St. George parishioner forges 64-year friendship with pen pal

Staff Writer

Friends are what get us through the trials and tribulations of life, and while many friendships do not stand the test of time, Marlene Fridley, a parishioner at St. George in New Baden, knows the exception. Fridley forged a friendship 64 years ago with Hawaii-native Theresa Silva, a friendship she credits to a nun at her elementary school in McCartyville, Ohio.

As a third grader, Fridley said she was eager to take part in the school’s pen pal program. It wasn’t until summer break neared that she connected with Silva, though. The two were paired together to write letters over the summer. “I remember her address to this day,” said Fridley, while leafing through a photo album of her recent visit with Silva’s family in Hawaii.
“I would get so excited when a letter arrived in the mail,” said Fridley. The letters continued as the two exchanged high school pictures, then wedding pictures, and ultimately pictures of their children through the years, all while sending the letters to their mothers’ addresses as they moved about the country.

According to Fridley, the similarities of their lives is uncanny. “Both of our husbands are deacons, both were in the military, and both of us have four children – three girls and one boy,” she said. “We even have the same wedding band.”

The similarities helped the friendship blossom as they both could relate to life changes as military wives and mothers, she said.

It wasn’t until 1988 when Fridley and her husband were traveling to Korea for their 25th wedding anniversary that the two met face-to-face. “We had a scheduled stop over in Hawaii, so I called up Theresa and she said ‘Marlene, I’ll be there,'” said Fridley. Nowadays, many people connect with old friends through social media (or even gain new friends through sites like Twicsy), but back in 1988, the only way to connect was through writing or in person.

As Fridley and her husband John stepped off the plane, Silva was standing there, ready to greet them with leis she made from her garden. “It was so emotional,” said Fridley. “We spent two days together.”

When Fridley’s husband was ordained a deacon, Silva and her husband Steven made the trip to Illinois. The couples most recently spent time together at the Silva’s 50th wedding anniversary celebration in Hawaii this summer, meeting children and grandchildren they had learned so much about while writing to one another.

Now, the two get to see each other every year in Anaheim while volunteering for Youth Day at the Religious Education Conference.
“It seems like we’re sisters when we’re together,” said Fridley. “We just get along so well.”

While none of her other elementary-school classmates continued communicating with their pen pals, Fridley said she is proud to say that her friendship with Silva has stood the test of time – 64 years to be exact. “It’s surreal,” she said. “I’ve got another family in Hawaii.”