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June 09, 2014 10:00 PM

A Meeting To Write Home About

Sioux Falls, SD

With Social Media growing, writing a letter is almost completely lost, but two friends living thousands of miles away are still communicating through pen and paper.

Paula Johnsen Spielmann of Sioux Falls and Madeline Gigante of Albany, New York started writing to each other when they were 10. They've been corresponding with one another for decades, but never met face-to-face -- until recently.

It might be just on paper, but Paula Johnsen Spielmann has a lifelong friend she met at a young age. She was home sick when her dad brought her a box of play makeup. On the back, there was a sheet with questions to meet a pen pal. Spielmann thought it sounded fun, so she filled it out. 

"About a month later I got something in the mail and it said 'We found you a pen pal, her name is Madeline Dorn, she's also ten," Paula Johnsen Spielmann said.

Dorn lived in New York. After just a few letters, the girls knew they had a special connection.

"We're the same age. We both went to Catholic Schools. We're raised Catholic. We had wonderful parents. I don't know we just had the same values and we just clicked," Madeline Gigante said.

"It was way before and we were matched so well and so many things happened in our life at almost the same time," Spielmann said.

The friends wrote a lot at first. It tapered off as they got older, but at least four letters were mailed to each other a year. They also sent gifts on birthdays.

The letters kept coming even as they started dating, got married and had children. The friends got to know everything about the other, the good times, and bad.

"I wrote things in my letters to her that I didn't tell people. It was just a way of expressing myself. It was easy for me. Maybe it's because she lives in South Dakota. It's so far away she wasn't going to tell anybody but I just felt that I could tell her anything," Gigante said.

But the friends never met face-to-face or even talked on the phone.

"I guess there must have been some pen pal code out there that we didn't want to break and go to pen pal jail," Spielmann said.

The bond between the two friends started to become more personal when Spielmann connected with Gigante's family on a popular social media website.

"Her daughter sent me a Facebook message in November. A private message. She said she was having a surprise 60th anniversary birthday party for her mother in May and she said, 'Paula would like to come and we can finally meet you," Spielmann said.

Spielmann and her husband took off two weeks of work and drove to Albany.

"I waited in the parking lot and she walked right past my car and my husband was panicking. 'Get a map in front of your face!" Spielmann said.

The surprise party held true to its name but Gigante was even more shocked to see someone she'd only seen in pictures.

"My daughter says 'Mom I got one more surprise' and I'm like 'Oh boy' and then I turn around and I see Paula and her husband Gary walking through the parking lot, she's holding a big bag and she was talking and I knew right away it was her," Gigante said.

"Didn't know what to say, my mouth dropped and I was like 'huh?' and I was so excited and I cried," Gigante said.

The friends spent four days together in Albany. Gigante says it was great putting a voice to the words she has read for decades.

"We always talked about meeting but we joked about us being both in wheelchairs," Gigante said.

Now that they have finally met in person, the pen pals feel their friendship is even stronger.

"I always wrote my letters love Paula or with love. You know you write it but it's different to say it and now I can say it," Spielmann said.

A friendship that will stay strong, long after the ink dries.

The long time pen pals are planning on meeting again, either here in Sioux Falls or during a trip to see the Statue of Liberty in New York City.

Here is a poem written by a friend of Gigante:

So many years of long, long ago 

A pen pal I soon did come to know 

We started writing across many miles 

And to each other we shared a lot of smiles 

Happenings about one anothre always came to be

And much confining we did, her and me

We talked about a lot but the phone never rang

We used the pens for the news it did bring

We got to know each other well I would say 

And many pictures happily did come our way 

The years passed but we never did meet

Until a birthday of I surprise I did greet

A party was held and my friends did appear

I could not believe this after 50 long years 

To finally see my pal was a dream came true 

Without our pens, instead, a big hug for two


Surprise meeting

Video courtesy of Ann Benson

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