Childhood penpals' surprise meeting

JARED NICOLL
Last updated 09:24 22/02/2013
pen pals
American tourists Kleone and Arden Wangen in Picton with penpal Annie Batley (inset)

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The emotional first meeting of two women who were childhood penpals would have "meant so much" to their mothers who were penpals before them, say the women.

Annie Bately from Blenheim met her penpal Kleone Wangen, from Minnesota in the United States, for the first time in Picton on Monday.

The middle-aged pair began writing to each other when they were about 9, having been introduced by their mothers, but lost touch after they both got married.

When Mrs Wangen and her husband Arden Wangen arrived in Picton on the cruise ship Diamond Princess, she asked the Picton i-SITE staff to help her contact Mrs Bately. She had been able to find out through Facebook that Mrs Bately worked at Bread of Life in Blenheim, and staff put in the call.

Mrs Bately said she was "shocked" to find a message waiting for her at work from Mrs Wangen.

She had no idea she was coming to New Zealand, but she experienced a moment of "instant recognition" when she saw her waiting in Picton.

The pair caught up on each other's lives, their occupations, and families and made plans to keep in touch. Mrs Wangen's sister lives in San Antonio, Texas, and Mrs Bately's daughter will stay there too, so the women will try to coincide a visit.

"We could've talked forever - her husband was very gracious," she joked.

"Kleone said how much it would have meant to her mum to know we had met," Mrs Bately said.

"Our mums kept up a lifelong friendship through writing, one passed away 11 years ago and the other in January."

"Our family lives were very different, she was a Lutheran growing up on a 7000-acre [2839 hectare] wheat farm while I grew up in suburban Christchurch. We just wrote about our families, music, normal things in life. Then we both became nurses.

"We kept in touch for a little while longer but lost contact after we married our husbands - even though it's been years I knew it was her waiting there with her husband." They took photos together on Mr Wangen's camera, which is on board the cruise ship.

Picton i-SITE operations manager Amy Chandler said it was a pleasure to help connect the women. "She came in looking for a lady called Annie, she had her last name and where she worked so we called and left a message - we were thinking, ‘why is this lady so important?"'

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- The Marlborough Express

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