New club for a new Navy


Herald Writer

EVERETT – The local Navy Officers’ Wives Club is becoming much more manly.

As the military changes with the times and more women become sailors, the spouses left on shore are increasingly male.

And that means the end of a club geared toward stay-at-home mothers whose husbands are away at sea.

Now, stories circulate of mothers and sons serving aboard the same ships, both having left families behind, said Lorna Papke-Dupouy, president of a new group called the Northwest Region Officers’ Spouses Organization.

"We have to understand that things have changed," she said. "There are women on active duty, so the spouses are the husbands who stay at home."

The spouses organization, formed this year, plans to have its first meeting in early October, and it hopes to create a new appeal, not only to men, but to working women who are married to officers stationed throughout Washington’s Navy bases at Everett, Whidbey Island, Bangor and Bremerton.

It won’t replace the spouses clubs on local bases, but it will follow the move toward regionalization by creating an umbrella organization, just as the bases themselves did nearly two years ago.

The problems Navy spouses encounter cross gender boundaries, said Papke-Dupouy, whose husband is Capt. Douglas Dupouy, the commanding officer of the Everett-based aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.

When a wife is a Navy officer who’s unreachable on a ship for six months, "(the men) are facing the same questions. I’m working, but I’ve got to pick up the kids, and they suddenly won’t eat peanut butter anymore, and is it healthy to eat macaroni and cheese 42 nights in a row?"

Support from other spouses who have become single parents for half of the year is crucial, she said, and with more Navy families being absorbed into the community rather than living together in Navy housing complexes, it’s easy to feel isolated.

Even spouses of military personnel in other services, such as the Army or Air Force, don’t understand the concept of a woman’s sailor husband being unavailable while he’s on a ship at sea for six months, she said.

Contact has drastically improved with recent technology, but sailors can still generally only call when they’re in port. E-mail service can be sporadic, and it’s not always private. On some ships, the messages are printed out and distributed. Regular mail takes weeks.

And a sailor – even the captain of a ship – can’t fly home from the Persian Gulf for the birth of a child, even if it’s a first-born.

There are also relationship issues unique to Navy life. When a spouse is gone for half a year and then suddenly appears back on the scene, the family has to figure out that person’s role again. A returning spouse might have a hard time taking over a disciplinary role, or there might be confusion about who tucks the kids into bed or helps them with their homework. The spouses who stayed home have to learn how to coordinate their schedules with another person, now, and get used to having another adult in the house.

And military spouses have to constantly change jobs. Sailors are typically assigned to each base for about two years before they have to move again, which can seriously disrupt a spouse’s career plans.

All of that is reason enough to get together and share tips with other people who are living "this bizarre lifestyle," Papke-Dupouy said.

The Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, which was built in 1942, still has a thriving local spouses’ group which basically works through fund-raising activities to provide donations for local charities and college scholarships for military spouses and children.

Everett’s base, which is 6 years old, has a spouses club for enlisted sailors, but nothing for officers’ spouses.

"There aren’t enough of us who are free during the day who are looking for social contacts," said Vivian Natale, wife of Capt. Joseph Natale, who is in charge of all the Everett-based ships except the aircraft carrier.

The closest club, in Seattle, had been kept alive by a few wives of retired or deceased Navy officers, but was about ready to fold.

In the officers club heyday, when "this place was just crawling with ships back in the ’40s," said former president Henrietta "Chic" Whitehill, it was a thriving group of women who ran a thrift shop, gave out $10,000 a year in college scholarships, hosted monthly teas, made layettes for new mothers by hand, and never appeared in public without their fashionable hats and gloves.

The new group is still in the beginning stages, Papke-Dupouy said, so organizers plan to wait to hear from members what functions they’d like to undertake.

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