Pen pals to email pals... Rushenden woman Penny Townsend's 55 years of staying in touch
After 55 years they treat each other as family, yet a
Rushenden woman and her oldest friend live nearly 4,000 miles
Penny Townsend first wrote to American pen pal Bonnie Hoffman in
May 1958 and they have been in regular contact ever since.
Their correspondence quickly blossomed into a firm friendship
and they have visited each other eight times – the last one being
in the States in September 2011.
Bonnie, 67, is a retired nurse in Delta, Ohio. She two children
and four grandchildren.
Penny, of Swale Avenue, first flew over to meet her friend in
person in August 1981.
The 65-year-old said: "I realised two dreams: one was to fly and
the other was to meet my pen pal.
"We were so much like each other in our ways, it was
"At first the children had a job understanding my accent, but
they got there in the end and now they all call me Aunt Penny."
Bonnie and her husband Steve stayed in Sheppey in 1997 for their
The seeds of their friendship began during the Second World War,
when families of American Service personnel sent food parcels to
the families of British personnel to help them cope with
Penny's father was a Lancaster bomber pilot who died on a
goodwill mission in 1948 when lightning struck his plane.
One day a Mrs Knowlmiller posted a food parcel to Penny's family
and left her address in the packages, so Penny's mother wrote to
Penny's older sister, Lesle, later started writing to Mrs
Knowlmiller's daughter Sue.
Keen to get in on the act, when Penny was 11 she asked her
sibling if her American friend had a younger sister. Unfortunately,
she was an only child.
Luckily, Sue's best friend had a sister, Bonnie, who was given
Penny's name and address.
The two started writing and never looked back, although their
means of communication has changed over the years - starting
out as letters and now by email.
Penny, who used to work in the potteries in Rushenden and at
Sheerness Docks, said: "We both got computers which is great
because you can send photos instantaneously and I can watch as her
grandchildren grow up."
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