During Sandra Brown's fourth grade year at Mooresville High School, at the age of 9, her teacher, Mrs. Arms, proposed an idea that would forever change her life.
While passing out Weekly Reader magazines, which were educational children's magazines containing current events, there was an advertisement for a pen pal program, and Arms suggested that the class send in their name to participate, Brown said. The program cost a dime to participate in, so those who were willing to pay the dime were able to send in their names and some background information. Brown participated, and she was partnered with Anne (Donahue) Lao, another fourth-grade student from South Hold, N.Y.
"I wanted to be a nurse and she wanted to be a nurse," Brown said. "She had two sisters that were younger than her and I had two sisters that were older than me. My father was a bean, corn, hay farmer, her father was a truck farmer; potatoes, tomatoes, carrots and things like that, and he trucked into New York City to the farmer's market. That's what we, in earlier years, visited about."
Brown said that the two wrote each other about three to four times per year, continuing their correspondence through the years. She said that on Christmas they would try to send each other cards and gifts.
"I always looked so forward to getting her letters," Brown added.
Now, nearly 63 years later, Brown and Lao continue to write to one another several times per year. Brown said the two continued their pen pal relationship because they enjoyed talking to one another.
"I think it was something that we both enjoyed and we liked the idea of having a friend somewhere other than in your community," Brown explained.
Brown said that there was only one year that the two were out of touch due to Lao moving.
"I thought I'd lost her," Brown said. "It was the year she got married and I just lost track of her. Then at the end of that year she wrote me and told me that they were in New York again."
Though technology has developed through the years, Brown said the two have never talked on the phone, emailed or have seen each other in person.
"It's just been the letter writing," Brown said. "We've never talked to each other or seen each other, but we have feelings for each other. I think we'd be lost if we didn't keep in touch. It's grown as we grew through the years, along with her family and mine. I guess we just like writing letters. I feel like it's a personal touch. I just think writing is something personal."
Though Brown and Lao both shared an interest in becoming a nurse, Lao was the only one who did. While in school, she met her now-husband, a man from the Philippines who was in the United States on a student visa to become a doctor. They married, settled in Aquebogue, N.Y., and had four boys.
Page 2 of 2 - Brown, however, said that after three months in the nurse training program, she decided it was not for her. She went on to work at Chillicothe State Bank as an officer assistant cashier and teller, and also planned the Distinguished Citizens' trips. Though both women traveled frequently, Brown said their paths never crossed. During 2001, Brown was planning a Distinguished Citizens trip to New York when 9/11 happened. The group still traveled to New York, but an untimely illness overcame Brown and she was unable to go.
"I thought I'd get a chance to meet her then," Brown said.
Despite having never met in person, Brown said that Lao and her are very close.
"Sometimes in your writing you find more information than you would talking on the phone," Brown explained. "I just think that you get away from things like that nowadays. (People) don't write anymore and I think it's something that's lost."
Brown said that both her family and Lao's family are fascinated by their friendship. She also said that choosing to only write letters to one another has not really changed her life or the development of their relationship.
"It's something, that we've written this long," Brown said. "I don't know that it changed my life any, only that I knew more about that part of the United States and learned more about the farming and such, but as far as changing, I don't think it changed anything with us. We just both got used to writing, and you might say that we became to love each other through writing the letters."
When Brown attended her 50th class reunion, she learned that she was the only one in the group to have developed a relationship with her pen pal.
"I asked, of the ones there, if any of them kept their pen pals and they said, 'Oh, good grief, no,'" Brown laughed. "That's something I'm proud of."