The Belton Belles commemorate 33 years of swimsuits and sisterhood

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By Cassidy Pate, News Editor

For 33 years, Patricia Gunlock, Janette Kornegay, Edna Browning, Janice Means, Patsy Parker and Nita Pate have been creating memories, sharing laughs and embracing one another through their journey as the Belton Belles. Even before then, they called themselves the “Belton Bunch,” conquered the streets of Belton together and established a sisterhood that has lasted nearly 80 years.

All over the age of 80, these women were eager to reflect on the time they have spent together. From pre-school age, Kornegay and Means played dolls together, while Pate and Gunlock share a similar history. These four belles began school together, with Gunlock joining them the following year. Parker moved to Belton in fifth grade, and Browning evened the group out to six in seventh grade.

Pate, Parker and Gunlock have remained in Belton, Means is currently living in Salado, Browning resides in Arlington, and Kornegay lives in Amarillo; nonetheless, they are aware that Belton is where they met, and that is something they could never forget.

“We remember our parents and former classmates. We often go to the cemetery to reminiscence [and] to take flowers. Just recently, we went to the nursing home to visit with the residents. At our age, we know most of them. We try to take laughter everywhere we go,” Pate said.

Early on, the Belton Bunch knew they had something special, and it is through faith, friendship and love that Pate said they have been able to maintain this unique fellowship. Be it playing cards and dominoes in their pajamas or traveling the country to seek adventure, this close-knit group of friends are committed to having the time of their lives no matter where they are or what they are doing.

In 1987, the women were averaging the age of 50 and made a vow to take a trip once a year. With this pledge came snapping a photo in their swimsuits, which has become a staple for this sisterhood.

“It’s not near as much fun at 80 plus, but we do it just the same!” Pate said.

These annual trips have taken the group as far as Washington D.C., wherein Larry Combest, former U.S. Congressman, renamed the Belton Bunch the Belton Belles on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and provided them with an official proclamation to prove it. Five years later, the belles traveled to New York City and modeled their swimsuits on the streets of Times Square for their traditional photo, which was displayed on the Times Square Marquis. During the same trip, they were introduced on Live! with Regis and Kathy Lee while wearing their shirts with their swimsuit photo printed on them.

Although not all of their trips have resulted in five minutes of fame, the belles pledged to make the most of every second they spend together, whether they are touring Las Vegas, white water rafting in Colorado or just visiting at one of the belles’ homes.

“Sometimes we can only get together for a short visit,” Pate said. “We make the most of it, stuffing a multitude of fun and games in a few hours.”

With faith and fun are at the forefront of this lifelong friendship, whenever they are together, song lyrics and laughs can be heard from miles away.

“When we are on a cruise or in some faraway place, if it’s Sunday, we always have our own worship service,” Pate said.

With life comes difficult times, and the belles are aware of the fact that having someone to turn to during those times is the key to maintaining a lasting friendship. With this in mind, Means said there are five characteristics that can be used to describe the belles and their friendship: thoughtful, kind, caring, understanding and loving.

“We share our joys, our sorrows and our knowledge,” Means said.

In addition, no secrets are kept between the women, which contributes to the closeness of the group. Therefore, when they are reunited, even their husbands will admit it increases their energy levels.

“It is exciting and fun, but most of all it fills our hearts with love. We feel like we have laughed so much that we are younger and more blessed by spending time together. It gives us all a sense of peace and comfort,” Means said.