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After layoff, former co-workers meet for lunch every month
Some of the members of the Laura Scudders group that meets once a month for a luncheon are shown at the New China restaurant in Manteca on Thursday. The former co-workers have been having the monthly reunion for the last 24 years. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO/ The Bulletin
Businesses come and go, but many of their employees remain best friends for life.

Take a group of former Laura Scudders co-workers for example. When the plant closed the doors of its Tracy operation in December of 1989 after being a part of this South San Joaquin community for 25 years, the end of the potato-chip line was just the beginning of a beautiful friendship for some two-dozen women who worked at the plant. Every month for more than two decades, they have met for lunch at various restaurants in Tracy and Manteca. Their latest luncheon reunion was at the New China restaurant in Manteca on Thursday.

“I think that’s quite a feat – 22 years,” said Penny Ftacek of Manteca who worked at Laura Scudders for 15 years while raising 10 kids.

“It was 22 years ago when they closed the plant. We’re all in our 70s and 80s now; even our plant manager has passed away,” she said.

Most members of the reunion group are from Tracy, with about five of them including Ftacek from Manteca.

“One is from Escalon. She used to live in Manteca but she moved after the plant went down,” Ftacek said.

Another member was from Manteca but Alzheimer’s forced her to drop out of the monthly luncheon meetings, she said.

“There’s also one girl that lives in some other town, but she fell and broke her hip, and now she’s in a care home,” she added.

The job of selecting their monthly luncheon venue is given to the one who is celebrating a birthday that month. At their last reunion, two women shared the honor of blowing the candles on the cake that served as their dessert. Those who are having their birthdays have to bring the cake to the luncheon.

 Another member of the group has the responsibility of scheduling the luncheon date that is convenient for everybody.

The former co-workers did not start out as best friends at Laura Scudders.

“I worked swing shift, and a lot of them were day-shift girls. But we were still from the same plant and we knew each other,” Ftacek said.

“We worked so much there it became our own family. We spent more time with each other than with our own families,” said Marie Costa of Tracy.

For a few of the former workers at the potato-chip plant like Joyce Shelly of Tracy, the end of their employment marked the beginning of their close friendships.

“We got to know each other more coming to the luncheons,” said Shelly who worked the graveyard shift from 1969-72. She was also one of the two birthday celebrants this month.

“I got pregnant and that was it,” she said of the extent of her employment at Laura Scudders.

She said she picked New China restaurant in Manteca for this month’s reunion because, “This is one of our favorite places to eat – good food and friendly people,” she said.

“We don’t do anything special. During lunch we talk about old times. We sit with different people all the time and chat,” Ftacek said, explaining what she likes best about these luncheon reunions with old friends.

“Just meeting and knowing that we’re still real friends in good standing, and everybody likes everybody is why I like going to the luncheon,” she said.