Moving to a new town is never easy, and the difficulties don't just include packing up belongings, driving for hours or days, and unpacking. Long after a new resident has settled into a home, one tough obstacle can remain: finding friends.
But for 70 years, women of Bakersfield have had a special welcoming group to rely on for fast friendship. What started as Bakersfield Hostess by Dottie Hiatt in 1949 has evolved over the years and is now Friends and Newcomers of Bakersfield, a group that newcomers and lifelong residents alike can join.
To celebrate its milestone year, the club is holding an anniversary luncheon on Oct. 9 at Bakersfield Country Club. While its monthly luncheons are typically for members only, this event is open to prospective members and past members.
"We'd really like to find past members," said Carolyn Troxel, president of the club. "We have a lot of people who still live here from when we had 300 people (in the 1980s)."
At the luncheon, members Phyllis Hansen and Sue Roblee will speak, along with special guest Jacquie Sullivan, the city’s Ward 6 councilwoman.
"We've been blessed with great people," Hansen said at a recent coffee gathering at Troxel's home. "It's like heaven."
Hansen, better known to Condors fans as Dancing Granny, joined the group in 2000, a year after moving to Bakersfield from Hawthorne, Calif.
Roblee has been in the group since 1985, shortly after moving here from Kansas. She had been involved in a Welcome Wagon group before her move and a family friend who had also recently moved to Bakersfield told her about Newcomers.
"She gave me a number to call the Newcomers and I called and told them I was new," she recalled. "Two days later, a lady knocked on my door with a basket."
After starting as Bakersfield Hostess, the club later became the Bakersfield Newcomers Club. In the 1980s, with scores of people moving to town for oil jobs, the club's membership swelled to about 300.
So strong was the friendship and kindness of the group, its members didn't want to leave when they were no longer newcomers. The group then split into two to accommodate the larger number: Newcomers Club and Alumni Club, the latter group for those who had been in town for a while.
"Nobody wanted to leave," Troxel said. "It's the friendships we make. It's how we all feel. Everybody is just friendly."
As membership shrunk in the subsequent years, the club became Friends and Newcomers of Bakersfield, where people are welcome to join whether they are new to town or not. Even lifelong residents are invited to join.
"I can't tell you all the wonderful things (the club members) have done in my life," said Carol Fulce, who joined the club shortly after moving here from Orange County in 2002. "They're just great, great, great friends."
The monthly luncheons are just the start of the club's myriad events and activities. Throughout each month, there are times when members will meet for dinner (with and without husbands), book clubs, movie dates and game sessions, including four different bunco gatherings. The club also has special activities, like a recent tour of the 9/11 memorial on Buena Vista Road.
If there's something a new member likes to do that isn't already offered, she is encouraged to get it started herself. Recent member Jane Cuellar, who joined about a year ago after moving from Frazier Park about 10 years ago, started a monthly theater outing.
Cuellar found out about the club through the neighborhood app NextDoor, where a member had posted about a walking group.
"It's a wonderful place to be if you're new to Bakersfield, because you get everything," she said.
For many women, the club fills a certain void. Several moved here to be closer to kids and grandkids but might not have friends of their own in town. Some had been battling loneliness following the death of a spouse. Both of those are true for recent member Carmen Rodriguez, who came here from Orange County.
"I want to have friends and do something with my life; I want to play canasta," she said. "Somebody at church connected me with Phyllis. She sent me the newsletter and I thought, 'Oh my God, this is heaven!' I have been so happy. It has saved my life."
Karen Gardiner had lived in Bakersfield before returning here after living in Las Vegas. Even though she knew the town, Friends and Newcomers still helped her.
"I had been gone so long I didn't really know anybody," she said. "It was a really nice way to get comfortable in the community."
Troxel herself has been involved with the group on and off throughout the years. She recently moved here from Oregon, where she and her husband had lived for 15 years, but she had previously lived in Bakersfield a few times before that. She initially joined the club around 1979, when they first moved here, and rejoined the group when they returned here a few years ago.
"It doesn't matter (when people joined)," Troxel said. "It's not a clique. We don't have all the older members in one group and the newer members in another."
Five prospective members who attended the coffee gathering learned that firsthand, and by the end of the afternoon the club's numbers had raised from 84 to 89. Though the members range in age from about mid-40s to 90s, women of any age are welcome to join.
"Everybody is there for everybody else," Fulce said. "I believe God brings you together and puts you in the right place at the right time. ... It's just sisterhood. It's true sisterhood. You get so attached."