Pilot story by Andrea Barkan
Four members of the Beach Belles huddled close, cracked jokes and whispered secrets in the common room at Shore Pines Assisted Living Community in Gold Beach last month.
They laughed easily as they talked about the friendships that have blossomed since the singing group, which now has 15 members, formed in 2002.
The women let out a hoot when bandleader Florence Elfman widened her vibrant eyes and made a frame for her face with her thumbs and index fingers, stretched into an L shape, set against her cheeks.
"I was born doing this," Elfman said. "You know what this means: Look at me!"
It is Elfman's trademark and something the Beach Belles are used to seeing.
Six Shore Pines residents started the Beach Belles in February 2002, performing for the first time at the facility's talent show.
Now they sing by request and for free at a variety of community events and area facilities such as local hospitals, assisted living facilities and senior citizen centers.
Their last performance, at Heritage Place in Bandon, was the smoothest yet, Elfman said.
"We have molded ourselves into a real group now," she said. "It just went smooth."
The original members Elfman, Ann Domes, Betty Parker, Anne Rowe, Shirley Stein Hauser and Lucile Weaver are all still singing.
Ann Domes plays piano for the group. "I like music," Domes said. "My only outlet right now is here."
Many of the members said what they love about the group is the music and the friendship.
"I love this group," Weaver said. "I'd be lost without it. It fills a need."
"We're just all bosom friends," Elfman said. "It's going to be a lifetime friendship no matter what."
Lucile Larsen said she likes singing silly songs, which are often big hits with the audience.
"I love the fun of it," Larsen said.
"And I enjoy the camaraderie, the closeness it gives us," she continued. "I just lost my husband and I don't know what I would have done without the Beach Belles. It really pulled me through. It gave me an anchor to hold on to."
Elfman said the group plans to add new songs and other surprises for 2004 performances.
"We pick out people in the audience to sing to," Elfman said. "We're really getting brave."
Debbie Randolph, Shore Pines activities director, said she would like to see the Beach Belles do one performance every month.
"When they go into these different places ... people just perk up and they glow," Randolph said. "They're having so much fun it rubs off on everyone else."
Elfman said community support has been "absolutely fabulous."
Performance requests have steadily increased.
"We were swamped over the holidays," she said.
The group performs at venues from Brookings to Bandon.
To book the Beach Belles, call Randolph at (541) 247-9213.