The Power of Pen Pals

Updated: July 10, 2018 05:43 PM

Emails and texts are the way most of us communicate these days. But letters are more personal. And there are two women who know that better than most.

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Connie Male remembers being a 5th grader in Proctor. "I was reading my Weekly Reader, and there was a little box that said, would you like a pen pal? I thought it would be nice to have a pen pal from Italy and from Norway, my two nationalities." So she signed up.

A month later, she received a note back. Italy was a go, but they were out of 12-year-old girls from Norway! "Please accept this girl from Sweden," she recalls it saying. "I thought, what the heck. Norway and Sweden are close to each other. I'll take the girl from Sweden!" she laughed.

That girl, was Gun Britt. She too, had seen the notice about being a pen pal. "I saw it in the newspaper. I just took the address and wrote her," she told us.

And they've never stopped writing. "It'll be 57 years in September," Connie said.

She didn't keep the early letters. "I think we wrote about boyfriends, and graduating high school," Connie said. "And songs," added Gun Britt.

Connie has a large collection of letters from when they reached adulthood. There's also a pile of postcards, since Gun Britt would send them from her vacations. Plus, she even has an album of pictures that Gun Britt had sent over the years.

And let's not forget the gifts! Gun Britt and Connie would exchange gifts each Christmas. Connie's collection includes many dolls, linens, and decorative items.

Gun Britt wore one of the gifts she received, from the early days, in 1964. It's a 10 Commandments bracelet.

As they went through different milestones, like marriages and children, they learned they both liked the same things. "We like both like camping. We like dancing," Connie said.

It was a little harder for Gun Britt to write, since English is her second language. "I had a book, and I'd look at the word in Swedish, and then in English," she laughed. "I liked it."

Through the years, they'd ask each other to come visit. Connie almost had Gun Britt and her husband, Hakan, convinced. But then 9/11 happened.

Finally, a few months ago, Gun Britt mentioned in a letter that she and Hakan considering coming for a visit.  Even though letters are their preferred mode of communication, she and Connie also started exchanging emails about a year ago.

It was an email from Gun Britt that sent Connie nearly through the roof. "We have booked our tickets, it said," Connie tells us.

On June 6th, Gun Britt and her husband arrived at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. Connie was there, holding a sign with Gun Britt's name on it.

When the two saw each other, they couldn't stop hugging.

"It was just wonderful. It was like meeting your best friend, that you've never met in person before. It was one of the greatest moments ever. That we'll never forget," Connie said. "Oh no, never," added Gun Britt.

It began a whirlwind week. The first stop? Dairy Queen for chicken strip baskets. "I like them," Gun Britt told us.

Then they headed north to Connie's home in Carlton. She and her husband live right on Chub Lake.

"They had their first pontoon ride. They'd never been on a pontoon," Connie said.

Gun Britt said, "We have two big lakes, but not like this." 

The couples did get to go out on our big lake, Lake Superior, thanks to a cruise on the Vista. Then they grabbed a bite at Grandma's in Canal Park.

Both women are good cooks, and shared recipes. Gun Britt whipped up, what else, Swedish meatballs!

She'd never used an onion chopper before, and thought that was pretty fun. She also had never seen a Crockpot before, and can't wait to try one out in Sweden.

The week went by quickly, and Connie was sad to see her friend leave. But they will see one another again, as she and Dan are going to plan a trip to Sweden.

In the meantime, there will be more emails, phone calls, and of course, hand-written letters.

"People can't believe that we've been writing for so long. Most pen pals stop after a year," Connie said.

But not these two. "We always sign them, Your Forever Pen Pal. Because we know we'll write till the end," Connie said.

She hugged Gun Britt. "We are best friends." Gun Britt hugged her back. "Yes, we are."

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