Pennsylvania woman's pen pal friendship endures for 40 years

| Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

BIRDSBORO, Pa. — Maria Medaglia, 47, of Robeson Township and Michele Miller, 47, of El Cajon, Calif., have always lived thousands of miles apart, but they have sustained a friendship for nearly four decades.

When Medaglia was just 11 years old and living in Berks County with her family, she wrote to the television show “The Big Blue Marble” requesting a pen pal. The show offered to connect its young viewers to another child of similar age who lived elsewhere and wanted a pen pal. Viewers only had to send a letter containing a name and address as well as 10 cents.

“I always had an interest in other places, travel, since childhood,” Medaglia said. “This was a way to find out more about another place.”

Three weeks after sending her information, Medaglia received a letter from Michele Philips, now Michele Miller, who also was 11 at the time and lived with her family in Honolulu. The girls began to write to one another on a regular basis.

“Michele was the one constant friend, and she feels the same way,” Medaglia said. “Other friendships came and went. The normal clique-y things that occur — jealousy over boys, changing interests — but there was none of that with a friendship by mail. It was more like therapy.”

In addition to the bond they were forming, Medaglia and Miller said having a pen pal during the time before email and social media was a great way for her to learn about other places and cultures. Corresponding by mail meant the girls weren't immediately involved in each other lives, and both could provide a fresh perspective for the other.

“We were each able to tell what was happening in our lives, and the other was outside of the drama and could talk you though problems and offer support,” Medaglia said.

When they were 18, the girls met in California, where Miller's family was living at the time.

“We did all of the touristy things, but also spent time with her family and friends,” Medaglia said. “I distinctly remember the culture shock.”

Since their friendship existed by mail, Miller was able to take it with her when she moved. Nearly 40 years later, the women both say they are each other's longest friendship and have kept in touch through marriages, motherhood and the many other challenges of life.

Miller and her husband, Stephen, visited Medaglia and her family in Berks County last fall. It was the fourth time the women met. They visited Lancaster County and stopped at various farms, roadside stands and antique shops.

When asked what has been the most rewarding part of their friendship, Medaglia said longevity.

“Work relationships come and go, but having a friend almost four decades — it may sound strange to say it is something I am proud of-but it is an accomplishment in our fast-moving world,” she said.

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