By Jessica King
Six decades ago, roughly a dozen women who grew up during the Great Depression and World War II decided to form a group in Ramona. The group started as a monthly bridge club but evolved to something more, something that spurred lifelong friendships and fond memories for generations to come.
There are now three surviving members of the group, which still meets today: Cynthia Kunkel, 97, and 94-year-olds Gertrude Page and Mary Kay Pinkard.
“We were friends first and we started playing cards, once a month at everybody’s homes,” recalled Page. “Then we got so small, we had our daughters join and others from there.”
At some point the meetings switched from players’ homes to local restaurants for lunch dates.
Kunkel’s daughter, Franthia Smith, said the daughters and other female relatives started to join 14 to 15 years ago when some of the members started needing rides from their children to continue meeting.
Prior to that, Smith joked that children and husbands were generally not allowed as the women enjoyed their escape time together. But the group often organized all-family picnics and birthday parties and other gatherings.
“We remember them silly ladies laughing a lot,” said Smith, adding that she and the other daughters knew them as the “Bridge Mothers.”
“I always knew if I couldn’t reach my mother, I could reach out to any one of the Bridge Mothers and they’d be there for me,” Smith said. “Of course, they were known strictly to us as Mrs. this or Mrs. that. No first names back then.”
The loving bond the women shared was never more evident than in 1965 when Pinkard’s husband died and one of her daughters had to abruptly cancel her formal wedding. Smith said the Bridge Mothers sprang into action and threw a wedding for Pinkard’s daughter and her soon-to-be son-in-law.
“I think that really shows you what these women were to each other and the kind of women they were,” said Smith.
It’s been too long — years — since the women have been able to play cards, Kunkel said, but the chatter remains.
“We always find something to talk about,” joked Page.
“We’re very good friends,” added Kunkel.
They talk about everything from the weather and grand- and great grandchildren, to the past and the way Ramona used to look.
Bee Bee Wilson is a caregiver for two of the surviving Bridge Mothers, Page and Pinkard.
“It’s just a wonderful group of women,” said Wilson, who also uses adjectives like “strong” and “motivated” to described them
“I absolutely love it,” Wilson said. “I ask a lot of questions about Ramona’s history because they know it all. They just all love the community.
“They’re love of the community just keeps them together, I think,” she added.
Page and Pinkard have both lived in Ramona their whole lives, starting out when the population only consisted of a couple hundred people. Page’s father was principal of the high school and Kunkel’s grandfather was one of the original owners of the Ramona Sentinel.
In 1935, Page was crowned Ramona’s first Turkey Day Queen.
When Page was first married, she and her husband, Fred, lived in his mother’s house along Highway 67, near Dye Road. They never locked their door and never had a problem with it, she said.
“I just love Ramona and it really makes me unhappy when so many people now try to tell us what’s wrong it,” said Page. “There’s nothing wrong with it, if they’d just leave it alone.”
Kunkel was born elsewhere but moved to Ramona as a young child and spent most her adult life here.
“Ramona was a very nice community filled with very nice people,” she recalled. “Most everybody knew everybody.”