The members of the D.I.V.A. Book Club celebrated their 20th anniversary in May. Pictured from left are (top row) Jeanne Fuhrman, Kathleen McLellan, Trish Toschik, Alice Lewis, Eunice Larson and Linda Cool; (bottom row) Ellen Reeves, Leonore Martinez, Betsy Jenners-Smith, Sue Johnston and Beckie Lee (photo courtesy of Betsy Jenners-Smith).

The members range in age from 65 to 85 years old, many of them attended area schools (Orangewood Elementary, Sunnyslope High School, Washington High School) and for the past 20 years, they have met (mostly) every month, brought together by their common history at Sahuaro Elementary School in the Washington Elementary School District. But what has kept them together over the past two decades is their deep love of reading and the lasting bonds of friendship that have developed.

The D.I.V.A. (Delving Into Various Authors) Book Club celebrated its 20th anniversary in May, and one of the club’s members reflected on how they came together and what has kept them together all these years.

“We were all teachers at the elementary school,” recalled longtime North Central resident Betsy Jenners-Smith, “and two of the girls were retiring and a couple of other girls were leaving. So, they wanted to figure out a way that we could all stay together, and instead of just doing a lunch once in a while, they came up with the book club idea. That was in 2004.

“It was only 12 members at the time, but it became 15 very quickly. We met once a month – we took summers off – and we have stayed together for 20 years.”

And variety is the spice of life for these readers, or rather, diversity, which is reflected in the group’s name. At the end of each year, they all nominate books to read the following year.

“We always pick eight, because we don’t meet during Christmas either and we read books we wouldn’t normally read, which pushes us out of our comfort zone.”

That means a lot of historical fiction (absolutely no romance) and other interesting works. Currently, they are reading Kristin Hannah’s “The Women,” set in 1965 Vietnam and telling the story of the women who served in the Army Nurse Corps.

“We have shared hundreds of great reads, some we never would have chosen but because we are committed, we read them,” Jenners-Smith added. “We have shared many victories together and many losses also.

“Two out of the fifteen D.I.V.A.s have passed away, Benita Hankinson (our school secretary) and Nancy Frank, who started at Sahuaro way back in the early 1960s. Diane Coffee a founder of the D.I.V.A.s is still a part of the group but is homebound so she cannot attend meetings. Nora Gottschlich moved to Michigan to be with her grandchildren.”

When they celebrated their 20th anniversary this year, “way beyond what we could have ever imagined,” they asked one another, “Should we keep going?” The answer, a resounding “yes.” “Our bond of friendship is lifetime,” Jenners-Smith added.

“There are now 11 of us ready to take off on the adventures and knowledge that reading books can add to our lives.”


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