Joanne Eickhoff and Carol Clark are the true definition of friendship. They’ve been best friends for a whopping 85 years.
“I have known my friend, Carol, since we were 3 years old and we have been best friends through grade school, high school (where we dated twin brothers), college (where we were roommates) and throughout our lives,” Eickhoff, of Pequot Lakes, explained in an email. “I think it is a rarity for two people to be best friends for 85 years and hopefully longer. We both turn 88 years old this year.”
Clark returned to Minnesota from her home in Los Angeles to visit friends earlier this month, and so she and Eickhoff could attend their 70th high school class reunion last weekend in Williams, where they grew up.
“We met at (age) 3 when our mothers must have gotten us together,” Eickhoff said while sitting on her couch with Clark. “We played in a mud puddle. She got her socks dirty and had to borrow from me.”
That mud puddle was in Williams, between Warroad and Baudette, a town that boasted a population of around 400 people at the time. It’s now much smaller.
“Our parents knew each other,” Clark said. “Everybody in a small town knows each other.”
Eickhoff lived on a farm outside of town, and Clark remembers riding her bike five miles to stay overnight there as a child. During World War II, when the girls were in junior high school, Eickhoff’s family moved into town with just one house separating her from Clark’s home. Her family later moved right next door to Clark.
“We couldn’t count the number of sleepovers we had,” Clark said.
Both girls were quite active through their school years, with Clark graduating as valedictorian and Eickhoff as salutatorian in their class of 25 students.
“School was the hub of the community,” Eickhoff said. “It was a great place to grow up.”
“We used to have a lot of fun at that school,” Clark agreed.
They formed a cheerleading squad with another friend for football and basketball games. They were both in band, where both played the clarinet (though both friends said they were never very good). Both played basketball, recalling that girls only played half the court because they were so “delicate.”
“Joanne was very good at tumbling,” Clark said.
They attended a lot of school dances in Williams and Warroad, and they went to the movie theater in town with boyfriends, including those twin farm boys they dated. The two friends were at the forefront of organizing events, soliciting money for fundraisers and starting a school yearbook.
“Everything was centered around the schools,” Eickhoff said. “We went to each other’s homes and every sporting event there was.”
And they never missed each other’s birthday parties, Clark said.
After graduating from high school in 1949, the friends ventured to what was then called Bemidji State Teachers College. They were roommates for two years before their lives finally took different paths.
“She abandoned me,” said Eickhoff, who pursued a four-year teaching degree while Clark got a two-year degree.
Clark stayed in Bemidji one more year to teach and was back at the dorm often. Then she moved to Montana and later to Los Angeles. She met her husband on an airplane from California to Montana. Eickhoff married the twin she started dating in high school, Loran Eickhoff.
Surprisingly, the best friends weren’t part of each other’s weddings. That was because of the distance with Eickhoff living in Minnesota and Clark in California when both married. They did both have three children, and both of their husbands died from Parkinson’s disease three months apart in 2013. Both women were married for nearly 60 years.
Despite the distance between their homes and busy lives with families, Eickhoff and Clark remained close by writing letters - “I’m a person who writes letters and keeps track of people,” Clark said” - and now through email.
“It’s like talking over the back fence,” Clark said.
The friends admit they do have differences.
“She’s a world traveler. She still travels alone to Europe,” Eickhoff said. “I’d rather go to a zoo; she goes to art museums. She’s tennis and I’m golf. She has one grandchild; I have none.”
Both women noted that third cheerleading friend from high school has 27 grandchildren.
Differences aside, they consider themselves lucky to have had such a long, enduring friendship. They attribute that to their upbringing and being from a small town where they had the same friends.
“I don’t think many people get to have this,” Eickhoff said of the 85-year friendship.