the desert environment and an opportunity to appreciate its stark beauty and greatness. This may have given some their only opportunity to view it and the desert outings became annual affairs and were well attended. First, the desert barbecue, the meat started in the pit the night before and tended to all night long under the supervision of Fred Euhus. Everyone brought his or her own chair and table service and a covered dish to fill out the meal. John Rohrbaugh came to be known for his camp coffee and Fred Rud was faithful in providing the “comfort station”. After everyone had eaten his fill, there were dune buggy rides, and these became a part of every desert outing. The dune buggies brought and driven by Fred Euhus, John Waite, Al Edwards, Al Bruget, John Rohrbaugh, and Mark Ankeny. These were rides not to be forgotten nor intended for the faint-hearted! Clara Euhus recalls the first dune buggy rides for winter visitors on December 3, 1972. One Sunday afternoon after church, Gladys and Sig Forseth, Tillie and Lee Valburg, Grace and Adolph Hoffinan, and Fred and Clara Euhus took Fred’s and Levi Wetherbee’s buggies out to the desert for an afternoon of thrills. Later they learned it was Gladys and Sig’s 7th wedding anniversary. Later in the season, when the morning sun was warmer, a desert breakfast was also held. When it first began, the men would purchase and butcher a hog on Monday, with the ladies’ help make the sausage on Tuesday, and on Wednesday go to the desert for a breakfast of sausage, Krusteaz pancakes, and Norma Brugets famous buttermilk syrup. Even later, in 1980, they began to have a supper on the desert with an impressive sundown service.
Those who have been with “The Lunch Bunch” these past thirteen to fourteen years will recall with fond memories some of the other more outstanding programs. In 1972 and for about three years, the ladies for one Wednesday in the month, made a box lunch which was auctioned off by Cordie Locke. Remember when Henry Euhus got Gladys Forseth’s box lunch for $10.00? There was enough food in it for a week! Cordie Locke got carried away and auctioned off Pastor Goehring’s tie too!
In 1976 began the tradition of celebrating the golden wedding anniversaries of all those who had arrived at this monumental occasion or who would do so during the year. The parents of Darlene McLaughlin, Fred and Johanna Benson, were the first couple honored in this way. By February 1980, ten couples were honored at the anniversary dinner and toasted with champagne. When each was asked what “Happiness is… to him”, Erick Landin was loudly applauded for his answer, “Going to bed with the same woman for fifty years”. At this particular program, Fred and Clara Euhus were specially honored for ten years of fellowship with the group and were crowned “King and Queen of the Lunch Bunch”. Each person present attached a star on each of his or her crowns. Darlene McLaughlin who has written poetry for special occasions, read a poem depicting humorous events in their fifty years of married life.
Each season seemed to produce more ingenious programs. The Christmas luncheon of 1977 was very festive and memorable because Gretchen Webb whose special love is to give parties mostly planned it. In 1978, the men put on an unforgettable program featuring, among other things, The Harmonicats, The Hornblower, and the Can Can Girl. Not to be outdone, the German sector entertained the following season. Flossie Millage was in charge of a hilarious style show entitled “Fabulous Fashions for Frisky Females!”
In the season of ’81, a highlight was the Norwegian Day – arranged and planned of course by the Scandinavian people of the group. That jovial Norseman, Pastor Strain, emceed it. There was a fantastic smorgasbord, Norwegian music, authentic Norwegian costumes, and handwork from Norway. Not to be outdone, the German sector entertained the following season with a feast of German dishes. Their program emceed by John Sommers and featured a German Band from Friendly Acres.
The entertainment has held interest for everyone. There have been informative travelogues by the Strains, Famesses, Scanlons, and John Rohrbaugh. There have been musical programs by Uncle Bob Hardy, Steven Culp – a seven-year-old pianist and his sister, students from Christ Lutheran School, and the famous – or infamous Cookie Cutters. An annual “Show and Tell” program brought to light interesting and unusual hobbies of many and stimulated others to develop latent talents. Craft shows and Edna Rohrbaugh’s art shows had special appeal.
Along with the Bible studies and having a lot of fun, “The Lunch Bunch”, over the years, channeled their energies toward some constructive projects too. In 1976 a Spaghetti Feed organized by Aunt Dana produced funds which were used to construct the church patio. In this and the following season major renovation work was done on the Parish Hall, kitchen and bathrooms – headed by Hugo Olson, Rueben Dieterle, Clayton Anderson, William Neuman, Ed Strieter and Clarence Farness. The winter visitors contributed to the repair of the church roof and blacktopping the parking area. For a time there were regular workdays when some of the men would work on the church grounds and lawn and assist with the remodeling the expansion of the church edifice. They purchased the slide screen and public address system and set money to Ronald Rall, a missionary in New Guinea. The ladies have had their projects as well. As early as 1973, they began to meet once a week to sew on quilts. They would bring a sack lunch and work as long as they could. During the seasons of ’78 and’79, some of the women met on Fridays to sew garments for children in the Philippines. Former members of Calvary, Art and Dora Bell who had joined the Peace Corps, were serving there, they wrote how the people had lost much during the typhoons, and that there was a great need for children’s clothing.
In 1979 Martha Osgood, Hildegard Euhus, and Flo Stebner were on a committee in charge of publishing a cookbook of favorite recipes collected by all the ladies. In the winter of ’80 and ’81, the ladies made and hand quilted a queen size quilt of the Dresden Plate design. Flo Stebner and Helen La Duct gave professional guidance in the project It was pre-determined that any money made from the sale of the quilt would be given to the Christ Lutheran School for playground equipment. The sale of raffle tickets brought $1,500 and Aid Association for Lutherans (AAL) matched this amount.
More important than any material contribution, has been the Christian love and support they have given each other and the inspiration they have been to Calvary members. The spark ignited in December 1969 continues to burn brightly. The dreams and plans of the pastor and that small group have materialized and they can see the fruits of their efforts. Certainly, the “Lunch Bunch” program is a cohesive element for the group of people spending their winters here and their season is the brighter for it. Many lasting friendships have formed and each winter looked forward to, in anticipation of renewing them.
(From December 1969 to Winter of 1982)
Betty A. Hackman