Friends for life. BFFs. We hear these phrases all the time. And it’s always neat to find folks who’ve been friends for twenty, thirty, or even forty years. At forty years, JoLana Anderson and Joan Graham were just hitting their stride, though. Now 75 (JoLana) and 73 (Joan), this hilarious, adventurous pair have been friends for seven decades – and they show zero signs of slowing down.
Raised down the street from one another in Miami, Joan and JoLana met when Joan was three and JoLana five. There weren’t many other kids in the neighborhood and, since Joan is an only child and JoLana has a brother, the girls loved playing together nearly every day. They liked to say they were better than sisters because they each went home at the end of the day, so there was never any bickering or rivalry.
“Do you know we’ve never had a single fight in all these years?” JoLana says.
“It’s true,” Joan confirms. “We’ve had a few disagreements but we’ve always talked it out and went back to having fun.”
One of the pair’s favorite childhood pastimes was going to the Saturday matinee, where they viewed a newsreel and then an afternoon of cartoons, sci-fi films, and westerns featuring Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and the Cisco Kid.
“Popcorn was just ten cents back then,” JoLana recalls.
“Buttered for fifteen,” Joan puts in.
True Florida kids, they also loved swimming. Joan’s dad had a boat and would take them out to a nearby island to swim all day while he fished. One of their earliest shared experiences happened when they were out walking their dogs at about ages eight and ten.
“You might not believe it,” says JoLana, “but we saw a UFO!”
“We did,” Joan agrees. “It really was sort of cigar-shaped.”
“And had flashing lights,” JoLana chimes in.
“Who knows what it was,” says Joan.
JoLana nods. “But we still believe it was a UFO.”
“Oh yes,” says Joan. “And JoLana has even been near Area 51!”
The pair stayed friends throughout school, even though Joan, two years younger, was sometimes in a different building.
“Jo was a great mentor,” Joan says. “It was really helpful to have someone who’d been where I was each year.”
“And can you believe I used to be taller than her?” JoLana asks.
“When?” asks Joan. “When I was five?”
“Probably,” admits JoLana with a laugh.
In high school, the girls were huge fans of American Bandstand and watched it every day – then talked about it on the phone for hours afterward. Joan even wrote a poem in response to a radio contest in which the winner would get to work with a local DJ. Before she could decide whether to mail her entry, her mother did it for her. Shortly thereafter, Joan and JoLana were riding down the road with some friends when the DJ came on to announce the finalists.
“We were all so shocked when we heard my name,” laughs Joan.
“I thought our friend was going to run right off the road!” agrees JoLana.
They didn’t, in fact, wreck, and Joan eventually landed the job. That gave them entry to all the local teen dances – and since Miami was one of the cool places to be at the time, they got to meet tons of rock stars.
“Oh gosh, who all did we meet?” JoLana asks.
“Well, Bobby Darrin and Bobby Vinton and Frankie Avalon,” Joan says.
“And Johnny Mathis,” JoLana adds. “Oh!”
The pair pause to look at each other and grin.
“Jimmy Clanton!” they exclaim in unison.
“We were such huge fans of his,” Joan says.
“We even joined the fan club!” JoLana exclaims. “And guess what? A few years ago, he put out another record and went on tour and my cousin Nancy surprised us with tickets and a backstage visit!”
“It was such fun,” Joan recalls. “He said he remembered us, but I think he was just being nice. Still, we had a great time.”
To this day, the two have plenty in common. They share a deep love for animals, travel, and laughter, as well as political viewpoints and an interest in science and geography. They moved to Fayette County, Joan to Fayetteville and JoLana to Tyrone, just a few months apart in 1989. But in many ways, they couldn’t be more different.
In JoLana’s junior year in college, she got a job at the Hawaiian Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. Mostly, she handed out information and tickets. But during each puppet show, she’d take a seat in a special spot and wait for the end, when Frankenstein’s monster (played by Felix Silla of Addams Family fame) would jump off the table, shocking everyone, and dash over to begin “choking” JoLana. She’d then run out screaming with the monster in close pursuit. After college, she spent four years at a security company at which one of her jobs was to test employee shoplifting training – by actually shoplifting at Saks Fifth Avenue stores around the country. She was also placed temporarily as an employee in various businesses when someone was suspected of stealing.
“She was an undercover bunny once,” Joan laughs. “Can you put that in the magazine? That she was a Playboy Bunny for two weeks?”
“I sure was,” JoLana says proudly. “They thought the bartender at the club was stealing so in I went. I watched him pocket that money as smooth as anything. And we got him.”
JoLana also worked for the University of Miami Medical School, Cigna Dental Health, and McMaster-Carr. In theory, she retired in 2010, but in 2018 she found a new part-time gig as a movie and TV extra.
Joan, on the other hand, always knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up.
“I always wanted to be a stewardess,” she says. “That’s what we were called back then, of course.”
They also wore skirts, heels, and gloves – and girdles! And they were subject to weigh-ins for most of Joan’s career. But Joan had always loved to travel and flying was a great way to do it. Since she was too young to qualify when she graduated high school, she earned an AA in general studies while she was waiting. As soon as she got out, she applied – and then flew with Delta Airlines for 47 years, finally retiring six years ago.
