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PRESS PHOTO BY JIM MARSH With the improbable name of PRESS PHOTO BY JIM MARSH With the improbable name of "The Royal Order of the Flying Bullmooses," this group of thespians who performed together in an Allentown Municipal Opera Company production of "Lil'l Abner," in 1963, have continued their friendship for 50 years. They are, from left: Jane Persiani Schaeffer, of Northampton; Elaine Hudy Campbell, of Catasauqua; Anita D'Arconte Eaves, of Cetronia; Claire Gabel, of Allentown; Vivian Crossley Miller and John Miller, of Macungie; Arlo Rader and Betty Swatt

MUNOPCO actors still friends after 50 years

Wednesday, July 10, 2013 by JIM MARSH Special to The Press in Local News

They call themselves "The Royal Order of the Flying Bullmooses" – an improbable name until you understand the genesis of the group. They met during an Allentown Municipal Opera Company production of "Lil'l Abner" in 1963, and have remained friends and still party together after 50 years.

The stage production of "Lil'l Abner" was based on a popular daily comic strip of the same name during the era of the 1950s and 1960s. The comic strip, produced by cartoonist Al Capp, and the stage production, featured Lil'l Abner, Daisy Mae, Mammy Yocum and the group's namesake, General Bullmoose.

"At the time, our rehearsals were held in a large second floor room on Hamilton Street, between Fifth and Sixth streets," said the group's president, Cheryl Hildebrand Geary, of Salisbury Township.

"We also shared coffee and food, but mainly desserts," Geary said. "Afterward we would all walk to our cars parked at the Sixth Street bus terminal, snapping our fingers and pretending we were something out of 'West Side Story.'

"When we got to our cars, we'd open the doors, practice our lines and dance to the music on our car radios," Geary continued. "This attracted the attention of 'Allentown's finest' and a police patrol car pulled up to see what was going on. It didn't bother us a bit, and one of our gals tried to sell the police officers tickets to the play."

After their unforgettable experiences based around the MUNOPCO production, the group decided they wanted to stay together over the years and named themselves after the General Bullmoose character.

The group met for picnics, parties and special occasions.

"While continuing our MUNOPCO productions," Geary said, "we even formed our own talent show group and took our act on the road." Geary recalls. Performing at "Clinton State Farm" a women's prison in Clinton, N.J., Geary recalls one of the inmates "falling in love with one of the troupe."

Geary said members of the group drifted apart during the years when they married, had families and were busy with careers. "We were such close friends, though, that some of us married within the group," Geary said.

"Many of us had children and pursued various careers. One of us became a pastor, others secretaries, contractors, a physical fitness instructor, executives, nurses and journalists. One of our group married and divorced the same woman – twice," she laughed.

In 1980, MUNOPCO decided to do the show again. Geary tried out and ended up as "Mammy Yocum" instead of the young lead character named "Appassionata," which she portrayed in 1963.

"What a difference a few years can make," Geary laughed. "One of the original cast suggested then that we reprise the '"Flying Bullmooses' again," Geary said. "Our friendship was so strong that we bonded again from the start." The friendships and "The Royal Order of Flying Bullmooses" have continued to picnic, party and play together like a half century has not come and gone.

"The group goes to see shows and, in 2003, "to celebrate our 40 years together, some of us went on a cruise," Geary said.

"The amazing thing, though," Geary said, "is not that we still get together, but that we are, after all this, still good friends."

Amazing, indeed. Some friendships do not last 50 weeks. Fifty years of bonding with friends is indeed a rarity.