The Girls From Ames: A Story of Women and a Forty-Year Friendship

By Monica Walker,2014-11-04 20:23
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Product `desc`riptionFrom the coauthor of the million-copy bestseller The Last Lecture comes a moving tribute to female friendships, with the inspiring story of eleven girls and the ten women they became. Meet the Ames Girls: eleven childhood friends who formed a special bond growing up in Ames, Iowa. As young women, they moved to eight different states, yet managed to maintain an enduring friendship that would carry them through college and careers, marriage and motherhood, dating and divorce, a child's illness and the mysterious death of one member of their group. Capturing their remarkable story, The Girls from Ames is a testament to the deep bonds of women as they experience life's joys and challenges -- and the power of friendship t Published by Gotham on 2009/04/21

Table of Contents


    Title Page

    Copyright Page



    ? Chapter 1 - The Girls in the Photos Chapter 2 - Marilyn Chapter 3 - Karla Chapter 4 - Sheila Chapter 5 - Kelly Chapter 6 - The Things They Remember Chapter 7 - The Intervention Chapter 8 - FBB and Other Secrets Chapter 9 - Defining Love Chapter 10 - “If Not for You” Chapter 11 - The Bonds of Pop Culture Chapter 12 - Their First Child Chapter 13 - Tears in the Ladies’ Room Chapter 14 - Cooperation and Appreciation Chapter 15 - News from Ames Chapter 16 - Through Kell’yy Eyes Chapter 17 - Mysteries and Memories Chapter 18 - North of Forty Chapter 19 - The Game Chapter 20 - The Women from Ames

    ? Afterword Acknowledgements

    Wall Street Journal columnist and, with Randy Pausch, coauthor of TheJeffrey Zaslow is a

     , the #1 New York Times bestseller now translated into forty-six languages.Last Lecture

    Zaslow attended Dr. Pausch’s famous lecture and wrote the story that sparked worldwideinterest in it. He is also the coauthor of Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s bestsellingautobiography Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters. Zaslow lives in suburban

    Detroit with his wife, Sherry, and daughters Jordan, Alex and Eden.




    Published by Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.


    Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (adivision of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.); Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL,England; Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of PenguinBooks Ltd); Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124,Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd); Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017, India; Penguin Group (NZ), 67 ApolloDrive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd); PenguinBooks (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa


    Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England


    Published by Gotham Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.



    First trade paperback printing, April 2010



    Gotham Books and the skyscraper logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.


    Copyright ? 2009 by Jeffrey Zaslow All rights reserved


    Photos courtesy of: Teness Herman: pp. 30, 79, 118, 160, 198, 280, 291, 311, 329; KarlaBlackwood: pp. 2, 51, 130, 172, 180, 208, 276; Jenny Litchman: p. 310; Marilyn Johnson: pp. 27,208; Kelly Zwagerman: p. 78; Jane Nash: pp. 30, 154, 230; Angela Jamison: p. 60; CathyHighland: p. 118; Diana Sarussi: p. 160; Karen Leininger: pp. 94, 136, 242; Sally Hamilton: p.118


    Zaslow, Jeffrey.

    The girls from Ames : a story of women and a forty-year friendship / Jeffrey Zaslow. p. cm

    eISBN : 978-1-101-22298-0

    1. Women—Iowa—Social conditions. 2. Women—Iowa—Ames—Biography. 3. Femalefriendship—Iowa—Ames. I. Title.

    HQ1206.Z27 2009


[B] 2008053251




    Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may bereproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or byany means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the priorwritten permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.


    The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other meanswithout the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase onlyauthorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy ofcopyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.


    While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internetaddresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes anyresponsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisherdoes not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-partyWeb sites or their content.



    Penguin is committed to publishing works of quality and integrity. In that spirit, we are proudto offer this book to our readers; however, the story, the experiences, and the words are theauthor’s alone.


For all those who’ve known the gift of friendship . . .

On pages ii and iii:

The Ames girls, circa 1981—Karla, Sally, Karen, Diana, Jenny, Sheila, Jane and Angela


    A t first, they were just names to me.

    Karla, Kelly, Marilyn, Jane, Jenny.

    Karen, Cathy, Angela, Sally, Diana.


    They arrived, unheralded, in my email inbox one morning in June 2003. The email came fromJenny, who offered three understated paragraphs about her relationship with these women. Sheexplained that they grew up together in Ames, Iowa, where as little girls their friendshipflourished. Though all have since moved away—to Minnesota, California, North Carolina,Maryland, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Massachusetts, Montana—they remain a powerful, lovingpresence in each other’s lives. Now entering their forties, Jenny wrote, they’re bonded by alifetime of shared laughs, and by more than a few heart-breaking memories.

    After I read Jenny’s email, I sent her a quick reply, thanking her for writing. Then I printedout her message to me, bundled it up with a couple of hundred other emails I received that day,and put it in the bottom of a filing cabinet, where it remained untouched for three years.

