July 16th, 2018

Friends for half a century, meeting for the first time

By Gillian Slade on August 12, 2017.

Local resident Betty Koch and Dianne Honey, of Australia, have been pen pals for 50 years and this week met in person for the first time. Honey holds the sign that Betty held up at the Calgary airport this week and on the table are many of the letters written over the years.--NEWS PHOTO GILLIAN SLADE


They forged a friendship with pen-pal letters for five decades and met for the first time in person this week.

There were tears and an embrace like long lost sisters at the airport in Calgary when Dianne Honey arrived from Australia, says Betty Koch of Medicine Hat.

They lived on different continents and hemispheres but their lives have had uncanny similarities over the years.

It all started when Koch, at the age of 11 or 12 living in a small Saskatchewan town at the time, responded to an advertisement on the pen pal page in an Archie comic.

Cultural differences made for interesting letters. Honey would write about celebrating Christmas on a beach in the middle of summer. Koch talked about snow, deer and gophers. They wrote two or three times a year initially and shared recipes — each handwritten letter being four or five pages long.

There were similarities about their siblings. Honey then married a dairy farmer and bought the family farm. Koch married the son of a dairy farmer. Honey’s children are a little older than Koch’s but both had daughters and then a son. Both women and their husbands ended up owning grocery stores.

In some respects it was those business commitments that prevented them from meeting before now. It was just too difficult to take enough time away from business to make a huge trip to the other side of the world. But Dianne and her husband Graeme recently sold their store and it seemed like the right time.

“We’re getting old and wanted to meet before we drop off the perch,” said Honey, who lives in the city of Sale in the state of Victoria.

Never having met before, neither felt concerned about having eight days together in Koch’s home. They already felt like family in some respects.

In spite of the long journey and jetlag they talked non-stop on the three-hour drive from Calgary to Medicine Hat.

“We clicked. We still like each other,” said Honey.

This week has been all about continuing to discover similarities, and they feel even more like sisters.

They have both kept the letters they wrote over the past 50 years. When they were both very busy mothers, the letters were reduced to one a year, often at Christmas, but the contact was maintained. They marvel how their letters have changed from being handwritten to typed, and then on the computer and printed. The pretty stamps on the envelopes that travelled thousands of miles have always held a fascination. More recently, it has been Facebook messaging.

Honey is intrigued with the deer here and was thrilled to see one with two little babies. She has not seen a gopher yet, surprisingly, but has taken photos of gopher holes, Koch volunteered with a laugh.

The Honeys have plans for a VIA Rail journey from Edmonton to Toronto, will visit Niagara Falls and then on to Quebec. They will also travel through the Rockies and visit Vancouver before returning to Australia.

Betty and Brian Koch are planning a trip to Australia in a year or two.

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