Trans-Atlantic friendship ‘In 55 years we’ve never run out of things to say’: penpals who have written religiously every month since 1958

January 25th, 20133:02 pm @


Emily Davies

13:56, 25 January 2013


14:59, 25 January 2013

They didn’t meet for 23 years, but that didn’t stop a British and American woman forming one of the closest of friendships.

Penny Townsend, 65, from Rushenden, Kent, started writing to American Bonnie Hoffman, 67, in 1958 after the wartime pen pal of Penny’s mother put them in contact.

They wrote letters for 23 years before their first face to face meeting in the U.S. in 1981.

Their first letters were exchanged when they were both in primary school, aged 11 and 12.

Despite living almost 4,000 miles apart the pair quickly became friends and agreed to send one letter each a month.

Penny Townsend and Bonnie Hoffman enjoy a boat trip during one of their visits together

Taken during one of their visits in 1981, this picture shows Penny Townsend, Bonnie Hoffman with her children Stephane, 8 and Ben, 5

The pair have written 2,000 letters but have decided to switch to email so they can keep in touch more regularly

As children they compared their teachers, favourite school subjects and hobbies, then in their teens they gossiped about boyfriends and pop star crushes.

In later years, Penny, who never married, has been able to share in Bonnie’s stories of births, marriages, children and her grandchildren.

Incredibly the penfriends have kept their promise for 55 years – sending a whopping 2,000 letters in total.

But the correspondents have now sent their final hand-penned notes to each other after agreeing to make the permanent switch to emails.

The women said they would miss putting pen to paper – but they plan to be in touch more regularly now.

Penny started writing to Bonnie in 1958, aged 11. This photograph was taken one year later in 1959.

Firm friends: Penny has visited Bonnie eight times in 55 years including in 1992 (pictured left) and 1999 (right)

Retired Penny, who used to work in potteries, said: ‘When we were children we would write about school and what we were studying and then as we went into our teens we would talk about boyfriends and fashion.

‘Bonnie was always a Pat Boone fan, as I loved Cliff Richard. We have never in 55 years run out of things to talk about.

‘We were so much like each other in our ways. It was uncanny.

‘We now both have computers which is great because you we can send each other letters more regularly and keep each other posted on more of the little things.

‘It isn’t really the same as getting the old letters but we can now stay in touch so much easier.

‘We now contact each other at least
two times a week. The main thing which is great with e-mail is the
pictures. I love seeing the children grow up.

world has changed so much since we were little girls and we have to
embrace new technology. There just isn’t the need for letters like there
used to be.

‘It is amazing how much technology we have nowadays – we’re even thinking about trying out Skype next.’

Bonnie and her husband Steve in Gatwick Airport on a visit to see Penny in 1997

Fond memories: Penny holding a photograph taken in 1981 when her and Bonnie first met face to face

Their pen pal friendship was sparked in May 1958 when Penny’s mother received a food ration from a Mrs Knowlmiller in the US, at the end of the war.

Penny’s mother wrote to thank her and they became penfriends, before helping their daughters find pals on opposite sides of the Atlantic.

Penny, then aged 11, was quickly paired up with family friend of Mrs Knowlmiller, Bonnie.

Penny was invited to mother-of-two Bonnie’s wedding in Ohio in 1967 but was unable to fly out and meet her for the first time due to lack of funds.

An Ohio newspaper article about Penny and Bonnie’s first meeting in 1981 after 23 years of correspondence

Penny and Bonnie’s daughter Stephanie in 1999. Penny said emailing makes it easier to see photos of the children growing up

But in August 1981 they finally managed to meet in person – cementing their incredible connection.

Penny, who has visited Bonnie eight times in 55 years, today added: ‘When I visit I take over fruitcake because they don’t have that over there and I would often send British recipes.

‘Bonnie sends me Hershey Bars, which are American chocolate bar which for a long time you couldn’t get over here.

‘Before Woolworths closed down I would often send the traditional pick and mix.’

Penny’s father was a Lancaster bomber pilot who died on a good-will mission in 1948 when lightening struck his plane.

Bonnie has two children Stephanie and Ben, in their 40s, and four grandchildren Sam, 12, Jackson, 8, Vivienne, three, Harrison, two.

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