Together, they represent more than 200 years worth of pinochle strategy and expertise, and they’re passing that knowledge on to students at Vale Middle School.
The Golden Girls –as nicknamed by the students – are Joanne Roner, Gert Delong, Christine Goettshe, Donna Kelly, Irene Christ and Donita Olsen. Each week they can be found at the school, dealing out the decks and adding up points, helping a new generation learn the game.
“I wanted to come up with something for the students that took them away from technology for just one hour a day,” said Vale Middle School teacher and organizer of the event Angela Lattin. “We decided to teach games that could be games for their whole life. These are the types of games you can play when the family goes out camping and there is no Internet service for miles.”
Currently, 20 students take to the tables. Prior to the Golden Girls’ arrival three weeks ago, only one of the 20 had ever seen the card game. However, what appears to be a game is actually learning, also.
“The game teaches them math skills and strategy,” Lattin said. “Quite a few of them have grandparents that play pinochle, and this gives the students a skill they can play at their grandparent’s house.”
Pinochle, sometimes referred to a pinocle or penuchle, is a card game using a 48-card deck. Players score points both by trick-taking and by also forming combinations of cards into melds, a set of matching cards. Types of melds include “arounds,” “marriages,” “flushes” and “pinochles.”
Each hand of the game involves three phases: bidding, melds and tricks. Players switch partners and a pinochle deck consists of only the 9, 10, jack, queen, king and ace cards of each suit. The game first became popular due to American Jewish and Irish immigrants.
“I never have played before we started this,” said student Paige Palmer, 12. “It is fun to learn.”
One of the other players at the table, 14-year old Jason Ponce, also is a novice at the game.
“I never had played pinochle,” said Ponce. “I don’t really understand the whole game, but I am learning. I think I am a good partner.”
For some of the Golden Girls, pinochle has long been a mainstay hobby. Others, like Roner, took some time away from the game for duties like raising a family.
“I have actually played pinochle since I was 12,” said Roner. “I quit playing for about 30 years while I was raising a family and doing life stuff, but play quite a bit now.”
Roner joins with a group that plays in Willowcreek and also plays a hand or two at the Vale Senior Center.
“I love coming here and teaching the kids something they can do for the rest of their life.” Roner said. “Plus, coming here keeps us all young.”