Elkhart woman’s 104th birthday party turns into reunion with longtime pen pal

ELKHART, Ind.—Elkhart native Betty Wiley celebrated her 104th birthday Thursday and to mark the occasion, she received a visit from some very special guests.

Barbara Goodwin enjoyed going to the movie theater in London growing up in the 1930s, so much that she decided to get a subscription to an American magazine.

Goodwin wrote the magazine, hoping to be included in a specific column. She was looking for a pen pal.

All the way in Elkhart, Indiana, Wiley saw the ad and wrote in and suddenly, a transcontinental friendship was born.

“I just picked her right out of the magazine,” Wiley said.

The two began exchanging letters in 1932, writing about everything from their love lives to raising children.

Shortly after the letters began , Wiley asked her boss at the department store she worked at if she could have some time off because she was going to London. Thinking she wouldn’t be able to pull together the money, her manager agreed to the time off.

In 1939, Wiley drove to New York, hopped on a ship, and about two weeks later, met her pen pal in person. Together, the pair explored Goodwin’s London, taking in the sites and documenting their travels in a large scrapbook that Wiley still has today.

“I had a lot of fun,” Wiley said.

When World War II began later that year, the two continued to write each other, but Wiley began doing something that Goodwin’s son, Nigel Lloyd, said he’ll never forget.

“London had been bombed so badly that there were shortages of everything,” Lloyd said. “Betty would send food parcels over on the ships during the war. She would send toys and the most precious item after and during the war, was ladies nylon stockings. My mother was one of the only ladies in the neighborhood who had nylon stockings.”

In 1969, Goodwin passed away, and after her death, Lloyd decided to take up letter writing and corresponded with Wiley, a woman he’d never met, but knew so much about.

“I took over,” Lloyd said. ” I said ‘would you mind if I continue writing you, to continue our family’s relationship with you’ and she said yes.”

Lloyd now writes to Wiley about his own son, George, an exchange that’s reminiscent of the letters his own mother once wrote. The two met for the first time in the 1980s.

“We just write about life,” Lloyd said.

Lloyd and his family moved to the United States years ago and now reside in Tennessee. They made the drive up to Hubbard Hill in Elkhart to celebrate Wiley’s birthday on Thursday.

“Wonderful, thankful, grateful,” Wiley said, describing how it feels to see her pen pal. “It’s been a wonderful life.”

Lloyd refers to Wiley as a second mother and said he couldn’t imagine spending the day anywhere else.

Share this article: