Barbara Ann Dush
Fullerton, Neb.

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October 23, 2010
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Women remain pen pals for 70 years

In the age of high tech communication, some might consider the art of letter writing obsolete.

But putting pen to paper is not only alive and well among two Midwest pen pals, it's also been their bond for 70 years.

The letter exchange began in 1940, after Leny Nerland - then a young teen living near Rock Valley, Iowa - came up with an idea: "We have a Lutheran Standard paper that the church publishes and I wrote to the editor of the paper about having a pen pal club."

The editors liked the idea and published it in The Lutheran Standard. Leny offered to be the liaison and get writers connected. The age limit for membership was set at "one to one hundred with exceptions made if anyone is too old or too young." Dues for the club were set at ten cents, but were never collected.

THE ARTICLE CAUGHT the eye of Wilma Boyd Lovell, who at the time was a teenager living near Hay Springs, Neb.

Wilma wrote a letter to The Lutheran Standard expressing her desire to get involved in the club; however, Leny wasn't her first pen pal.

Both women began writing to another pen pal, and it was that person who connected Leny and Wilma together.

"Our letters sounded so much alike she wanted us to write to each other," Wilma said. "We were both farm girls, both the oldest in the family and both German."

Leny's daughter, Wanda Schoeneman, recently found some of the first pen pal letters when her mother showed her an old Christmas card box full of envelopes.

"I was surprised because I had never seen them before," Wanda noted. "There they were - the first letters she had received from her pen pal all those years ago. The postmark on the somewhat crumpled envelope read May 1940. I thought I had long ago seen most of Mom's treasures, but this one I had missed."

The first letter was dated June 22, 1940, postmarked Hay Springs, Nebraska, with a three-cents stamp on it. It read: Dear Leny, I suppose a little surprise won't hurt you. I received your name from one of your pen pals, Rosella Strehlow, but never had time to write before this. I hope we can be friends through mail even if we can never meet each other.

"We exchanged letters whenever we got around to it," Wilma said. Their lives were busy going to school and working on the farm as Wilma's second letter, dated July 26, 1940, reveals: I received your letter some time ago and really enjoyed it. I'm sorry I didn't get to answer sooner. David my brother was shocking grain out in the field and I never had the chance to answer before. I read the description of yourself over and it really surprised me how much alike yours and mine are.

THE PEN PALS continued their postal conversations, never considering they would get to meet one another in person.

But a surprise lay in store for them when they both attended the Luther League convention in Greeley Colo., a year after they started writing.

"I didn't know I was going to get to go until about a week before I went," Wilma said. "I had to go to the Rushville area and meet my cousins and I could go with them. Neither one of us knew we were going to be there. We found our names (on a registration list) after we got there, so we found each other. We became fast friends after we met. I think our letters did it."

The experience was just as exciting for Leny: "I wanted to stay up all night in the dormitory talking to this newly-met friend. I didn't want to waste precious time sleeping."

Wilma's family later moved to Cedar Rapids, "So most of my letter writing is from there," she said. "We wrote lots of letters, and during the war there were cousins galore that needed letters in the service."

IT WASN'T UNTIL a cold December day in 1947 that the women met again. They had both married by then, and Leny and her brother visited Wilma and her husband, Johnny Boyd, at their farm at Cedar Rapids. They had to finish corn picking before making the trip. Wilma retrieved this information from her diary:

• Dec. 27, 1947: Leny and Herbert Ranschau came from Iowa.

• Dec. 29: Johnny and Herby went to town.

• Dec. 30: Herby, Leny and I went to Zillingers (Wilma's family) for the day.

• Dec. 31: John and Herby hauled coal. Herby went to Belgrade in evening.

• Jan. 1: Leny and Herby left for home.

Leny clearly remembers that first visit to Wilma's home: "They had no linoleum or rug on the kitchen floor, and we had turkey for dinner. They rode mules, one saddled and one bareback. One night we were going to the movies and Wilma's husband lifted her up on his shoulder because she was so tiny and I thought she was going to get thrown off. How we all laughed."

