Marilynn Colcord had two instructions for guests at her inaugural Ladies’ Night Out last April: Lean into the good company of friends and bring spare buttons.
The gathering was intended to unite women of all ages in conversation, food and fun in the Eastern Oregon community of Pendleton, where Marilynn retired from work in health care.
The button twist gave it an additional purpose. It answered a call from the Reader Exchange section of this magazine.
A woman in Walla Walla, Washington—about 40 miles north of Marilynn—wanted to kickstart her granddaughter’s button collection. She turned to magazine readers for contributions.
Marilynn didn’t know how many of the women she invited from church would attend, but she anticipated one thing about them.
“If they’re anything like me, their house is full of stuff,” she recalls thinking before that first meeting.
About 15 people came. They brought so many buttons that Marilynn had to reinforce the bulging shipping box with layers of clear tape to keep it from splitting open in the mail.
Her Ladies’ Night Out gatherings have continued monthly with a mission to grant simple wishes gleaned through Reader Exchange.
The requests long intrigued Marilynn, who receives the magazine through her Tollgate-area family cabin served by Umatilla Electric Cooperative. She figured fulfilling requests would be a simple way to serve and make someone’s day.
Anywhere from eight to 16 women typically attend Ladies’ Night Out—assembling at local restaurants to visit, share recipes or inspirational thoughts, eat together and pool their resources for other readers in search of broken or unwanted jewelry, fabric scraps, coins, seashells, knitting supplies, books and doll clothes.
Seed money for shipping came from the sale of one participant’s donated jewelry piece.
Each package is sent with a note and the first names of the women who contributed. Letters of appreciation have come back from places such as Troy, Montana; Sisters, Oregon; and Susanville, California.
“You look at the impact,” Marilynn says. “Somebody, somewhere, feels seen, heard, special and overwhelmed with love.”
In Susanville, Tanya Dronoff had requested garden seeds in Reader Exchange and was flooded by responses from Nevada to Alaska, including from the Ladies’ Night Out crew.
“I found it the most touching when I got a plastic tub filled with hand-picked seeds, all placed in jars, wax envelopes and very old paper envelopes that wore the test of time,” Tanya says. “Some labeled, others a mystery until the spring calls them to life.”
The Ladies’ Night Out group collected everything from herbs and flowers to vegetables. Some seeds came from the backside of an old barn. Some came in a bag wrapped with old twine.
For Marilynn, the offering reinforced that meaningful gifts don’t have to come from a store.
It’s something 6-year-old Sissy Bernard is also learning. At her grandparents’ home in Walla Walla, the button collection that started it all has surpassed 25 pounds.
Weighing the buttons that have come from all over the country—including North Pole, Alaska—has become as much fun as sorting and admiring them.
Sissy’s collection carries on a family tradition, says Grandmother Joyce Dunning. Sissy’s father has his great-grandmother’s collection. Joyce has her own great-grandmother’s collection. When Sissy wanted to start collecting, Joyce thought of the Reader Exchange section as a good place to start.
“We thought maybe she’d get 100 buttons,” Joyce says. “Now we think she might have the biggest button collection of any 6-year-old.”
Among her most special pieces is a circular button someone sent from a coat of their son during his time in the U.S. Navy. A person who works in fashion sent designer buttons. A rainbow-hued hot air balloon button floats in the mix.
With every answered wish, though, the people most rewarded may be the women of Ladies’ Night Out.
What started with a call for attendees in church and expanded to friends beyond has drawn a steady group of women of different walks of life and with different
needs. For Marilynn, whose home life
focuses on two teen daughters, the group expands her friend circle.
“I needed a closer fellowship with women who support me,” she says.
Others in the group have recently lost spouses or just need a reason to sometimes get out of the house.
“I’m astonished at the laughter,” Marilynn says. “It’s so good to come and laugh with friends.”