Friday, Apr 25, 2014
Local News

Women from Avon Park and Iowa continue as penpals after 70 years


AVON PARK - When a woman who now lives in Avon Park and a woman in Iowa first began as young girls corresponding, stamps cost 3-cents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president and World War II was being fought.

Seventy-years later, Sue Leek of Avon Park and Luann Smith of Decorah, Iowa, continue to correspond and talk on the telephone, but they have never met, Leek said.

Asked whether she had ever thought the penpal relationship would last that long, Leek said, "I really never thought anything about that."

That was until a newspaper reporter from The Gazette in Iowa contacted her after interviewing Smith, Leek said.

She said the reporter told her she was in a hair salon when she heard Smith talking about having a penpal for 70 years and decided it would make a good story.

The penpal relationship had started after the two women submitted their names to a penpal feature in Wee Magazine.

At the time, Leek said, she was growing up in Graceville, a small town in Florida's panhandle, while Smith lived on an Iowa farm.

Leek said she waited to receive her letters from Smith until someone went to the local post office and retrieved them from a combination lock post office box with the number 203 that was rented by the family for decades.

"We didn't have door-to-door mail delivery," Leek said.

Years later, a man bought up old post office boxes and she has one with the number 203, though its probably from a different post office.

Throughout grade school, the women continued corresponding and would send photos, she said.

Smith would send her pictures of barns and snow.

"They had big barns, bigger than anything I had ever seen," she said. Leek said she also was excited to see the snow.

"I would send her sand and sea shells," she said.

After they graduated from their respective high schools, their lives went in different directions, but they continued as penpals.

Leek said she went to Sullins College in Virginia and then Ray Vogue College in Chicago where she studied interior design.

Smith was "already married and had children when i was still in college," she said.

Over the years, they would talk about happy events in their lives and sad events, such as the deaths of their husbands, she said.

They would write to each other twice a month, she said.

At the time when they first started writing, it was common for people to have penpals, she said. "That was a big thing when we were growing up. Nowadays, people don't write letters (for the most part)," she said.

She said she and Smith continue to write, but they also talk every week on the telephone.

Back in the 1960s they planned to meet in person, she said, but an aunt and uncle came for an unexpected visit and she had to call Smith for the first time to tell her the visit wouldn't materialize.

"I was worried she wouldn't understand me because I spoke with a southern a accent," she said.

Smith invited her to Smith's 60th birthday decades later, but she had just had cataract surgery, she said.

Leek said she may yet consider traveling to visit Smith. She noted that she's had many friends over a long period of time.

"She's the only one I've never met," she said.

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