West Linn High School class of 1956 form sisterhood despite the years
For most students, walking across the graduating stage marks the last time they will see their classmates.
But for a group of women from the 1956 graduating cohort at West Linn High School, their lifelong friendship has only strengthened over the years.
It was sometime during their sophomore year of high school when these members of the class of 1956 began to bond with one another and started hanging out frequently. That year, a group of female students decided to host a Christmas party for all the girls in the class. The tradition stuck, and what followed was 66 years of festivities and sisterhood.
"We have stuck tougher for 66 years and now, more than ever, we are happy to help one another as the need arises. It has been a wonderful friendship for all," said Vicki (Oldenstadt) Greenwood, who still lives in West Linn.
Along with their Christmas celebrations and class reunions, the women meet once a year for a tea party.
In 2001, the same group of women met for a tea party at one of their houses. Greenwood said the group was expecting tea and maybe some cookies. Instead, they enjoyed English tea with scones, Devonshire cream, lemon curd, tea sandwiches and other sweets.
Since then, the women meet up once or twice a year and take turns hosting.
"I've gone to all of them, except the last two years. The (woman) who originally hosted (the event) made eight different types of teas with china teapots and plates and made it a really special occasion," said 84-year-old Linda (Wiedemann) Engelman.
Around 12 to 15 women attend each tea party, and Greenwood and Engelman said it provides time to catch up with one another.
"My favorite thing about the reunions is just seeing each other. Most of us are lucky enough to have good lives … so I love finding out about people's kids and grandkids, because otherwise I wouldn't know what is going on with people," said Engelman. "I look forward to it. In fact, the years we didn't have one (because of COVID-19) (was) upsetting."
Beyond celebrating their graduating class and the friendships they've made along the way, the class of 1956 also salutes seniors from their alma mater.
The group has given away 37 scholarships to seniors at West Linn High School. Each scholarship is worth $1,956 to honor the cohort's graduation year.
"We had good teachers, good education, and we thought a scholarship would be a great way to give back," said Greenwood.
When the scholarship started, Greenwood remembers one of her former classmates creating a plaque with 30 nameplates for scholarship recipients. She laughed and told her friend that there was "no way" they would continue the scholarship for 30 years.
Since then, the group has created additional plates for the bottom of the plaque so they can fit in more recipients' names.
Greenwood said every scholarship recipient has graduated from college — except for the most recent recipients who are still working towards their degrees. Scholarship winners have gone on to be educators, doctors and lawyers.
For some years, the group has picked multiple graduates for the scholarship as it was too tough to choose just one.
The group has given away nearly $70,000 in scholarship money so far. They raise money through raffle tickets, food booths at the local fair selling honey and gift cards, silent auctions and memorial donations from those who have passed.
Over the years, as the class of 1956 grows older and life around them changes, Greenwood and Engelman said their bond is a positive constant that they can always rely on.
"I'm an only child, and many of these women are like sisters to me," Greenwood said. "We keep in contact by phone, email, playing cards, going to lunch. It's a really wonderful feeling to have a friendship this warm and close knit."
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