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Lunching with Lois: Local club brings together women with same name

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Lois Fritz, Lois Neuman, Lois Johnson, Lois Laurence, Lois Volkmuth and Lois Henkel pose together at an October Lois Club luncheon at the 40 Club in Aitkin. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch video2 / 4
Lois Fritz, Lois Neuman, Lois Johnson, Lois Laurence, Lois Volkmuth and Lois Henkel pose together at an October Lois Club luncheon at the 40 Club in Aitkin. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch video3 / 4
Lois Fritz, Lois Neuman, Lois Johnson, Lois Laurence, Lois Volkmuth and Lois Henkel pose together at an October Lois Club luncheon at the 40 Club in Aitkin. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch video4 / 4

AITKIN—Every few months in the back room of the 40 Club, a group of senior women gather for lunch.

This might seem like nothing unusual. Friends gather for meals and conversation all the time. Coffee klatches congregate daily at cafes or McDonald's or grocery store food courts. This group in Aitkin, though, has a rule—just one rule, but it's a very specific rule. To enjoy the company of this warm and welcoming group, one must be named Lois.

"I'm glad to be a Lois. It's so easy to spell," said Lois Henkel, 89. "All of the letters are above the line so you don't have tails going through your address. It's just a good name."

Celebrating one's first name is the guiding principle of the Lois Club, and every member shares the same one. At the club's most recent meeting in October, six Loises—some traveling 60 miles—chatted together, updating one another on mutual friends, grandchildren and vacation plans, as they've done for 16 years. A meeting so close to Halloween called for a festive theme, of course: decorated hats.

Together with Henkel were Lois Fritz, Lois Johnson, Lois Laurence, Lois Neuman and Lois Volkmuth. All are original members of the area's branch of the Lois Club, kicked off in 2002 by founding members Johnson and Neuman, both of Aitkin.

"When I moved up here I contact Lois Neuman. She owned a flower shop in Aitkin, and when I discovered her name was Lois, I said, 'Let's start a Lois Club,'" Johnson, 79, said.

Neuman, 92, hadn't yet heard of the club honoring her name, but liked the idea.

"I had two Lois friends who were coming up to see our new home on the lake, and thought, this is a good time to start a club," Johnson said. "If I put an advertisement in the paper and nobody comes, at least I would have those two friends and Lois Neuman with me. But we got a group of 17 the first time."

All in a name

There's just something about the name Lois, it seems, that calls those bearing it to seek one another out. Johnson befriended these other women named Lois during her membership in a Lois Club in the Twin Cities, where the founding chapter of the now-international club convened for its first luncheon 40 years ago. Started by Lois Millner and Lois Weston of Minneapolis, who met when Weston sold Millner life insurance, the club grew in popularity and spread to other cities.

The history of the Lois Club is chronicled on the website for Lois Link International, another Lois organization—that's right, there is actually more than one organization dedicated to Loises. This group, which calls itself a cooperating organization with the Lois Club, was formed through a different Lois' own desire to connect with others named Lois. Oblivious to the existence of the Lois Club, Lois Widly traveled to Prince Edward Island, Canada, in 1995 on a mission to meet every Lois she could and share their stories in a book.

From this exercise came Lois Link International, and in 1997, Widly found out about the Lois Club. She was not alone in her quest for the company of Loises.

'Lois' loses popularity

The name Lois is harder to come by these days. Every year, the Social Security Administration compiles a list of the top 1,000 most popular baby names—the data for which extends back to 1900. Between 1902 and 1953, the name was in the top 100 of all female baby names in the U.S., reaching its pinnacle from 1925 to 1934, a span during which it stayed in the top 20. It was No. 17 for both 1929 and 1930. The name Lois remained on this list for 84 years, although it dropped off in 1984 and has yet to return.

Which is to say, women named Lois tend to be older. And the local Loises aren't shy about that fact. A brief history of the club drawn from their stories included many references to the Loises of the past—those who've since died, or who have more difficulty attending meetings because of the drive, or who are preoccupied with their own illness or the illness of a husband or child.

But dutifully, every few months, Johnson submits a news release to the Brainerd Dispatch announcing the next meeting, the fifth Tuesday of the month. And there's always the hope a new Lois might show up and join their story.

All paths lead to the Lois Club

The Aitkin club that saw its inaugural meeting draw 17 now counts six to eight regular attendees, hailing from as far away as Baxter, Merrifield, Ogilvie, Giese and Minnetonka.

Before their names brought them together, the Loises took different paths through life.

Johnson spent 20 years each as a church secretary in Eagan and a paraprofessional in the Burnsville School District, then retiring and moving to Aitkin.

Before opening a flower shop in Aitkin with her daughter, Neuman worked first for a wholesale jeweler before becoming a stay-at-home mother and later a bookkeeper for her husband's business.

Volkmuth, 86, of Baxter, stayed busy raising eight children, four boys and four girls—none named Lois, although one claims it as her middle name. She and her husband came to the lakes area from St. Cloud, where he ran a printing business until 1979.

Henkel ran a root beer stand in her youth, later worked for Western Union, and eventually spent two decades as a baker and cook in the Robbinsdale School District. She now lives in Giese, a small city between McGrath and Finlayson.

Laurence, 85, Merrifield, studied dental hygiene at the University of Minnesota and then moved to the area, where she worked in the field. Worsening arthritis sent her on a new path in social services, and she became the director of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program before retiring herself.

Fritz, 76—affectionately referred to as the baby of the group—worked in publishing and human resources before she and her husband retired to the south end of Mille Lacs Lake. After 17 years, they moved farther south to Ogilvie.

"The only organization I stuck with was the Lois Club," Fritz said. "So that says a lot about the Loises."

It's no longer just the name that bonds the women. Together, they've celebrated birthdays and anniversaries, and they've toasted Christmas with a Tom Collins. They know the names and ages of each other's grandchildren and have mourned together in loss. They've discovered connections from the past—like when Johnson learned Fritz knew her late husband as a child.

Johnson and Neuman have even attended Lois Club conventions together in North Carolina and New Orleans. Johnson once took to the seas on an Atlantic cruise especially for Loises.

But mostly, the Lois Club is something to look forward to. A reason to throw on a hat adorned with stuffed bears or leopard cat ears or a Lois T-shirt and enjoy the company of friends. Loises, linked for life.

"We talk. We have lunch. No officers, no dues, no secretary," Neuman said. "We just get together and enjoy each other."

If you go

The next Lois Club luncheon is set for 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 29, at the 40 Club in Aitkin. Call Lois Neuman at 218-927-1354 or Lois Johnson at 320-684-2000 with questions. New members are always welcome, the organizers said.