I recently posted an article about the 1940s WWII Era Ball, held annually in Boulder, CO. All net proceeds from the 1940’s WWII Era Ball are donated to The Wounded Warriors Project and The Spirit of Flight Center Colorado. In addition to supporting these charities, The 1940’s WWII Era Ball chooses two local charities to hold a silent auction for each year. These two charities split the proceeds equally from the silent auction held inside the hanger at the ball.
While researching the event earlier this year, I spoke at length with its creator, Khyentse James. I inquired as to why she commits so much of herself and her time to the ball, and the depth of her answers surprised me. I expected a discourse about pin curls, military heroes and a good swing dance partner. What I got instead were the sentiments of a woman who has a profound respect for the way of life during World War II. James and I began our conversation in the happy way of two people who hold shared ideas. We spoke of the America of the ’40s: when sacrifice was an accomplishment, and camaraderie was a top commodity. She mentioned how romantic people were, and I commented on how much class they had. Much of what she conversed about made a good deal of sense to me; not the least of which was her mention of the modern day obsession with extreme personal independence. We came to the quick agreement that some people in current times seem to operate with tunnel vision – focused solely on their goal and how to achieve it as a force of one. Obviously, there are many others who don’t operate that way. Still, there is a bit of a sad undercurrent that flows when everyone is looking out for number one. As we spoke, she said to me, “When my grandparents were alive they spent much of their time with others. They cared about everyone around them and they did things as a group.” Her admiration for her grandparents rung clear in her voice, and I knew we’d arrived at the answer to what motivates her.
Khyentse was raised mostly by her grandparents, Edward and Joan, who met at a radio station in Pennsylvania where Joan had her own radio show. As love stories go, Edward pined over Joan while working at the radio station. He watched her from across the room, smitten. Like many women at the time, Joan knew the value of a slight air of indifference, so it was only after a spell of flirtation and courtship that the couple married. As a young, vibrant duo they shared their heyday in wartime America, and they would live out their lives together in the spirit of the era that shaped them. Their way was to support their community and experience life as part of something bigger than themselves. They enjoyed the arts and they were patriotic. Perhaps most importantly, at least to this story, they adored having a good time. Hosting a party was nearly always on the household to-do list.
Both Edward and Joan were singers and during the years that they were raising James; Joan taught voice and piano lessons. Not surprisingly, she frequently taught her students songs from the ’40s. When the lessons culminated, and a pupil graduated to the next level, they celebrated by throwing festive parties with a recital. James recounted the memories of these parties with immense fondness. She told me of how it was all done with a flourish: the home elaborately decorated, the food fussed over and prepared to perfection, and people showing up with style and panache. Guests took their drinks up but rarely fell down, and the dignity of a time gone by was brought to life again. Gathering around the piano in a way that people rarely do anymore, party participants would play and sing and dance. James spent many hours shimmying around her grandparents’ home, listening to Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. Tiki themes were common, as her grandparents were also big fans of the Hula and Tiki party culture that followed on the heels of the war. While describing the parties at home, James interjected with her recollection of the stories her grandparents shared about their time spent on cruises. She told me about the hula girl costumes they wore on the ship. “Both of them wore the hula girl outfits!” she said, laughing.
For 43 years Edward and Joan relived their glory days together, much to everyone’s fancy. Once a year, under James’ watchful eye, their legacy lives on. For the duration of one beautiful evening guests of the 1940s WWII Ball come together with flair to enjoy life as a group. For some, romances bloom. I know, I was there, and I watched it happen. Maybe next year, it just might happen to you. If it does, tip your glass to Edward and Joan.