The Corona Girls

Reverse Aging through Friendships


June 2024 Issue
By Edwina Hoyle

Many women in the Lowcountry are transplants from other parts of the United States. Some are here to retire, while others relocate for a job, move closer to family, or perhaps the snowflakes chase them south. Whatever the reason, we live in a corner of paradise with wonderful weather, beautiful beaches, great golf, delicious restaurants, a myriad of outdoor activities, and so much more. However, there is one drawback; we leave behind our friends, family, neighbors, and longtime community connections. Some of us may be a little lonely, especially if we enjoyed strong relationships borne from decades of living in the same neighborhood.

On the other hand, there are women who simply make up their minds to develop new friendships and live life to the fullest. The Corona Girls of Sun City are radiant examples of this. Also known as the Fireballs and the Lucky Poker Chicks, these ladies thrive in celebrating their newfound lives and friends.

Jo Ellen Bitner, Deb Parsons, Norma Taylor and Sherryl Hennessey are all transplants who first discovered each other through tennis. Jo Ellen said, “Win or lose, after the match we’d have a shot of Fireball—even at matches in other places. So, we became known as the Fireballs.” On the courts, they always wear red sleeveless shirts with Fireball emblems.

Norma said their friendships continued to evolve when Deb and Sherryl, who she described as great card players, taught Norma and Jo Ellen to play bridge, and they soon became the Corona Girls. They got shirts emblazoned with their new moniker, but not because they switched from Fireball to Corona beer. During the pandemic, the group decided to become a safe pod of friends since they were all vaccinated. They played outdoors at the beach during the Coronavirus pandemic: hence, the name Corona Girls.

Deb hosted their first poker party. “I had this old box of poker chips from when I was in my 20s, and they were just collecting dust. So, I got them out, dusted them off, and we started our regular poker games and became the Lucky Poker Chicks.”

Norma said they also hold a monthly game night with their spouses. “We’re all married, and all know each other, so we go out to dinner and then the eight of us play poker. We enjoy each other and the things we do together. I call it reverse aging.”

“I hold these three women in the highest esteem, and I have such respect for each one. They were all very successful.” Deb said. She shared that Sherryl was ranked No.1 in nationwide sales as a realtor for Weichert. Jo Ellen was a major buyer for J.C. Penny and traveled all over the country. Norma was the vice president of sales at CBS, then a senior vice president of sales at Scripts. “She was a big fish in a big pond. I’m the one with the least status,” she added jokingly. “I have an MBA, and I’m a professional bean counter, an accountant.” Her friends added she had major clients in Los Angeles.

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As highly successful women, they worked so much that “work friends” were their only friends. “Our friends were situational friends from work, Deb explained. And I’d feel hurt when they didn’t keep in touch. Situational friends are like family in a work environment, and we should cherish those moments because they’re important. But we need to make new friends, start new, start fresh. Find your people wherever you go. When my husband pulled me out of LA, I felt like I was going to the boondocks. I never really had a sense of community until coming here. I found such humanity,” Deb smiled.

“Coming from New York, I never even knew who lived next door, Norma said. “Here I cannot believe how much I love having close friends. I stay busy, and I also give back. I became a spokesperson for the Alzheimer’s Association and recorded books for the blind and deaf. If you love what you do, it’s not work. Giving back is rewarding and a way to stay connected. There’s joy in giving back. So don’t be afraid to give back.”

Jo Ellen concluded, “Living here for 10 years is the longest I’ve ever been in the same house. I traveled for my job, and I got so stressed. I worked all the time. My husband worried about me when we were going to retire because he said I couldn’t even sit long enough to watch a TV show. I walked a lot, and I thought, I just want to make one friend to walk with. Now it’s amazing how many things we all do. Next, I’m going to try pickleball. One of our friends in our group recently passed away, and that emphasizes just how important all of this is.”


The Corona Girls’ best advice on making new friends:

• Norma (moved to Sun City from NYC in 2009): “Try new things.”

• Deb (moved to Sun City from Los Angeles in 2006): “Explore hobbies and activities you may be interested in.”

• Sherryl (moved to Sun City from Ohio in 2004): “Find something in common to build on. And be happy.”

• Jo Ellen (moved to Sun City from Maryland in 2009): “Try things! Then you’ll hear about other things, and that leads to other things. Be open to new experiences. Prepare before you retire. Think about what you are going to do and fill your time.”

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