Penpals 3,000 miles apart still friends after 53 years

Published date: 16 July 2014 |
Published by: Iwan Berry 
Read more articles by Iwan Berry  Email reporter


TWO penpals have kept their long-distance friendship going for more than 50 years.

Elizabeth Owens, from Ruabon, and Donna Phillips-Sluss, of Canton, Ohio in the United States, become penfriends at the age of just 13 in 1961.

They first met in person eight years later when Donna crossed the Atlantic to be chief bridesmaid at Elizabeth’s wedding to her then fiancé, Malcolm.

And it wasn’t until their 25th wedding anniversary that the friends were to meet again.

Donna said: “I came over for three weeks in June 1969 and it was the first time I’d ever flown out of the country. I was just a little country girl.”

She said of their friendship: “It was a way for both of us to have a sister to talk to. 

“I tell people Elizabeth is my sister at heart.”

They did not meet again until Elizabeth flew to the USA with her husband to celebrate their 25th anniversary, and five years later for their 30th anniversary.

On the latter occasion Elizabeth and Malcolm renewed their vows in a surprise ceremony organised by Donna’s family at the church in Canton.

Elizabeth said: “The people in Ohio were very friendly and they always remembered us.”

They have only met face-to-face a handful of times but Donna said of her trips to Wales: “It’s just beautiful. Just driving through the countryside is absolutely amazing.”

In the intervening years, Elizabeth, 66, has raised a family of five children, while Donna, 65, has had four children.

They have both been keen to maintain links between their families, who are some 3,000 miles apart, with Donna’s husband, Tom, and son, Andy, visiting North Wales in the early 1990s.

However, while their own children have struck up a friendship, choosing to keep in touch via modern methods such as Facebook, the two penfriends still prefer writing letters in addition to speaking on the telephone once a month.

“I like the letters, and I’ve kept a lot of them from over the years,” said Elizabeth.

 Now a third generation is also forming a bond, with the women’s granddaughters establishing contact.

“I’m hoping they’ll carry on the tradition,” said Elizabeth. 


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