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Friendship starts in high school for Streis

From left, Lois Strei and Reiko (Hamada) Matsumoto when Matsumoto was an exchange student at Hancock High School in the early 1970s. Photo submitted1 / 2
From left, Reiko (Hamada) Matsumoto of Japan and Lois Strei of Hancock. Matsumoto was a foreign exchange student at Hancock High School in the early 1970s. The two women became friends in high school. Strei recently visited Matsumoto in Japan. Photo submitted2 / 2

She's not one for adventure. But this was one adventure Lois Strei of rural Hancock decided to take.

Lois and her husband Gary visited Japan in April to see Lois's longtime friend, Reiko (Hamada) Matsumoto. Lois and Matsumoto met in 1971 when Matsumoto was a foreign exchange student at Hancock High School.

"She's just such a nice person. She's delightful to be around," Lois said of Matsumoto The two stayed in touch over the years. Matsumoto traveled to the U.S. several times since she left Hancock in 1972. One trip included a three-week stay with the Streis during a summer in the mid-1990s.

In April, it was Lois' turn to visit her friend. "I never thought I'd go. I'm not terribly adventurous when it comes to foreign travel." But, "She made it clear it was important to her."

The two friends reunited for a few weeks in Japan. "It was sad (to leave). I don't know when I will see her again," Lois said.

"I feel like this was the trip of a lifetime," Lois said. "It was way more than i could imagine."

"I am so glad we got to go there," Gary said.

The Streis saw the home and city, Osaka, that Matsumoto had described to them. They visited with her two grown children who were youngsters when they last saw them. Although it had been years since the two friends had been together, Gary said it was as if they had just only recently been together.

"It was so comfortable," Lois said. "We both marvel at the fact we've been friends for so many years."

Gary said the two friends are similar. "They are both very gentle people and very loving and caring and warm people. They are comfortable around each other."

It's become evident to Gary over the years that it was important to both women to maintain the friendship.

It is so important to Lois that she has a small box filled with letters from Matsumoto.

"We send each other very different Christmas cards," Lois said. "Mine are basically a photo and a recap of our family's year. I do my own. Her's are traditional Japanese New Year's cards."

Lois made copies of the letters Matsumoto had sent her for Matsumoto. "Her kids are anxious to read them," Lois said.

The box of cards and letters hold memories. And, Lois and Gary created new ones when they visited Japan.

Matsumoto and her two children were tour guides for the Streis. Matsumoto's husband is a doctor and couldn't always join them.

"We saw so much," Lois said.

"She kept us busy," Gary said.

The Streis were in Japan during the peak of apple blossom season. They also visited Hiroshima, Tokyo and other sites.

The couple also committed themselves to try all new foods.

"I really liked eel. Squid and octopus weren't too bad," Gary said.

"The sushi was very good," Lois said.

The willingness to try new foods was a trait shared by the two families. When Matsumoto and her husband and two children visited the Streis in 1994, their children tried new foods. They did not like peanut butter or tacos.

Matsumoto introduced Gary and Lois to stir fry and it's become a favorite.

Matsumoto learned to make apple pie while in high school in Hancock.

"She taught our middle daughter how to make apple pie crust," Gary said.

Lois said she never expected to be visiting Japan. She wouldn't have guessed the friendship would have grown and lasted so many years. She's grateful for it because not only does she have Matsumoto as a friend, she and her family have also had their world expanded because of it.

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