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A friendship forged in letters

By Olivia Richards

Herman Review

When Joycelyn Thompson was 12 years old, her Sunday school teacher asked if any of the class members were interested in being a pen pal.

"I think I was the only one who was interested." she said.

Joycelyn's name and address turned up on a list at a school in Wetter Ruhr, Germany. From that list Margrit Kleinau's sister, Brunhilde, began to correspond with a boy in Chicago. Margrit wanted to have a pen pal, too, so she asked Brunhilde to find someone for her.

Joycelyn (Olson) Thompson of Norcross, Minnesota, was chosen by Margrit.

Earlier this summer, 55 years after their first letters to one another, the two women finally met.

Margrit, accompanied by her son Christian, arrived in Norcross from Hamburg, Germany.

"Even though we live so far apart, we have similar interests," said Joycelyn. "We both like classical and country music, and our families are important to us. I feel like we're sisters."

Margrit started the correspondence. Joycelyn received her first letter in July 1953. Margrit wrote she lived in the small town of Wetter Ruhr, population 15,000. Joycelyn wrote back that she lived near a small town, too, of about 150 people. Joycelyn chuckled at what Margrit referred to as a small town.

Joycelyn has nearly all of the letters written by Margrit over the years. Correspondence has sometimes been on a monthly basis, or sometimes less, with birthdays and holidays usually remembered. In one of Margrit's early letters, written in 1953, she wrote that she had not been outside of Germany, but "if I earn much money I will travel to other countries and when I can, I will come to visit you in Norcross."

Joycelyn married Luther Thompson in the fall of 1958 and settled down to farm. They raised three children, Shelly, Julie, and Lenny.

Margrit graduated from middle school and went on to become a nurse and worked at a children's hospital. She met her husband, Helmut, and they were married in 1961. They raised two children, a daughter, Antje, and Christian. Helmut passed away five years ago.

Gifts are often sent to a pen pal as a token of friendship. Joycelyn received a dresser scarf from Margrit as a wedding gift and she still has it. Another gift that Joycelyn readily remembers is a figurine of a deer. She thought it was probably made in Germany, but upon a closer look, it said "Made in USA."

Unfortunately, the figurine broke through the antics of her children. A number of years ago, Margrit sent a lighted Christmas treetop star. Joycelyn has never used it since the plug-in was made for a German receptacle.

Joycelyn recalls sending Margrit stationery and bath salts, among other gifts.

On a summer day in 1969, Margrit met a stranger at her door who said he was bringing greetings from Joycelyn Thompson, as she had requested him to do. Margrit said she was afraid at first, but soon understood what he was saying and welcomed him into her home. The stranger was Wayne Olhoft of Norcross. He was taking part in an exchange program at two farmsites near Hamburg. He was invited to spend the night.

Christian is a manager of a group home for displaced children. Among his duties is policing the Internet for the children.

His experience on the Internet led him to write a 280-page non-fiction book in German, "Eine Woche Mafia N@t," or translated into English, "One Week Mafia Net." The book is of special interest to kids 12 years and older. Christian says it is an adventure story about a 12-year-old boy who spends a lot of time on the Internet while home alone. He visits in a chat room. Then he meets someone from the chat room. At this meeting he is kidnapped. He should be sold to other people but it didn't happen because of his computer knowledge. He survives because he knows about the computer system. Then he starts traveling around Europe as a kidnapped one and starts to destroy the network. He manages to escape and gives the information about the network to authorities. Christian wrote the story to help educate kids about what is on the Internet and how dangerous it can be. Adults need to provide supervision, he says. It took him six months to write the book. He is currently working on a sequel to the book.

He also teaches troubled kids, six-years old and up, how to trick ride on motor cross and dirt bikes. His family includes his wife, Petra; his 13-year old son, Tim, and eight-year old twin daughters, Natja and Nadine.

While here Christian has spent time sitting outside of Joycelyn's house. Joycelyn lives on a tarred road. Christian remarked he sat outside for an hour and no cars went by. With tongue in cheek, he said, "Where are the people?" Margrit and Christian live in Germany's second-largest city.

The Kleinauses returned home with special memories of time spent with a pen pal that became a close friend because they enjoyed writing letters to each other.

It's not likely to stop there, even though they have met face to face. Margrit and Christian have met Joycelyn's and Luther's family and friends, and visited places around here. Names and places will be familiar now.

And the grandchildren of two women who met via the mail 55 years ago will make wonderful subject material -- Joycelyn has 11, while Margrit has four.