When friends Lucy Gallardo, Maryann Martinez, Lupe Mesa, Arlou Reyes, Janet Martin and Susie Mesa Flores got together to form a bunco group, they had a feeling it was the start of something that would stand the test of time. In fact, Arlou said they should invest in a rest home so by the time they retire, they can own it, move in and keep playing bunco.

That was 40 years ago.

Since 1979, the “Bunco Babes,” a nickname given to Lucy by attorney David Torres while she worked for the Superior Court of Kern County Criminal Division that was adopted by the group, gather once a month to play the social dice game, rotating hosts each time. Each of the 12 members pay a $5 fee that contributes toward various prizes for accomplishments like most wins, most buncos, even most losses.

But the game takes a back seat to the real reason the group has been going strong – lifelong sisterhood.

“We’ve gone through deaths, births, anniversaries, weddings with our children – we’ve gone through it all. It’s just like one big family,” Lucy said. “We play together, we drink together, we argue together, we do whatever.”

“It was a good way to get away from the husbands,” Janet added.

The group has always stayed at 12 members, with subs filling for those who cannot make a gathering. There hasn’t been an opening since 2014 when the group lost Susie to cancer.

Diagnosed in 2012, one year after Arlou was diagnosed with breast cancer, the group rallied in support of one another.

“We really are a good support system when something happens,” Arlou said. “Everybody lets everybody know what’s going on so we can be a support to that person.”

“(Susie) was a trooper,” Lucy said. “I remember the last bunco she went to. It was December 2013 and she was so happy because she had gone into remission.”

But a fall later in the month led to a recurrence and Susie passed away on Jan. 16, 2014.

Her last request was that the group bring in Rosemary Garcia Lomas to replace her, which they did with no questions asked.

“We feel her presence a lot,” Lucy said. “Certain little things we think, ‘Oh my God, look at this – this is Susie.’ Her favorite colors were purple and lavender and one day we all dressed in purple and lavender.”

Today, the group consists of original members Lucy, Maryann, Lupe, Arlou, Janet, Rosemary, Diane Villanueva, Marie Gonzales, Rachel Mazza, Frances Mendez, Liz Wood and Maria Frausto. Outside of the original members, the others have been with the group for at least 30 years.

While they’ve transitioned from adult beverages and late nights during their younger days to water and soda in more recent years, the tradition shows no signs of slowing down.

“I never thought it would end,” Janet said, when looking back on the group’s beginnings. “We even talked about us retiring and having the GET bus take us to the different retirement homes so we can keep playing.”

“Then our conversations wouldn’t be about husbands – they’ll be about Depends and false teeth, our canes and our walkers,” Lucy added as the others laughed in agreement. 

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