Debi Farnsworth, who’s keeping tradition of Women’s Friendship Luncheon alive

Debi Farnsworth says the secret to the group s longevity is a combination of food, fellowship and fun. Debbie Hovanasian photo

DRACUT — It’s been 55 years since Doris Pippen, wife of the pastor of Christ Church United, better known as the Yellow Meetinghouse, gathered a group of women of all faiths together for a luncheon.

The men had their social networks, but the women tended to stay within their own church communities for socializing.

In an effort to change all that, Pippen hosted the first luncheon in her own home, serving chicken pie and mashed potatoes. Eventually, it grew enough in popularity to expand to the basement of the church, and later to outside halls, according to Debi Farnsworth, acting president of the Dracut Women’s Friendship Luncheon Committee.

This year, women of Dracut and beyond are invited to celebrate the 55th annual Dracut Women’s Friendship Luncheon, with an “emerald” theme, on Wednesday, April 27, at Lenzi’s Millhouse.

On the menu? Lenzi’s popular specialty and a time-honored tradition: chicken pie and mashed potatoes.

Tickets can be ordered by calling Farnsworth at 978-937-2343 or purchased at the Senior Center on Mammoth Road. Farnsworth took some time to discuss this special tradition that has endured and connected women of multiple backgrounds, ages, ethnicities, and faiths.

Q: After all these years, what keeps this going?

A: Food, fellowship and fun. We have women who have been there since the beginning, and we usually recognize them at the luncheon. The first time I went with a friend (12 years ago), there was just something about it that I liked, and so I joined the committee.

Q: Doris Pippen has since passed away. Is there some satisfaction in carrying on her legacy into 2011?

A: Yes, just by extending a hand of friendship to the women of Dracut and other communities, we are carrying on her legacy. Doris came every year until just a few years ago, before she passed away. She loved it. Some women ask to bring a sister or a friend, and we say we’d love to have you. I’ve even offered to pick people up, especially the older women who might have trouble getting here. Like the original intention, it’s a lunch out; you don’t have to cook, and you see a lot of old friends.

Q: What is the return rate each year?

A: I’d say about 75 to 80 percent are returning every year. The numbers have been down the past few years, probably because of the economy. We’ve had as many as 300; last year we had 226.

Q: Times have changed since Doris’ first luncheon in her home. How has the luncheon committee kept the event fresh and exciting for today’s world?

A: We’ve added themes, like fashion shows, alter-ego shows, accessory shows, a red-hat show. We have raffle items, which people love.

The businesses in Dracut are so generous with us. We give out about 150 raffle items each year, and that is included in the price of the ticket.One example is two Adirondak chairs with a matching table from Dracut Hardware. We have gift certificates and cards, gift baskets and so much more. We also have added quality entertainment. This year it is the Dracut High School Show Choir.

Q: Women have a special kinship. Does this luncheon serve as a way to keep them connected during busy lives today?

A: I think so. It’s a different outlet. There’s such a range in ages now, with women now bringing daughters or granddaughters and nieces. It’s multigenerational. Everyone takes something different from it. For some, a favorite part is winning something from the raffle. For others it’s catching up with friends. And for the older women, it’s more about the tradition. They wouldn’t want to miss it.