Elma Marie Johnson will probably never forget her pen pal’s birthday.
The notice said a 10-year-old Michigan girl named Elma Marie wanted a pen pal. Johnson's mother encouraged her to write to the girl because they had similar names.
After an exchange of letters, Johnson learned that her new pen pal's name was Elna, not Elma, and they had the same date of birth - April 9, 1936.
The two Elna Maries have stayed in touch even since. Last week, Johnson went to Reese, Michigan, to visit Elna Marie Kempff - her third trip to Michigan since the two became pen pals.
"I have a tenacious spirit when it comes to hanging on to my friends," Johnson said.
The correspondence began with the girls writing about their pets, schools and families. Over the years, the subjects changed to college, Kempff's teaching career and Johnson's marriage and four children.
They first met during their freshman year of college, when Johnson took the train to visit Kempff at her small Lutheran college in Illinois. Johnson was enrolled in an Indiana college at the time.
When grown-up life intervened, the Elnas scaled back their correspondence to mostly Christmas and birthday cards. But when Kempff took vacations out West, she'd stop and visit Johnson. One time they unintentionally wore the same outfit.
Even with their similarities, the friends have their differences.
Johnson thinks Kempff is more outgoing and talkative, and Kempff thinks Johnson is more domesticated. But they are kindred spirits, Johnson said, sharing a Christian faith, a love of family and sightseeing.
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