Even though Bea Dragon moved to Massachusetts eight years ago, she has managed to remain a member of the book club she helped found 17 years ago.
The women (and men) of the Pilgrim Senior Center Book Club have met on the second Thursday of each month for 17 years, reading an estimated 198 books together.
There are 10 club members today, nine women and one man. Betty Challgren said members have changed over the years; some have stopped coming and others have passed away.
But the friendships have remained, especially between Challgren and Dragon.
The two have been members of the book club since the beginning and when Dragon moved away to Amherst, Mass. to be closer to her daughter, they found a way to keep Dragon as a member.
Dragon stays in touch with Challgren and makes sure to keep up with the monthly books. The two exchange e-mails and letters, as well as talk on the phone.
“I take notes and bring them here so Bea is still a member and part of the discussion,” said Challgren.
On Thursday, June 13, the club members had a special surprise. Dragon came for a visit and attended the meeting in person for the first time since she moved.
“It is nice to finally put a face to the name,” said Gail Felix.
Dragon is glad she has been able to remain a part of the group despite her distance.
“I just love the connection,” she said.
And the group wasted no time diving right into their discussion on their latest book, “These is my words,” by Nancy E. Turner.
As an honored guest, Dragon started off the discussion.
“When I started reading, I didn’t realize it was a novel. I thought it was really her diary,” she said of the story, which focuses on the life of an Arizona pioneer woman and the struggles she faced.
“It sunk in more than it ever did in school,” said Dragon with a laugh about the details the novel provided of pioneer life.
The seven women in attendance had a lively discussion, not just about the book’s plot, but about the time period and even related it to their own lives.
The group began in 1996 as a community service project through the GFWC Warwick Women’s Club. Challgren recalls being told that the club would never last and that they would only read women’s romance novels. But that is not the case.
Challgren said the book selection includes novels, biographies, non-fiction, etc. She said the group even read the most recent Read Across Rhode Island Book, “The Beauty of Humanity Movement.”
“Some of us even attended the event at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet. The author came and spoke,” said Challgren.
They are also planning on having lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant to experience the cuisine of the country where the novel takes place.
And those are not the only trips the group has planned over the years. After reading biographies on Emily Dickinson and Mark Twain, the group took trips to see the homes of the famous writers.
At the end of every meeting, the group goes through the tedious process of deciding on a new book. They tend to choose older books so they can be borrowed from the library, however they do make exceptions. Each seems to have a laundry list of books they would love to read, making selecting just one very difficult.
The group tries to follow one rule, however. The person who recommends the book should have read it.
“Sometimes we get stuck reading a book that even the person that recommended it doesn’t like it,” said Joyce Guncheon.
Guncheon and Felix admit that if they don’t like a book, they will never finish it. Dragon is just the opposite, even when reading the most recent book selection.
“At first, I didn’t think I would like it. I couldn’t get used to the language,” said Dragon about “These Is My Words.” “But I always follow it through because I don’t know what I might be missing.”
While the June meeting featured a special visit from one of the group’s original members, it was also the first meeting for the newest.
Trish Fenton joined the Pilgrim Senior Center just two weeks before the meeting and had asked about any reading-related activities.
“I just love reading,” said Fenton, who is a retired teacher.
Although she could not comment on the book from the June meeting because she had not read it, Fenton is looking forward to participating in future meetings.
While getting the opportunity to read and discuss a variety of books is an advantage of the club, Challgren believes the group has provided something even better.
“It’s really special how none of us knew each other before, but [the club] has created friendships that have endured,” said Challgren.
The Pilgrim Senior Center Book Club is free to join for readers of any age.
“You don’t have to be over 65 to join,” said Guncheon.
The next meeting will be on July 11 at 10 a.m. at the Senior Center. The group is reading “Maine” by J. Courtney Sullivan.