Best friends for decades despite never meeting in-person

Kathryn Payne of Green Bay, Wisconsin and Ruth Cottrell from Jefferson City, Missouri began a...
Kathryn Payne of Green Bay, Wisconsin and Ruth Cottrell from Jefferson City, Missouri began a pen pal friendship back in 1940 after Payne put her name and address in a toilet paper roll.(Amanda Hetrick)
Published: Dec. 16, 2021 at 1:51 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - It’s a unique friendship that spanned decades, centered around handwritten letters.

And it all began with a name and address written in a roll of toilet paper.

Green Bay elementary school teacher Amanda Hetrick was in high school when she first learned of the special friendship her grandma, Kathryn Payne, shared with Ruth Cottrell from Jefferson City, Missouri.

It’s a friendship that began when both ladies were in their early 20′s, back in 1940.

“Grandma had worked at a Green Bay paper mill and put her name in the toilet paper roll with her address and lo and behold, Ruth got it,” explains Hetrick.

Ruth responded and an amazing pen pal relationship was born.

“Just through their letters they became friends and wrote back and forth pretty consistently, to have someone to confide in who wasn’t here and to have someone they could openly share anything and everything with, pretty judgment free between them,” says Hetrick.

Over the next several decades, the long distance friendship between Kathryn and Ruth grew extremely close.

They sent gifts to each other and even had photos of each other and their families framed in their homes.

Their connection lasted until 2004.

“My grandma passed away actually 17 years ago today and then a few days later we got Ruth’s Christmas card and I wrote back to Ruth to let her know that grandma passed away, because back then we didn’t have Facebook or email and I didn’t know anything other than Ruth and Ruth’s address, I didn’t know any of her family and then Ruth wrote me back and it went from there,” says Hetrick.

Just like her grandma, Amanda became Ruth’s pen pal.

“She loved my dog, she even had him framed in her family room too. She always said, ‘I have little Tinkers up in my family room,’” recalls Hetrick with a chuckle.

On December 4th, Hetrick received some heartbreaking news from Ruth’s daughter Barb, who she’s become friends with on Facebook.

Ruth had passed away at 102.

“I called my mom and I was crying trying to tell her and I’m like ‘did Barb message you’ and she’s like, ‘Barb’ and then she’s like, ‘no’ and I told her and all she had to say to my dad was oh no, Ruth passed and my dad knew exactly who she was talking about.”

Over the years, Hetrick learned that her grandma and Ruth had talked about traveling to meet each other, but it never happened.

Over the past week, Hetrick’s faith has made her smile.

“Now they finally got to meet, so after 60-some years, they finally got to meet each other,” says Hetrick.

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