ONE OF THE THINGS many women often neglect in their lives is friendship. In the bustle of kids, jobs, housework and volunteer duties, sometimes there just isn't the time to nurture relationships with other women.
Jonell McLain probably wasn't thinking much about forging friendships when she first spied a $37,000 diamond necklace four years ago in the window of Van Gundy Jewelers in Ventura. She definitely wasn't thinking about book deals. But she's ended up with both thanks to a necklace she and her friends have named "Jewelia."
The fancy bit of bling caught McLain's eye right away but the price tag was a bit offputting. "Oh my God, who would spend $37,000 for a piece of jewelry?" she recalled thinking at the time.
But McLain saw in that necklace a higher calling. So she rounded up 11 friends, each putting in $1,000, and offered the store $12,000. The store's owner sold it to them for $15,000, provided they include his wife in their group. "She was going through a rough time because her sister just died and she had cut herself off," McLain explained. They happily agreed.
McLain and her friends represent a vibrant segment of America: the Baby Boomers. Now entering their 60s, they refuse to go gently into that good retirement. McLain is a whirlwind of activity with 20 plates spinning in the air at once. And when it's her turn to wear Jewelia for a month, it shares space around her neck with a gold peace symbol necklace a friend gave to her in the '70s.
THE WOMEN OF JEWELIA have a definite philanthropic bent. "We aren't just women who wanted a necklace," McLain explained. Their combined energy has produced more than friendship. It's raised money for many charities including the Coalition to End Family Violence, CareGivers, Easter Seals, the Salvation Army, Miracle House and an orphanage in India.
They recently "adopted" a homeless woman who spends all her time Downtown and helped turn her life around, even convincing a local dentist and oral surgeon to restore her missing teeth for free.
These ladies are pretty good with their own public relations, too. They landed a book deal with Random House detailing the whole story. "The Necklace: Thirteen Women and the Experiment That Transformed Their Lives," by Cheryl Jarvis, is being released on Sept. 9.
"It's about being 60 years old, what's missing and what you've done," McLain explained. The life of each woman in the group is examined and woven together in a look at friendship.
THEY'RE GOING ON A cross-county tour to promote the book next week. McLain's excited. "It really will be kind of a lark!" The ladies kick off the tour with a Sept. 9 book signing event at 7 p.m. at the Barnes and Noble Bookstore on Telephone Road in Ventura. This weekend they're taping interviews for "Good Morning America."
What's next? McLain is working to organize a volunteer and part-time cadre of Baby Boomers in Ventura to provide a workforce for the social services.
The generation who helped change the world is not going to leave it sitting down.
Update: Janet Maslin of the New York Times gave the book glowing reviews! Click here for her review.