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Women’s group bonds over bonds — and stocks

The Lilies are, front row from left, Kathryn

The Lilies are, front row from left, Kathryn Cooney, Karen Toreson, Marla Larson, Linda Uphus, Laurie Sheffler and Bunny Malmstad. The Dandies are behind them. Photo Credit: TNS / Jesse Tinsley

SPOKANE, Wash.

Their bond started 21 years ago with dollars toward Starbucks.

Not over coffee exactly, but what stocks to buy when 12 women first pooled funds for a Spokane Valley investment club called the Lilies. Members all loved coffee, so in 1995, their first investment ignored a financial adviser’s caution about an emotional buy in a then much smaller Seattle company.

“Starbucks was our very first stock purchase; we still own it today,” said Marla Larson, 61, of the Lilies. “Our portfolio is an amazing value, but mainly, it’s about the friendships we’ve made.”

Various investments later, the group grew both a strong portfolio and tight friendships. The Lilies, today at 10 members, are now investing time as mentors for a younger generation. In 2015, a few adult daughters of the Lilies began their own investment club, the Dandies, with women their age.

The younger women hope to capture similar bonds and financial success, and they’ve taken some guidance from their elders, such as bylaws and how to develop a partnership agreement.

“The launching of the Dandies has brought us so much pride,” Larson said.

During the past two decades, the Lilies met once a month except in the summer to make investment decisions. After their portfolio gained value, they also grew closer while traveling together on occasion when members decided to pull out some cash for trips.

Members visited the New York Stock Exchange in 2005. They toured Starbucks headquarters and met CEO Howard Schultz in 2013. Other trips took in Walla Walla, Washington, and Palm Springs, California.

The Lilies were all educators in the Central Valley School District. They gathered insights from the group’s financial adviser, Larson’s husband Steve Larson, who over the years has remained the Lilies’ stockbroker.

“When we started, we had curtain crawlers and were dodging between basketball practices and dance recitals,” said Lilies member Karen Toreson, 76. “Now we’re retired and many of us have grandchildren.”

“It’s a rich group of women, not just with money but with experience, integrity, character and humor.”

The Lilies range in age from 61 to 82.

“The glue for this group and its acceleration are the friendships,” Kathryn Cooney, 82, said. “We’re diverse, independent, but we’re very bonded.”

Early on, the Lilies decided they’d study the investment world and research companies, along with a commitment to meet regularly. Each agreed they would contribute a certain amount per month toward the club’s investments, starting with $35 a person. Then it went to $50.

Today, it’s $75, said member Linda Uphus, 65, a former elementary school principal. They listened to each other and learned.

“We thought it would be fun to get together and test our knowledge about investments,” Uphus said, “so that’s what we did.” She added, “We watched our kids grow up, and we’re there for each other in the good times and bad, just like the stock market is up and down.”

The younger group’s members aren’t all educators, although a couple of them are teachers. Others are lawyers, stay-at-home moms, managers, nurses and business owners.

Once a year, Lilies and Dandies get together. In February, the women met at Larson’s Liberty Lake home for dinner and to socialize. Members among both groups hugged and shared a glass of wine. A few took turns holding 2-month-old River Risley, daughter of Dandies member Emily Risley, 33.

“We wanted to follow in our moms’ footsteps and get this started with the younger generation,” said Risley, who is Uphus’ daughter. “Growing up, I remember the Lilies started pitching in about 35 bucks, but more than the financial part, it was just getting together with girlfriends while raising families.”

“Our group hasn’t really made any money yet, but we’ve had fun. We’re starting off small with the hope we’ll get to share the same experiences our moms have,” Risley said. “Outside the meetings, we’ve said, ‘Let’s go to a concert together.’ ”

A conversation between two friends launched the investment legacy. Larson worked as a school counselor when Autumn Reed, another counselor, asked her about starting an investment club.

“Autumn knew my husband, Steve, is a financial adviser,” Larson said. “I said, ‘Sure, I’ll go home and ask him.’ His response was, ‘Investment clubs just don’t seem to make it for whatever reason.’ I told Autumn that and I’ll never forget her response, ‘Doesn’t that just suck for them?’ ”

“With that, we never looked back. We said ours is going to be different. As a group, we’ve always been told that common sense investing works. We invest in what we believe in and are passionate about, like coffee, wine and medical devices that help people.”

Reed remained a longtime Lilies member, and her death from cancer in 2008 was a blow to everyone, Larson said. Reed’s share of earnings went to her family.

“We miss her dearly,” Larson said. “She was a character.”

The Dandies have already gotten to know each other better, after Larson’s and Uphus’ daughters invited other women they knew as friends or acquaintances to form the younger-generation club.

“Everyone’s connected somehow — elementary school, activities, college,” Jenny Bernard, 35, said. She went to the same college as Risley and heard the Lilies legend told by daughters.

“In college, you could tell they admired what their moms had created and the fun trips. They didn’t even have to sell me when they called me. I said, ‘I’m in.’ ”

Larson’s daughter, Britney Calkins, 34, said her group’s members have planned dinners and skiing trips. They won’t draw out of their portfolio toward big outings for quite a while, so they can give investments time to grow.

“If we make a few bucks along the way that will be a nice part, but really for us, it’s about investing in friendships,” she said. “That’s the premise or spirit behind our group, and I know that’s the same for our moms and the Lilies group that inspired us.”

Risley echoed that sentiment. “Some of the Dandies I didn’t know at all, some I knew their name and wasn’t too close. Already in two years it’s been so fun to grow these relationships. We hope to have some fun adventures with the money we make, too.”

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