    The Wall Street Journal called “MovingJenny had contacted me because I write a column for

    On.” The column focuses on life transitions, everything from a child’s first crush to a dyinghusband’s last words to his wife. Though the Journal covers the heart of the financial

    world, my editors have embraced the idea that we must also tend to the hearts of our readers.And so they’ve given me freedom to do just that. There are a thousand emotionally chargedtransitions that we all face in our lives, and most come without a road map. That’s theterritory of my column.

    Jenny decided to tell me about the girls from Ames (and yes, they still call themselves“girls”) after reading a column I’d written about the turning points in women’sfriendships. The column focused on why women, more than men, have great urges to hold ontightly to old friends. Sociologists now have data showing that women who can maintainfriendships through the decades are healthier and happier, with stronger marriages. Not allwomen are able to sustain those friendships, however. It’s true that countless grade-schoolgirls arrange themselves in pairs, duos, threesomes and foursomes, vowing to be best friendsforever. But as they reach adulthood, everything gets harder. When women are between the agesof twenty-five and forty, their friendships are most at risk, because those are the years whenwomen are often consumed with marrying, raising children and establishing careers.

    For that column, I spoke to women who had nurtured decades-long friendships. They said theyfelt like traveling companions, sharing the same point on the timeline, hitting the samemilestones together—thirty, forty, fifty, eighty. They believed their friendships thrivedbecause they had raised some expectations and lowered others. They had come to expect loyaltyand good wishes from each other, but not constant attention. If a friend didn’t return anemail or phone call, they realized, it didn’t mean she was angry or backing away from thefriendship; she was likely just exhausted from her day. Researchers who study friendship saythat if women are still friends at age forty, there’s a strong likelihood they’ll be lifelongfriends. “Female friends show us a mirror of ourselves,” one researcher told me.

    That column ran in The Wall Street Journal on a Thursday, and by 5 A.M. that morning, emails

    from readers had begun filling my inbox. Every few minutes, well into the weekend, I’d get anemail from yet another woman proudly telling me about her group of friends:

    “We’ve gotten together twice a year ever since we graduated high school in 1939 . . .”


    “We met in Phoenix and call ourselves Phriends Phorever . . .”


“We’ve had lunch together every Wednesday since 1973 . . .”


    “My girlfriends and I joke that when the time comes, we’ll all just check into the samenursing home . . .”


    “I’m only 23, but your article gives me hope that I will hold on to my friends for life . ..”

    One reader told me about her grandmother’s eight friends, all from the class of ’89—that’s1889! They stayed remarkably close for sixty-five years, and even when they reached theireighties, they still called themselves “The Girls.”

    And then there was the letter from Jennifer Benson Litchman, an assistant dean at theUniversity of Maryland School of Medicine. Jenny from Ames.

    In some ways, Jenny’s story was like so many of the others. She shared a few details about howthe eleven Ames girls met, some as early as infanthood in the church nursery, and how they feelbonded forever. But her short, tossed-off note didn’t fully reveal how extraordinary thosebonds have become—I’d learn all that later—and she didn’t even tell any of her friends shehad written to me. Jenny ended her email by saying that she appreciated my take on femalefriendship. She also paid me a compliment: “You really seem to understand women. Your wife isvery lucky indeed.”

    My wife would have to speak to how lucky she is or isn’t, but I can say this: I do feel analmost urgent need to understand women. That’s mostly because I am the father of threeteenagers, all daughters.

    I have seen my girls pout and fret and cry over friendships in turmoil, and I have seen howtheir friends have buoyed them at their lowest moments. At times, their sweetest friends haveturned into stereotypical mean girls. At other times, former mean girls turn into friends. As aparent witnessing it all, I often feel helpless and exasperated.

    Having observed how my mother, sister and wife built lovely friendships over the years, Inaturally hope that my daughters can be as fortunate. When I think about their futures, I wantthem to feel enveloped by people who love them, and I know they’ll need close, loving friendsat their sides. (I’m also aware that men’s friendships are completely different. I’ve beenplaying poker with a group of friends every Thursday night for many years. About 80 percent ofour conversations are focused specifically on the cards, the betting, the bluffing. Most of therest of the chatter is about sports, or sometimes our jobs. For weeks on end, our personallives—or our feelings about anything—never even come up.)

    There have been many self-help books designed to help women find and navigate friendships.Scholarly books have been written, too. And of course bestselling novels have won hugeaudiences by focusing on the sisterhood among fictional women.

    But as a journalist, I know there’s great power in honest stories about real people. So, overtime, I found myself intrigued by the idea of asking one articulate group of long-standingfriends to open their hearts and scrapbooks, to tell the complete inside story of theirfriendship. I had a real sense that a nonfiction narrative—the biography of a friendship,meticulously reported—could be a meaningful document for female readers. Perhaps it would alsohelp me understand my daughters, my wife and the other women in my life.

    And so in the summer of 2006, I returned to that filing cabinet, and went through all theemails from women describing their friendships. I read them again, building a short stack ofpossibilities. I contacted many of the letter writers, and they were all very eager to sharetheir thoughts.

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