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Anna G. Larson, Published March 18 2013

A group of local women who grew up together have become today’s real-life Ya Yas

MOORHEAD – When the “Ya Yas” were in high school, they hid boys’ shoes in the oven in case their party was busted.

Although decades have passed, the seven women still laugh as they recall that night and many others like it.

Mary Evert Wiegand, Evelyn Bymoen Karppinen, Gail Anderson Washburn, Barbara Lammers Mikkelsen, Donna Myhra Feken, Carol Dickelman Thompson and Christine Koplau Cockerill have been friends for more than 50 years.

The group, known today as the Ya Yas, grew up together in Sabin, Minn., about eight miles south of Moorhead, and meet once a month in Fargo or Moorhead to reflect on the past and update each other on the present.

“When you get to a later stage in life, you want to reconnect,” Gail says. “It’s fun to reminisce and see how things have changed.”

Their friendships started in the 1950s. They attended church, community events and the same small schoolhouse in Sabin with slightly more than a dozen students.

Growing up in the small town made it easier to create strong friendships, the Ya Yas say.

“Everyone knew everyone, the moms cooked lunch for the school, and we made our own fun,” Evelyn says.

The Ya Yas often hosted parties at their parents’ homes or met with friends. They say the worst trouble they ever got into was drinking beer in the country.

Once their high school years approached, the women left the Sabin school for Moorhead High School.

After they graduated in 1965, they went their separate ways for a while, marrying, having children and starting careers. Eventually, almost every Ya Ya moved back to the Fargo-Moorhead area. Mary lives in Moose Lake, Minn., but commutes for the monthly gatherings.

“I don’t mind the drive – it’s a day brightener. We try not to miss it,” she says.

The Ya Yas credit one of their teachers, Vivian Broberg, from Sabin with bringing the group together.

Vivian kept in touch with the women throughout the years and often hosted reunions. She died in June of 2000, and the Ya Yas decided to make an effort to meet more often.

“We never really lost touch, and we always pick up where we left off,” Barbara says.

Evelyn’s daughter started calling the women the “Ya Yas” after she watched the 2002 comedy-drama “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.”

The name stuck, and in a way, they are like the Ya Ya sisters depicted in the movie. They, too, have supported each other through thick and thin – marriages, health issues and deaths.

Three of the women’s husbands have died, and the group lost two of its Ya Ya sisters more than 20 years ago – Barbara’s twin sister, Beverly, and Donna’s twin sister, Doreen. The monthly gatherings help the women remember their loved ones who have died.

“This is the best therapy, being with these women,” Christine says.

Sustaining friendships for years and years requires two things, the Ya Yas say – effort and finding the right people to befriend.

“Friends are really important, so find good ones,” Evelyn says. “The years go by, and there may not be many left. It’s important to connect with your friends.”

The Ya Yas typically talk for two or three hours each time they meet. They joke that the only time they’re silent is when they’re eating, but that doesn’t last long – one Ya Ya will start talking with another, and soon the whole table erupts in chatter.

“We laugh so hard sometimes that our bellies ache,” Evelyn says.

The women hope to plan a Ya Ya road trip in the future, but for now, they’ll keep meeting every month at a different restaurant.

“The men, the boys, they come and go,” Carol says. “But girlfriends are forever.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Anna G. Larson at (701) 241-5525