Nearly a dozen women have become local celebrities, thanks to their weekly tradition of sitting at a roundabout and waving to passerby. They have been dubbed ‘the Waunakee Bench Babes.’
And for the past four years, drivers have been honking their horns at the sight of them.
“People look forward to seeing them,” said Meffert BP’s general manager Krissy Vanderlinden. “You always see drivers smiling, waving and beeping. They get a kick out of it…And I notice that people don’t drive too fast through the roundabout. The ladies kind of slow down traffic.”
But their age might come as a surprise to those who have never seen the women before.
The youngest of the group just celebrated her 71st birthday, while the eldest is already in her 90s. They met one another at Century Commons, a senior-housing complex for those 55 and older.
“All of us live in the same building,” said Bench Babe Liz Procknow. “And the majority of our ladies are in their 80s…But we try to stay active, so that we don’t just sit around and watch TV. We do things like walk to the coffeehouse. That’s actually how it started.”
One morning, she said, five of the women walked down to Dunkin Donuts for coffee.
Because the weather was nice, they decided to sit outside rather than remain in the coffee shop. There just so happened to be a bench in front of the store, next to the roundabout.
Between conversation, the ladies found themselves gazing at the morning commuters.
“We were just sitting on the bench and watching traffic,” Procknow said. “But when you watch traffic, you have to wave. And it just went from there…We were called ‘the Waunakee Wavers’ at first, and then later we became the Bench Babes.”
Since that day, the women have walked to the coffee shop and the roundabout every Wednesday morning, just to say hello to the hundreds of drivers who pass them by.
Wednesdays wouldn’t be the same without the ladies there, Vanderlinden said.
“I think the community’s gotten used to them being there every Wednesday,” Vanderlinden said. “I know I have. They’re always happy, no matter what, and very cheerful. They bring a positive vibe to the store, and to Dunkin.”
The women have devoted an hour and a half, each week, to greeting the morning’s commuters with a wave and a warm smile. They’ve asked for nothing in return, other than a honk or two.
The gas-station manager said it’s never hard to tell when the ladies are at the roundabout.
“At first,” Vanderlinden said, “I hear a lot of beeping. And I think, Does everyone have road rage today? And then I remember…Oh yeah, it’s Wednesday.”
Those who live near the traffic circle have been alerted to their presence, as well.
“We always get kidded in our building,” Bench Babe Jean Becker said, “because they can hear the honks from there. And when our neighbors hear those honks, they know we’re up there. It’s kind of a running joke.”
She said the majority of drivers wave or honk, but that some actually join them on the bench.
“People will pull up in their car and stop,” Becker said. “And their kids will come out and wave with us. They have a lot of fun with it. It’s just kind of a fun thing to do.”
Indeed, the younger generation has appeared to enjoy their presence the most.
“The children love it,” Procknow said. “They open their windows in the back, and sometimes parents will go around two or three times just so their kids can wave…And we always enjoy seeing people do that.”
For some of the ladies, the ritual has been something to look forward to each week.
“It’s four years now that we’ve been doing this,” said Bench Babe Elaine Breunig. “And when Wednesday mornings come, I love it. I really do. I enjoy it, and can’t wait to get out there.”
One had a hard time putting into words how much the weekly ritual really meant to her.
“I couldn’t even explain it to someone who’s not this old,” Becker said. “There’s so many old people that don’t have anything. They just sit, and they don’t have anything to do. They don’t go any place, and it’s hard. So the ladies in our building are lucky to have this.”
For others, the tradition has provided a sense of inclusion in their neighborhood and community. They have found contentment in being part of something that makes so many people happy.
“I came into the building about four or five years ago,” Bench Babe Donna Moran said, “and they got me into the group. We go down there, and just enjoy sitting and waving at everybody. We smile, and we get smiles back…That’s what we do it for – because it makes us feel good.”
The women said they don’t consider themselves a clique, though, and that anyone can join.
“Whenever somebody new moves in,” Procknow said, “we tell them to come and join us. So far, we haven’t had many takers. Some physically can’t do it. But anybody can join, if they want.”
Those interested should go to the corner of Century Avenue and Main Street on Wednesday morning, and be prepared to greet the hundreds of eager drivers who have come to expect the Bench Babes on their morning commute.