The women continued to exchange letters. "We wrote about farm life - cows having calves, raising chickens, the corn, canning and the garden," Leny said. "That's the kind of letters I wrote and that's the kind of letters she wrote back."

DURING THE 1960s, Leny and her husband moved off the farm in South Dakota to seek employment in Washington, and Leny's usual monthly letters weren't arriving in Wilma's mailbox.

"We always wrote letters, but when Leny moved to Washington, she didn't write letters for a while. About that time we had to leave the farm when we moved to town," Wilma said. "You don't find a job right off the bat, so we moved to Gretna because Johnny could find a job there. My friends weren't with me. I was lonesome, and I went to the post office and I had a letter from Leny. It just lit up the whole world. A letter can do so much."

A year later, the Boyds moved back to Cedar Rapids and the Nerlands also moved back to the Midwest.

It wasn't until 1977 - 30 years after their last get-together - that the pen pals met again when Leny and her daughter took a road trip from their home in Sioux Falls, S.D., to Nebraska. Since then they have met every 10 years, the last meeting being in July of this year at Wilma's home in Cedar Rapids.

They laugh now at what they wrote in those first letters as teenagers. "I can't believe I wrote that," Wilma said. "You'll find all kind of things in these letters."

Even Leny's daughter felt the impact of their letter writing. "I had grown up knowing all about Wilma who was married to Johnny and who was mother to Rusty," Wanda said. "They were rather like part of the family. When my parents moved to my father's home farm in Day County, S.D., in 1956, we were separated from all our first cousins by many miles. We only really knew about them through letters, so Wilma's family seemed more like cousins."

Leny attributes her letter writing to her mother. "My mom was a letter writer, too, because she was from Germany and had to leave a lot of her cousins and friends, so she encouraged me to get a piece of paper and start writing Wilma."

And since Leny had no sisters, Wilma grew to be much more than a pen pal. "It was like having the sister that I never had," Leny said affectionately.

In the age of high tech communication, some might consider the art of letter writing obsolete.

But putting pen to paper is not only alive and well among two Midwest pen pals, it's also been their bond for 70 years.

The letter exchange began in 1940, after Leny Nerland - then a young teen living near Rock Valley, Iowa - came up with an idea: "We have a Lutheran Standard paper that the church publishes and I wrote to the editor of the paper about having a pen pal club."

The editors liked the idea and published it in The Lutheran Standard. Leny offered to be the liaison and get writers connected. The age limit for membership was set at "one to one hundred with exceptions made if anyone is too old or too young." Dues for the club were set at ten cents, but were never collected.

THE ARTICLE CAUGHT the eye of Wilma Boyd Lovell, who at the time was a teenager living near Hay Springs, Neb.

Wilma wrote a letter to The Lutheran Standard expressing her desire to get involved in the club; however, Leny wasn't her first pen pal.

Both women began writing to another pen pal, and it was that person who connected Leny and Wilma together.

"Our letters sounded so much alike she wanted us to write to each other," Wilma said. "We were both farm girls, both the oldest in the family and both German."

Leny's daughter, Wanda Schoeneman, recently found some of the first pen pal letters when her mother showed her an old Christmas card box full of envelopes.

"I was surprised because I had never seen them before," Wanda noted. "There they were - the first letters she had received from her pen pal all those years ago. The postmark on the somewhat crumpled envelope read May 1940. I thought I had long ago seen most of Mom's treasures, but this one I had missed."

The first letter was dated June 22, 1940, postmarked Hay Springs, Nebraska, with a three-cents stamp on it. It read: Dear Leny, I suppose a little surprise won't hurt you. I received your name from one of your pen pals, Rosella Strehlow, but never had time to write before this. I hope we can be friends through mail even if we can never meet each other.

"We exchanged letters whenever we got around to it," Wilma said. Their lives were busy going to school and working on the farm as Wilma's second letter, dated July 26, 1940, reveals: I received your letter some time ago and really enjoyed it. I'm sorry I didn't get to answer sooner. David my brother was shocking grain out in the field and I never had the chance to answer before. I read the description of yourself over and it really surprised me how much alike yours and mine are.

