Introductions are hardly necessary when the Lois Club gets together. That’s because every one of the women seated around two banquet tables in a Minnetonka hotel shares the same name.
One would think name tags would be pointless. In fact, they wear them, with “Lois” printed in a tiny, almost unreadable font. The last names are bigger, bolder; club members refer to each other only by surname, like grandmas in a locker room: “Lindquist,” “Troemel,” “King.”
Some even sport extra branding, like the heart-shaped brooch inscribed with a flowery “Lois,” pinned onto the red sweatshirt of lunch coordinator Lois Voss. No one would be forgetting anyone’s name at this party.
The Lois Club is one of the nation’s most exclusive clubs, one reserved solely for people with just four letters in common. The club was founded in St. Paul in 1979 when two Loises met at random; now the society is national, with a roaming annual convention that draws Loises by the hundreds.
The club’s mission? Lunch.
“These are people I would never get together with otherwise,” said Lois Nystul, 88, of Minnetonka.
The Twin Cities West chapter was formed 10 years ago and has about 65 members, though a snowstorm kept many of them from attending their most recent gathering. Most are Loises in their 70s or 80s.
Conversations range from church to travel, though when the topic of their name comes up, things take a highly opinionated turn. “Lois,” it would seem, is quite controversial.
“ ‘ Patty’ and ‘Sally’ were cuter,” said Voss, 73, of Edina. The mixers, held four or five times a year, provide a feeling of “camaraderie,” she said, for people who are not so crazy about their moniker.
“It’s harsh,” said Lois Peacock, 71, of Minnetonka. “Who would look at a brand new baby girl and name her Lois?”
Quite a few people, actually. While today it doesn’t even register in the top thousand baby names in the United States, there were tens of thousands of girls who were bestowed the name in the ’20s and ’30s. Lois’ popularity peaked in 1930, when it was the 17th most popular girls’ baby name, according to the Social Security Administration. It reached its height in Minnesota in 1929, when 443 girls got the name.
It was so much a part of American culture that even Superman dated a Lois — Lane, of course.
But like many baby naming trends (Instagram filters! Fruits and vegetables!), Lois eventually fell out of favor. Since 1974, there have not been more than five Loises born in a single year in Minnesota. Nationally, only 99 girls were given the name of Lois in 2014.
Started by chance encounter
Many Loises at the recent Lois Club meeting had mixed feelings about the name.
“I just accept it,” said Lois Johnson, 82, of New Germany. “It’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just a name.”
Frequent misspellings and embarrassing nicknames were to blame for some of the indifference. But at least one Lois was proud of her name, which she believed to be better than the alternative. “It was between Irma and Lois, and I’m glad they picked Lois,” said Lois Carlson, 72, of Plymouth.
Lois Klobuchar, whose stepdaughter is U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, said that when she worked in labor and delivery, she’d often suggest the name to new parents, but it rarely took. She surmised that clubs like this one would “cease” if the name didn’t make a comeback. “Enjoy it while you can,” she said.
The meetings, held whenever there is a fifth Tuesday of the month, date back to a chance convergence of Loises. Lois Weston, of St. Paul, sold an insurance policy to Lois Millner, a housekeeping expert from Willernie. The women decided to have lunch together, and one or the other came up with the idea to invite a few more Loises. May 1, 1979, was the club’s first official gathering.
The group met for years at the Lexington in St. Paul. But as members started aging, a few Loises founded an offshoot for those living on the west side of the Twin Cities. Snowbirds in Texas started their own club, and now, there are Lois Clubs everywhere, even Canada. The next national convention will be held in April in Palm Springs, Calif.
Though they’re not as prevalent as, say, bowling leagues, same-name clubs are not completely unusual. There are clubs for Bobs and Bettys, for Jim Smiths and Phil Campbells. Some members find uncanny commonalities: Klobuchar, Peacock and Lois Amundson, of Richfield, said the Loises they know are all artistic and like to read, sing and eat. But others say they are similar in name only.
“What a boring world it would be if we were all alike,” said Lois Heinzen.
What’s in a name?
Although the Lois Club ritual involves little more than lunching, there is a business portion of the meeting, when new Loises introduce themselves and explain the origin of their name. (The lunch ends with the singing of “The Lois Hymn.”)
Some are named for actress Lois Wilson, others for the biblical grandmother of Timothy, and some aren’t sure where their name came from.
Lois Cardarelle knows definitively how she became a Lois. At this, her first meeting, she presented a copy of a letter that was sent in 1935 to her mother from a pair of friends called the “Quast girls.”
“My mother was perplexed about what to name me,” said Cardarelle, 80, of Edina.
The three-page missive, written in rhyme, spouts off dozens of possible names for the new baby. At the end, the girls make a top-10 list of their favorites. No. 1: Lois Ella.
To think, she could have just as easily been a Mary Ann, an Elizabeth Grace or a Carolyn Joyce. Was she satisfied with the Quast girls’ pick?
“I don’t think it’s a beautiful baby name,” she said. “But it’s always been mine, and that’s what counts.”