Like-named members unite for fun, fellowship
Betty Kopetka, 87, greets 80 women as they arrive for the Bettys of Nebraska Convention in Lincoln, and she doesn't stumble over a single name.
"Hi, Betty," says Kopetka, greeting Betty Eastin, 77, of Clay Center. "Good to see you, Betty," she exclaims, welcoming Betty Marxsen, 77, of North Bend.
Having the name Betty is the only requirement to join the bevy of Bettys who belong to 15 regional chapters across Nebraska and gather every April for camaraderie and companionship with their namesakes.
"Our names tie us together," says Betty Krueger, 85, who founded the state's first Betty Club in 1994 in Hastings (pop. 24,907) after hearing about the Betty Picnic in Grants Pass, Ore. (pop. 34,533). Krueger placed an advertisement in the Hastings Tribune and located 10 local Bettys who met for lunch.
Betty Hulme, 78, remembers feeling an instant kinship with her namesakes and having a heap of fun at that first meeting. "We were in the ladies room and two women were at the sink and one said, 'That was a good meal, wasn't it, Betty?' And all of us in the stalls said, 'Yes, it was.'"
Laughter permeated last April's apron-themed convention chaired by BettyLou Lang, 57, of Lincoln. Members reminisced over a display of vintage aprons, reported on their chapters' charitable projects, gathered for a group portrait in their matching tie-dyed Betty T-shirts and sang the club anthem, "Betty's a Star," written by member Betty Surls, 73, of Lincoln.
Celebrating their old-fashioned name is important to Bettys. During the 1920s and 1930s, Betty was one of the most popular names in America, glamorized by cartoon character Betty Boop, homemaker Betty Crocker and Hollywood starlets Bette Davis, Betty Grable and Betty White.
"Years ago, men used to say, 'She's a Betty!' which meant 'Wow. She's a hottie!'" says Betty Sieck, 65, of Lincoln.
Betty clubs can be found beyond Nebraska. In Reno, Nev., Betty Plant, 73, leads about 30 Bettys who gather for lunch, sponsor a college scholarship and donate Christmas gifts to charities. In Grants Pass, Ore., the Betty Picnic ended in 2006 because of declining membership and mobility, but about 10 Bettys continue to meet for monthly lunches.
That news thrills Betty Wilder, 84, of Grants Pass, who co-founded the Betty Picnic in 1987 with Betty Patterson, who died last year. "We just wanted to see how many Bettys were still around," Wilder says.
What about Bob?
Bob Crider, 54, and Bob Dormaier, 50, of Mansfield, Ohio (pop. 47,821), haven't met a Bob they didn't like-or enlist in The Bob Club, an online group they created in 2003.
"It started as a joke just to see how many people we could find named Bob," says Crider, a website designer. More than 3,000 Bobs have signed up and contributed names of famous Bobs.
"We have the shortest, coolest name," Crider says. "You can flip it around backwards, and it still spells 'Bob.'"
The Bobs would like to hold a convention someday, but meanwhile, Crider says, they're having a "Bobberrific" time with their online namesakes, including Bobby Bobson, of London, Ohio; Bob Bobson, of San Francisco; and Bob Roberts, of Peebles, Ohio.
League of Lindas
Bettys and Bobs aren't the only bunches that love to mingle with people who share their first name. More than 100 women belong to the LINDA Club, which began as a lark in 1987 when Linda Pasvogel and Linda Eaton invited everyone named Linda to gather in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Linda Lu Siebert, 66, of Lyndon, Ill. (pop. 648), showed up and had a blast. "It was supposed to be a one-shot thing, but everyone had so much fun that we decided to meet again," she says. "We've made friendships that have lasted a lifetime."
Lindas convene each July in a different American city, but some activities remain constant, such as a group walk, the presentation of a scholarship to a student named Linda, and a donation to a nonprofit organization in the host city. Linda-themed songs always play in the background and in 1989, songwriter Jack Lawrence crooned his famous 1946 song, "Linda," in person to the Lindas: "When I go to sleep, I never count sheep, I count all the charms about Linda."
But Linda Rumppe, 61, of Chicago, frets that her name, which was the most popular girls name in the United States from 1947 to 1952, is losing its charm. "There aren't many little girls named Linda anymore," she says.
Jim Smith Fun Fest
Membership is thriving, however, in the Jim Smith Society, which boasts 1,090 card-carrying members. The group was founded in 1969 by the late Jim Smith of Camp Hill, Pa. (pop. 7,888), who invited every Jim Smith he could find to a Fun Fest in 1970 near Boiling Springs, Pa. (pop. 3,225).
Jim Smith, 71, of Saylorsburg, Pa. (pop. 1,126), liked the society's motto-We Don't Shun Fun-and joined on the spot.
"We are a wonderful, wonderful group," says Smith, whose son, Jim Smith, 33, of Paradise Valley, Ariz. (pop. 12, 820), is a member, as is his son, Jim Smith, 13 months old. "It's difficult to find a group of people who are so amenable and accommodating one to another."
Jim Smith, 82, of Shawnee, Okla. (pop. 29,857), gets a kick out of people's reactions to his many good friends-all named Jim Smith. At a restaurant, he told the waitress that all of them shared the same name, but she thought he was joking.
"When it was time to pay, all of us gave her our credit cards," he recalls. "Pretty soon, we heard her screaming, 'He's right! They're all Jim Smith!'"
During Fun Fests, Jim Smiths and their spouses, called Gems, go sightseeing and play horseshoes, golf and a version of Bingo called JIMGO.
"We know who's going to win the golf tournament," Smith says. "We already have the trophy made out."
On the map
Most of the same-name clubs can meet anywhere, but the Phil Campbells head to Phil Campbell, Ala. (pop. 1,148).
"I was in college and sitting around with my roommates, basically bored and watching Hee Haw when I heard the cast say howdy to the folks in Phil Campbell, Alabama," says Phil Campbell, 38, of Brooklyn, N.Y. "I was stunned for a minute, then ran and got my road atlas."
In 1995, he mailed invitations to about 300 Phil Campbells and 22 traveled to their namesake town. "We sat around, cooking hamburgers by the swimming pool, and had a great day," Campbell says.
This year, about 25 Phil Campbells returned and helped the town clear debris from a deadly April tornado. They raised $40,000 to help rebuild and celebrated the town's 100th anniversary.
Rita Barton, 56, the town's parks and recreation director, says local leaders considered canceling the centennial observance, then decided that residents needed a reason to celebrate.
"The grand marshals of the parade were the Phil Campbells," Barton says. "They really care about our little town."
And they adore its name.