By Dan Linehan email@example.com
The Mankato Free Press
---- — In 1982, they threw a wedding-themed party, where each participant took on a role and some of them put on a costume. In 1975, they had a “male chauvinist” party where the men did all the work.
In the fall of 2011, a backyard was turned into a mini golf course for a “Masters” theme. One evening in 2004, the guests wore wigs and learned about wine. One guest, Geri Schmidt, had to lie down in the car so her purple high-top wig would fit.
During a prom-themed party, in 2006, the guests had to ask each other to “prom,” held in a dance hall.
Another time, a couple set up a mini county fair in their backyard, complete with a petting zoo, a beer garden, food on a stick and games. The guests registered to bring gifts, which were auctioned off and the proceeds given to a food shelf.
This group of 10 Mankato-area friends, now in their 50s and 60s, has been having themed parties for 40 years. They’ve stuck together — through two births and two deaths (no divorces) — and credit the club’s longevity to a fondness for each other’s company.
“I think it’s lasted so long because the ladies do most of the work,” said Gary Schmidt.
Gwyn Outka figures it’s lasted so long because the friends know they are there for each other.
They also like to have fun.
“We don’t like to sit around,” said Lynn Bentzen. “We love to entertain.”
Their mission, McCarty-Scheurer says, is very simple: Think up unique ideas for parties and play along with the host.
The group started in 1974 with a core of young women who belonged to the service sorority Beta Sigma Phi. A few couples came and went, but five of the original group — one of them with a different husband — still attend every gathering. The most junior couple, Harry and Bonnie Hunt, has been with the group for 13 years.
Lynn Bentzen calls it the “play group.”
Each December, the group meets and each couple gets a two-month window in which to throw their party. (They skip January and February.)
They’ve had a few changes over the years, including the fact that they don’t have to hire sitters anymore.
Back in those days, Sylvia McCarty-Scheurer said, parents hired a sitter and had fun with other grownups. Parents didn’t tote their kids everywhere because they were guilty about not spending enough time together, she said, laughing.
The parties don’t go as late into the evening as they used to, but the good times still last: the county fair-themed party lasted past midnight.
And they don’t really tell jokes anymore — just the punchlines. “We can’t get new members anymore,” McCarty-Scheurer said, joking, because no one would know when to laugh.
On this evening, Tom and Lynn Bentzen are hosting a “minute to win it” themed party at their North Mankato home. Lynn has chosen 12 games and the guests face off in one-on-one contests of physical dexterity.
Bonny Hunt and Gary Schmidt have 60 seconds to put 50 colored candles in the cup of the same color. Later, Tom Bentzen and Sylvia McCarty-Scheurer compete to see who can remove two pennies from the bottom of a pair of nylons the fastest — one-handed.
It also seems like the group works well because they are similar enough to get along seamlessly but with enough distinction to make for interesting conversation.
Sylvia McCarty-Scheurer said that the group tends to have “common values.” Her husband, Dan, notes that they also come from different backgrounds, such as construction, finance, computers, pharmaceutical sales and retail food.
But genuine affection seems at the group’s core.
“We just care about each other,” Sylvia McCarty-Scheurer said.