The attire of Food Club members has changed since the early days of their dinners, but the friendships endure.

SPANNING TIME: The attire of Food Club members has changed since the early days of their dinners, but the friendships endure. (Christina House / For The Times)

One Saturday night in May 1964, a group of friends from UCLA and their wives gathered together for a dinner that whimsically celebrated the French Revolution. There were crepes, fromages, French wines and true Champagne.

It was so much fun they decided to do it again the following month. And the month after that.

Now they're getting ready to celebrate their 45th year of regular monthly meals. And still they show absolutely no sign of slowing down.

"There's really never been any question," says Arlene Anderson, 72, of Northridge. She said she and her husband, Jim, 77, both retired LAUSD teachers, "just do it, and we'll keep on doing it as long as we can."

What started as a way to save money and practice new cooking skills evolved over the years into a gathering of gourmands who look forward to their turn at playing host and putting on lavish spreads, some with printed menus, seating assignments and an array of wines, liquors and aperitifs to complement the cuisine.

Yes, Food Club is certainly about the food. But it's also about something more. In a place like Southern California, where people seem to change addresses, hair styles and spouses with the same level of ease, the friends who give shape to Food Club have stuck by one another through a lifetime of milestones.

They graduated from college together. Got married. And launched careers, mostly in education. Collectively, they welcomed 14 children, all rambunctious boys until the very last one who, finally, was their little princess.

They've shared their highs and lows. When Jerry Samuelson, 76, became the dean of the arts college at Cal State Fullerton in 1976, the rest of the group raised a glass in his honor. And they'll do the same when he retires later this year.

The group sent their kids off to college. Commiserated when the gray hairs began to show. Grappled with the death of parents, as well as two of their original members. They welcomed grandchildren together. And got just a bit grayer.

One of their proudest achievements as a group?

Not a divorce in the bunch.

And they don't believe that that's a coincidence.

"Food is the tie, the cement that ties us all together," says David Jay, 75, a retired educator.

Where it began

It's hard to say how a group like this starts, but it probably would have been with Jim Anderson and Paul Iffrig, now 78, of San Gabriel. They've been friends since they were boys growing up in the Pasadena area. The pair went to UCLA and soon became friends with Samuelson, Jay, Philip Nassief, now 79, as well as the late Bob Lyons and Harley Broyles.

In the beginning, the seven college chums would save up their money and splurge at a new L.A. restaurant once a month.

Then, one by one, they began marrying off. (It was a given that the men would bring all serious prospects before the group. Afterward, they would compare notes about whether she was a "keeper" or not.)

With marriage came tighter fiscal budgets. Someone came up with the idea of sharing hosting duties as a way to save money.

And in May 1964, that first Food Club dinner was hosted at the home of the Jays, then newlyweds. The first few gatherings were much more casual -- money was tight, and many were just learning how to cook.