“I liked to say I was seeing the world 24 to 48 hours at a time,” she laughs. “Other crew members would get in and go to their hotels to rest. Not me! I went out to see the place – no matter where we were. I’ve done military charters to places that aren’t even on the map anymore. I’ve been everywhere!”
“She was always prepared and such fun to be with,” says Jan Chaffee, who flew with Joan on countless trips during the last eight years of her career. “She always read up on the history of the place and about what was going on so when we got there, we could go adventure.”
Joan met Bob, a radio DJ, back in her teen years. They were married for 41 years, until he passed in 2010, and had two sons. JoLana, who’d been married twice before, met her husband, Tim, at a Parents without Partners dance in 1987 and they’ve been married since July 4, 1997. Tim, a Fireman and Paramedic in South Florida when they met, glows when he says, “As soon as I saw her, it was love at first sight!”
“I was in all three of her wedding parties!” says Joan.
“Yeah,” says JoLana, “and she had the nerve to elope!”
“But you were there for the boys’ births,” says Joan.
“True,” JoLana concedes.
She was also there when Bob grew suddenly ill and passed away. In fact, the two couples traveled to Yellowstone just a few months prior – and Joan and JoLana returned with Tim and their children afterward to spread his ashes.
“Tell her about the wolf,” JoLana says with uncharacteristic gravity.
Joan nods. “It was the strangest thing,” she says. “Bob so wanted to see a wolf when we were out there and we never did. But on the way back from spreading his ashes, we saw one at the side of the road, just standing there alone, watching us. And I knew then that Bob was okay.”
“We’ve had a lot of fun over the years,” JoLana says, “but we’ve seen each other through some tough times too. I know that if I need anything, at any time, I can call her. And I have”
“And I can call JoLana and I have,” Joan agrees. “She usually makes me laugh. I fell while training my dog last year and she showed up with a Barbie with a broken arm & a broken leg just like mine. Of course, when her husband was in the hospital for ear surgery, I gave him a Mr. Potato Head with a missing ear, so…”
In fact, Joan and JoLana credit laughter with sustaining their long friendship.
“There are other things, too,” Joan says. “We keep each other’s secrets. That’s important.”
“And we can be ourselves with each other, we never question each other,” adds JoLana.
“We also have little traditions,” says Joan. “We have a friendship ball ornament that opens up and we pass it back and forth with a little gift inside at Christmas.”
“But humor matters a lot,” says JoLana. “We both married men with great senses of humor and that helps too.”
“Remember when we took your mom to the Crazy Horse Saloon for her seventieth birthday?” asks Joan.
“She kept poking the dancer with her umbrella every time he got too close!” JoLana croons.
The pair call themselves Lucy and Ethel (JoLana says Joan is the best straight man ever) and their friends agree.
“Joan and JoLana together are just a hoot,” says Joan’s friend Elaine Keaton. “I’ve known Joan a long time. We started flying together in 1966 and we raised our children together from the jump seat. What’s neat about her is that her sense of humor is so dry. Sometimes you don’t even realize she’s gotten in a zinger until long after!”
“JoLana is so funny,” says her cousin Nancy Arts. “She has the most infectious laugh. She starts laughing and everyone else starts laughing too, even strangers.”
Heart is a big part of friendship too, and friends say both women have that to spare.
“Joan is kind and goodhearted and just perseveres no matter what comes her way,” says longtime friend JoAnn Ahola.
“She’s so warm and giving and just enjoys life,” says Joan’s friend and neighbor Jackie Hizel. “She’s a person you enjoy having in your life.”
“I call JoLana a friendship first responder,” says friend Heather Russell. “She’s the first one to visit or make food or bring music when someone is sick. Whatever she can do to make people feel better.”
JoLana’s daughter, Alisa Mathew, agrees.
“My mom has a great heart and she was always a wonderful example of how to be giving and charitable,” she says. “And of course, she’s a lot of fun. And so is Joan!”
Adventure always seems to surround Joan and JoLana.
“I’ve traveled with the two of them several times,” says friend Carol Davis, who worked with JoLana for 25 years. “And it is nothing short of the best time ever, every single time!”
Since retiring, Joan and JoLana have enjoyed taking trips with the Fayette County Parks and Recreation Department and they’ve been all over the state.
“Did you know there’s a Bigfoot museum in Elijay?” asks JoLana.
“It’s a good one, too,” says Joan. “That was a fun trip.”
A fun trip.
All in all, that seems to describe this 70-year friendship perfectly.
“JoLana has a drive for finding the best things in life,” says Joan.
“And Joan is incredibly dependable,” says JoLana. “We respect each other and our differences and that’s what makes it work.”
“If you find this kind of friendship, it’s a real treasure,” says Joan. “This kind of friend really shares your life.”
“That’s right,” agrees JoLana. “Parents come and go. Sometimes spouses do too. This is forever.”
“And we’ve been through everything together. Births and deaths, marriages and divorces, jobs and moves and fun and tears.”
“And UFOs,” says JoLana.
Joan nods and smiles. “And UFOs.”