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Best Friends Forever

Gresham's Juanita Blair and May Osborn get the royal treatment in four days of events designed to celebrate their seven-decade-long friendship
by: Shanda Tice, While looking through a booklet of older photographs of themselves, May Osborn, right, takes a moment to let her best friend Juanita Blair know what special friend she is after the women got makeovers at Saks Fifth Avenue on Tuesday, Feb. 20.

When you've been best friends for more than 70 years, you remember more than the rationing and blackouts during World War II and the days when East County was mostly berry fields.

For Gresham's Juanita Blair and May Osborn, the memories are more personal.

Like one evening in the 1940s, when the women decided to cut each other's hair after a particularly hard day at the Sellwood beauty shop where they worked. They used the necessary ration coupons to buy a bottle of liquor.

'We'd take a sip, and we'd take a cut,' May said.

Soon, they each had short 'dos in a time when longer hair was in vogue. Each woman who walked through the salon door the next day requested the same haircut.

Today, the trendsetters are 96 (Juanita) and 92 (May). Their friendship is still going strong.

In 2002, Juanita moved into Marquis Care at Centennial, an assisted living facility. May visits her almost every week.

This month, Susan Bowker, Marquis' activities director, helped organize a four-day celebration of the women's friendship, complete with a facial and manicure, a professional makeup session by specialists at Saks Fifth Avenue and breakfast with Gresham's mayor and city administrator.

The event began with a private fitting session at the care center, in which each woman got a velour tracksuit from Saks Fifth Avenue.

'May, I'm glad that you get in on my fun,' Juanita said, after insisting on a matching green jacket.

On Valentine's Day, the women took a limo ride to DuBois Salon and Rainforest Spa, where they each had facials and manicures.

Afterward, Juanita leaned over so May could see her.

'That was wonderful,' Juanita said. 'Do I look the same?'

'You look prettier,' May said.

A few days later the women enjoyed another outing - this time a limo ride to Saks to have their makeup done.

Suzanne Bacigalupi, a Bobbi Brown makeup specialist for Saks, said she was touched by the opportunity to participate.

'What a way to celebrate the latter years of your life,' Bacigalupi said. 'When we were asked to do this I was so honored.'

Later in the week the best friends received a police escort as they rode with Gresham Police Chief Carla Piluso in a limousine to breakfast at Central Café.

There they were met by members of the Gresham Fire Department and dined with Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis and City Manager Erik Kvarsten.

'I want to take him home,' May said, eyes twinkling, of Kvarsten.

The culmination of the celebration was a portrait session, in which Juanita and May recreated a picture of them taken in the early 1930s.

'It was wonderful,' Juanita said. 'Everyone was so nice.'

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May was 19 when she and Juanita met at the Master Wave beauty shop on the sixth floor of the Swetland building in downtown Portland, just prior to World War II.

Juanita was the cashier and made appointments. May was a stylist.

'May and I go back a long, long way, and we're still speaking,' Juanita said as she laughs. 'We've always gotten along because she lets me have my way.'

'That's not really true,' May said. 'We like each other; we love each other. There was no reason to fight.'

During World War II, housing was hard to come by, so Juanita lived with May and her parents. The pair worked together at the Sellwood shop and would go out each evening after work. They were practically inseparable.

Things changed as Juanita and May started their own families, but they remained close.

Juanita married Ralph Blair in 1947. In 1956, May married Ted Osborn. May and Ted made their home in Sandy for a number of years, but she later returned to Gresham, where she now lives with her two cats.

Both women were married for many years, but the widows' friendship has outlasted their husbands, who also were friends.

Juanita's memory isn't what it used to be, but she remembers years' of adventures when May is around.

If the details escape her mind, she simply nods at May and says, 'She can tell you as well as I can.'

Bowker hopes the celebration will give them fresh memories.

'This gives them hope,' she said. 'It's something to hang onto for the rest of their lives.'