International pen pals meet for the first time

Published 12:15 am Sunday, August 9, 2015

KANNAPOLIS — Kay Baker could hardly contain her excitement Saturday when a car quietly pulled into her driveway.

“They’re here?” Kay asked her husband Mark. “Are you sure?”

The car’s passengers had just stepped out onto the lawn of the Bakers’ Kannapolis residence.

“Get my camera,” Kay said. “Oh my God.”

Kay rushed outside, quickly pushing open her front door to hug a friend she hadn’t met in person before.

Mark grinned from ear to ear as he watched his wife embrace Ruzica Sadowski, who lives in France. Ruzica and her husband Jean Pierre were in the midst of a vacation on the East Coast and specifically planned stop in Kannapolis to visit on old friend.

Kay was first introduced to Ruzica during her senior year of high school — 1975 to 1976 — at A.L. Brown. Kay was taking her second year of French. He teacher asked students if any of them wanted a pen pal. Kay was one of the few who volunteered. Kay and Ruzica were matched.

Ruzica said she chose an American pen pal because her great grandfather had moved to the United States in the early 1900s for a job.

For several years the pair would write each other letters. It took two to three weeks for the letters to arrive and about six weeks to get a response, but the excitement never faded.

Kay said they talked about fairly normal things — life events, bands, movies and anything else that might be relevant. By today’s standards, the letters were quite long — three or four pages in some cases. The pair also sent each other pictures, postcards and mementos of home.

Kay tried to write in French and Ruzica tried to write in English.

“I was always excited to read and open the letters,” Ruzica said. “There was always excitement just to see United States on the letter.”

After five years — in about 1980 — the two lost touch. Both of their lives were changing as they grew older. Both moved to different houses and got married.

But they never forgot each other or the friendship.

About 30 years later, they reconnected in an unexpected way.

“One day, while I was at work, I turned around and looked at my computer to see a Facebook message,” Kay said.

“A blast from the past. Do you remember me?” Kay recalled the message reading.

They immediately reconnected and have since moved their conversations into the digital age.

“I just want to thank (Facebook founder) Mark Zuckerberg for what he did,” Ruzica half-jokingly said. “No really. If he hadn’t created Facebook, it would have been impossible for me to find her.”

Ruzica said she had tried previously to connect with Kay, but had difficultly.

The pair haven’t stopped talking since.

Since the first letter, Kay and Ruzica had only verbally spoke to each other once — in 2011.

When Kay found out Ruzica planned to visit Kannapolis, her excitement steadily rose for weeks until it reached a climax on Saturday when Ruzica and her husband Jean Pierre pulled into the driveway.

Soon after they started talking, Ruzica pulled out a bag of mementos from the pair’s letter writing days. A number of postcards and pictures were neatly inserted within Kay’s wedding announcement, which Kay had mailed to Ruzica.

“I am just flabbergasted,” Kay said to her husband when Ruzica and Jean Pierre went back to their car to grab a few items.

Kay and Ruzica soon struck up regular conversation. The pair had known each other since their teenage years, and the conversation reflected it.

Ruzica said being pen pals with Kay made them close friends. The letter-writing experience created a closer bond than communication on social media, Ruzica said.

“On Facebook you have 200 friends, but how many do you visit and talk with them, spend time and interest yourself in what they do,” she said. “It’s not a deep, deep friendship.”

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.