Have you ever had a penpal? Many of you no doubt have. But how many pen pal friendships have lasted more than 35 years?

Elizabeth Sappenfield, of Durham, North Carolina, the United States, wrote that she was in fifth grade at Raleigh’s Aldert Root school when the teacher assigned her students to write letters to students in another country.

“Each student in the class wrote a letter that introduced ourselves, i.e., ‘Hello my name is … . I’m 10 years old. I like reading books and doing puzzles. I want to be a veterinarian when I grow up’ and so on,” Sappenfield explained.

Sappenfield’s teacher sent the letters to a teacher in Victoria, Australia. A batch of letters soon arrived from that teacher and were distributed to her class. Her letter was from a fifth-grader named Heidi, who liked soccer and lived in the little Australian town of Creswick.

Eventually, Heidi’s family visited the United States. When their itinerary took them to Richmond, Virginia, Sappenfield’s family drove her up to meet Heidi, and the two families had dinner together and spent the night at the same hotel.

When Sappenfield was 15, Heidi’s family invited her to visit them.

“When I came down the stairs waving the letter about, my understanding parents set about making the trip possible,” she said. “They accompanied me as far as Los Angeles.”

Over the years, the two women exchanged visits a couple more times, as Sappenfield’s job in the hotel industry required extensive travel.

Sappenfield is now married and the mother of two young sons and a little girl.

“In the back of my mind, I’m always planning a trip where I take the kids to visit my friend in Australia,” Sappenfield said. “We are thinking about setting up a letter exchange for their classes in a year or two. Maybe lightning will strike twice.”

In our troubled country and elsewhere in the world, there is a crying need for pen pals among nations, a need for communication, friendship and getting to know one another better. – Tribune News Service/The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)/A.C. Snow