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We meet at last . . . Pen pals Leona Te-maiharoa (left) and Ellen DeMers catch up in Oamaru. PHOTO: TYSON YOUNG

After 20 years, long-time pen pals Leona Te-maiharoa and Ellen DeMers have finally put down the pens and paper to meet each other for the first time.

The pair met in Oamaru, Mrs Te-maiharoa’s home town, last week.

Mrs DeMers and her husband, Gerald, from the United States, decided to make a visit after holidaying in Australia and other parts of New Zealand this summer.

Mrs DeMers, who grew up in Watertown, a Wisconsin town not much bigger than Oamaru, began writing to pen pals when she was year 5 in primary school.

The people she wrote to lived in other cities also called Watertown across America.

The trouble about the pen pal programme was finding someone who wanted to write a letter back, Mrs DeMers said.

One pen pal who lived in Watertown, South Dakota, kept in regular contact for a while.

“I actually wrote to the one from South Dakota for many years and then we lost touch,” Mrs DeMers said.

Mrs Te-maiharoa joined the pen pal programme when she was 14.

Over the years, she had used an “awful”amount of envelopes writing to various other people around the world.

“Just the love of writing” was what inspired her to get involved.

Mrs DeMers and Mrs Te-maiharoa began to write to each other well into adulthood, in about 1990.

What stood out, Mrs DeMers said, was the content that Mrs Te-maiharoa included – and still includes in her letters today.

Mrs DeMers had previously met pen pals from Germany and Poland, while Ms Te-maiharoa had met pen pals from Japan and Tasmania.

If she was emailed by a pen pal, she would still write back to them in letter form, Mrs DeMers said.

Although neither ever had any problems dealing with abusive writers, there was the occasional writer who asked for money.

Although the technology was available to the women to communicate on a daily basis, they still preferred to write to each other because it kept the fun in writing.

Mrs DeMers and Mrs Te-maiharoa plan to keep in contact with each other the best way they know how – with an envelope, a letter and a love for writing.