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image Even after more than 50 years of friendship, Frances Hereford and Polly Rothenbush seem to wear the same colors for photographs without even discussing it, just like they did back at their 16th birthday party. Penny Fletcher Photo

For more than half a century, these two have faced the best and worst of times together

By PENNY FLETCHER

RUSKIN- These two friends are a real trip. Just sitting listening to their stories is enough to keep you laughing all day- even after you’ve parted.

Frances Hereford and Polly Rothenbush played together as children. They had a joint birthday party at 16.

March 19 they’re celebrating their 70th birthdays together at a party at Frances’s house. They made it clear I was to say anyone from their old school days, as well as past and current friends are invited. Just stop by Frances’s gift shop, “Southern Grace,” at 301 U.S. 41 in Ruskin or call there, (813) 641-0004 for details.

Since they’ve lived in the area so long, they expect their guest list to be huge.

“My neighbors are just going to have to put up with me that one night,” Frances said jokingly. “We have no idea who might show up.”

The friends have personal stories that converge at a very early age.

Frances had to move to Ruskin at 12 from Tampa because her father was with Tampa Electric Company and got the job of seeing to the installation of the area’s first electricity. Naturally, at that age, she didn’t want to leave her friends. But after a week in Ruskin, she said a cartload of horses couldn’t have dragged her away.

“We actually had the first area electric company right in our home,” Frances told me last week. “I’ll never forget the day I talked on the telephone for hours and hours and then found out my father had been waiting for business calls. Oh boy, was I in trouble over keeping that line tied up!”

Polly, on the other hand, moved to the area from Cotton Plant, Arkansas; a town which later became a ghost town and finally disappeared.

“We came because my dad was in the restaurant business and he took over a place called Sharecropper’s where all the kids hung out after school. It was a good restaurant too.”

The family lived in a mobile home behind the building, which was most recently the Casa Don Juan on U.S. 41.
The two met while going to school in Wimauma. What is now Wimauma Elementary School was at one time the only high school in South County.

“When they opened East Bay (which later became Eisenhower Middle School) the red and gray colors came directly from my jacket,” Polly said. “I had my red and gray school jackets and tops from Arkansas and everybody liked them so they just became East Bay’s colors.”

And they still are, to this day.

The East Bay High School Alma Mater has a similar story.

“It was written to the tune of Elvis (Presley’s) “Love Me Tender,” said Frances. “That was one of the most popular songs back in the late ‘50s, so we used it.”

Hearing her say the words and knowing the tune, I knew immediately she was right.

After hearing about how and why they came to live here, I asked how they had met.

Both remembered that as being in geometry class. And since then, they have had all sorts of  “Thelma and Louise” times together — barring of course, Thelma and Louise’s last ride.

They’ve gone on road trips together though, one of which took place with a group of other women in 1998.

“Our friend, Dona Council, had a gold mine and wanted to show it to us,” Frances said. “It was in Colorado. We all took turns driving and we had a ball.”

Polly said when they left Ruskin Frances was behind the wheel speeding like crazy.

“I told her she’d better slow down and let me drive or we’d never get there,” Polly said.

Yet the women never got stopped until a big Texas Ranger, cowboy hat and all, pulled them over for speeding in Childress, Texas.

The driver at that time was Polly.

“Well, we were singing and laughing and talking and I just lost track of everything,” Polly said.

“Everything but her lead foot against the floor,” Frances added, laughing pretty hard.

“Funny that she was the only one who complained about all our driving yet she was the only one ticketed on the whole trip.”

Another time Polly took Frances to what had once been her home town in Arkansas and found there wasn’t anything left of it. But the trip was fun, and well worth the time.

The two stuck together in hard times as well as good.

For years, Frances would take her son Billy to Polly’s house early in the morning before school so she could go to work early.

And when Polly-who is married to the now famous artist Fred Rothenbush- began her journey which has led to her becoming a three-time breast cancer survivor, Frances was there.

In fact, Frances was everywhere: walking the Relay for Life annually for her friend.

Until three years ago, when she wasn’t up to walking. Instead, she attended a charity auction for the cause with friends.

The prize was a man.

“My friends promised they would outbid me. But they didn’t, and I won him!” Frances (who was a widow at the time) said.

She and Fred Griffin had their obligatory date.

She thought that was that.

It wasn’t.

“The man — just kept calling and coming over. He took me out. We had great times. And darned if we didn’t get married.”

Last August, Frances married Fred. So now, both Frances and Polly are both married to Freds. And they both turned up for their photos in different shades of blue with plenty more tales o tell that can’t (or shouldn’t!) be put in this story.

Frances, a former human relations manager, and Polly who was a teacher, have planned to have a joint birthday party for five years now.

“We wanted to do it at 60. Then 65. Finally, we figured we’d better go ahead and do it,” Polly said.

So if any of our readers went to school around here between 1956 and 1963 with either of these two characters, or know them from business or some organization or event, they say to tell you you’re invited. As stated before, all details may be obtained at Southern Grace.

Hearing about their past, I can only assume it will be one fun party!

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