Sherri Richards, Published July 20 2012
Brits of a feather: For British women in Fargo, Olympics, queen’s jubilee are great source of pride
“People say, ‘I love your accent. Where are you from?’ I say, ‘Fargo,’ ” says Leonard, who has lived here 15 years. “I say, ‘I like your (accent), because you have one, too.’ ”
Leonard had lived in Fargo a couple years when she heard an accent like her own while eating lunch. Her eagerness to connect with a fellow Englishwoman led her to an entire group of British women.
Since the 1940s, an informal British Club has met locally at the homes of its members. Now, about 20 women are members of the club.
“We usually get out our china and teapots,” Leonard says. “We cook British food that we remember,” like cucumber sandwiches and salmon sandwiches, sausage rolls, and at Christmastime special cakes, puddings and mincemeat pie.
“It’s your extended family,” Leonard adds. “There’s that warm, fuzzy feeling of enjoying the traditional foods.”
Many of the members visit the United Kingdom yearly, keeping one foot on each side of the Atlantic, says Leonard, a native of Stanford whose father was a mace bearer at local ceremonies.
This year, the club members have special reason to take pride in their homeland, as London prepares to host the 2012 Summer Olympics. Recent months have also seen attention paid to the nation’s royalty, with Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee last month and continued fascination over newlyweds Prince William and Duchess Kate Middleton, not to mention a Wimbledon final featuring a British man for the first time since 1938.
Joy Query says it’s been “lovely, absolutely wonderful” to see all the attention paid to her home country.
“I’ve enjoyed it enormously,” she says.
“I wish I could be home for the Olympics. One of my dreams one day is to go to Wimbledon and watch the tennis,” adds the 80-some-year-old. She’s reticent in talking about her age, something she says was “bred into me” and other Brits of her generation.
Query came to the U.S. in 1952 for a yearlong visit. “As you can see, it’s been a very long year,” she jokes.
She had a scholarship to Drake University in Iowa, where she met her husband. She also attended Yale and Syracuse University. They moved to Fargo in 1966. Joy, a medical sociologist, taught at both North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota medical school.
Query had belonged to a national British club in Kentucky, her husband’s home state, but it didn’t have a chapter here. She didn’t know about the informal club until a member spotted their British car in the north Fargo Hornbacher’s parking lot.
“Most of members at that time were war brides. They were a delightful group of women,” Query says. “What is so interesting about the British club is we have people from Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland. It is really a British club in that way. It is really representative.”
Leonard, 76, wasn’t a war bride, but did move to the U.S. after marrying a military man. They lived first in Montana. “That was kind of a culture shock, this wide expanse from a small island that’s really only the size of Idaho,” she says.
They later moved to Minot, N.D., because he was in the Air Force. Her husband was killed in an accident when her youngest was 2 years old, she says. Her oldest was 18 and had just gone into the American Navy.
She later moved to Fargo to run a retail store. Now semi-retired, she works part-time at the White Banner Uniform Shop downtown.
“When you come from another country, you kind of have to make your own life and your own relatives,” Leonard says. The club has provided that for her, and for Query, who describes herself as a “British North Dakotan.”
“Some of them slowly become your best friend, which is what’s happened to me. Some of my closest friends are in the British club,” Query says.
And though the club doesn’t have a meeting scheduled this summer, they’ll all revel in seeing their country on worldwide display during the Olympic Games.
“I’ll certainly have my telly on,” Leonard says.