Friends reconnect after 57 years

By MICHELLE ADAMS / Community Columnist

In the age of social media, the definition and nature of the word “friend” has changed.  No longer is friend a trusted confidante, but a recognizable name to share life events and family photos with via the Internet.

Actual human connection is no longer required. For Montevallo resident Jane Belcher, though, friendship means more than dashing off a status on a website.  Rather, friendship withstands years, distance and lack of connectivity. Her recent reunion with Air Force roommate Laverne Widener, after 57 years, proves that friendship is not defined by time or space.

Jane Belcher after completing Basic Training at Lackland Air Force Base in 1954. (Contributed)

Jane Belcher after completing Basic Training at Lackland Air Force Base in 1954. (Contributed)

In the summer of 1954, after graduating high school, Belcher enlisted in the Air Force, and it was at Basic Training at San Antonio’s Lackland Air Force Base where she first met and roomed with Widener.

“I believed that if others made it through basic training, then I could, too,” Belcher said. “I saw girls that didn’t make it, and I felt that they were naïve or disillusioned to what it really meant to be part of the military. A mental strength was required to withstand the rigors of training, and Vernie and I made it through.”

After training, both women were stationed at Eglin Air Force Base, southwest of Valparaiso, Fla., where they roomed together again. Officially part of the 3201st WAF Squadron at the Air Proving Ground Command, Widener worked in an installation unit, inspecting civil contracts, and Belcher worked for the Air Force Aid Society in conjunction with the Red Cross.

“I really loved being a part of the Air Force,” Belcher said. “If I had not married, I probably would have retired from the Air Force.”

Married life moved Belcher from the Air Force and to various parts of the country, as her husband’s job required. “Janie” never forgot her friendship with “Vernie,” and this past December received a letter from her old friend in an attempt to reunite.

Though 57 years had passed, Janie, now 78, and Vernie, 83, knew each other immediately. Coincidentally, both women had two children of similar age, and both their husbands were retired from the phone company and both men died a month apart.

“We talked and talked and talked,” Belcher said. “After so long apart, we just wanted to talk and make plans to see each other again. We realized that we really hadn’t changed that much.”

Friendship for Janie and Vernie did not involve a DSL connection, but a connection of the heart, a connection that 57 years could not change.