THE PEN PALS continued their postal conversations, never considering they would get to meet one another in person.

But a surprise lay in store for them when they both attended the Luther League convention in Greeley Colo., a year after they started writing.

"I didn't know I was going to get to go until about a week before I went," Wilma said. "I had to go to the Rushville area and meet my cousins and I could go with them. Neither one of us knew we were going to be there. We found our names (on a registration list) after we got there, so we found each other. We became fast friends after we met. I think our letters did it."

The experience was just as exciting for Leny: "I wanted to stay up all night in the dormitory talking to this newly-met friend. I didn't want to waste precious time sleeping."

Wilma's family later moved to Cedar Rapids, "So most of my letter writing is from there," she said. "We wrote lots of letters, and during the war there were cousins galore that needed letters in the service."

IT WASN'T UNTIL a cold December day in 1947 that the women met again. They had both married by then, and Leny and her brother visited Wilma and her husband, Johnny Boyd, at their farm at Cedar Rapids. They had to finish corn picking before making the trip. Wilma retrieved this information from her diary:

• Dec. 27, 1947: Leny and Herbert Ranschau came from Iowa.

• Dec. 29: Johnny and Herby went to town.

• Dec. 30: Herby, Leny and I went to Zillingers (Wilma's family) for the day.

• Dec. 31: John and Herby hauled coal. Herby went to Belgrade in evening.

• Jan. 1: Leny and Herby left for home.

Leny clearly remembers that first visit to Wilma's home: "They had no linoleum or rug on the kitchen floor, and we had turkey for dinner. They rode mules, one saddled and one bareback. One night we were going to the movies and Wilma's husband lifted her up on his shoulder because she was so tiny and I thought she was going to get thrown off. How we all laughed."

The women continued to exchange letters. "We wrote about farm life - cows having calves, raising chickens, the corn, canning and the garden," Leny said. "That's the kind of letters I wrote and that's the kind of letters she wrote back."

DURING THE 1960s, Leny and her husband moved off the farm in South Dakota to seek employment in Washington, and Leny's usual monthly letters weren't arriving in Wilma's mailbox.

"We always wrote letters, but when Leny moved to Washington, she didn't write letters for a while. About that time we had to leave the farm when we moved to town," Wilma said. "You don't find a job right off the bat, so we moved to Gretna because Johnny could find a job there. My friends weren't with me. I was lonesome, and I went to the post office and I had a letter from Leny. It just lit up the whole world. A letter can do so much."

A year later, the Boyds moved back to Cedar Rapids and the Nerlands also moved back to the Midwest.

It wasn't until 1977 - 30 years after their last get-together - that the pen pals met again when Leny and her daughter took a road trip from their home in Sioux Falls, S.D., to Nebraska. Since then they have met every 10 years, the last meeting being in July of this year at Wilma's home in Cedar Rapids.

They laugh now at what they wrote in those first letters as teenagers. "I can't believe I wrote that," Wilma said. "You'll find all kind of things in these letters."

Even Leny's daughter felt the impact of their letter writing. "I had grown up knowing all about Wilma who was married to Johnny and who was mother to Rusty," Wanda said. "They were rather like part of the family. When my parents moved to my father's home farm in Day County, S.D., in 1956, we were separated from all our first cousins by many miles. We only really knew about them through letters, so Wilma's family seemed more like cousins."

Leny attributes her letter writing to her mother. "My mom was a letter writer, too, because she was from Germany and had to leave a lot of her cousins and friends, so she encouraged me to get a piece of paper and start writing Wilma."

And since Leny had no sisters, Wilma grew to be much more than a pen pal. "It was like having the sister that I never had," Leny said affectionately.


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The Fence Post Updated Aug 14, 2012 04:41PM Published Oct 23, 2010 03:02PM Copyright 2010 The Fence Post. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.