OKLAHOMA CITY — Sadie Fanali and Lorraine Thomas had been pen pals since 1932. Last month, the two 91-year-olds cried and hugged and cried some more after meeting in person for the first time.
“I never really thought it would happen, never in my life,” Fanali said while holding Thomas’ hand after getting off the airplane from California. “I’m telling you, this is exciting.”
Fanali, who lives in Santa Monica, applied to Wish of a Lifetime, asking to finally meet Thomas, who lives in El Reno. The long-awaited meeting finally happened at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City.
When they talked before about meeting, they were busy raising children, or money was tight. The timing was just never right.
“We lost contact a few times, but we always tried to find each other and make contact again,” Thomas said. “We’ve been friends forever.”
They wrote to each other about six times a year with news about their families and their own personal lives.
Thomas said they wrote as if they were speaking to each other in person.
Thomas kept many of the letters and photos from Fanali. She brought a photo to the airport that Fanali mailed to her in the 1950s of herself, her husband and five of her nine children.
Fanali is not Thomas’ only pen pal but is her longest continual one.
“I think if it wasn’t for her, it wouldn’t have lasted,” Fanali said.
Thomas waited at the airport with her daughter, Sandy Rose, and her family. One of Fanali’s daughters, Christine, had flown in from Connecticut that morning to surprise her mother.
When Fanali arrived, accompanied by her daughter, Francine, she was first greeted by Christine and then by Thomas.
“I recognized Lorraine instantly. I couldn’t wait to rush up and hug her,” Fanali said.
Local merchants helped make the meeting more special. Betty’s Flowers in El Reno donated corsages. A limo ride was courtesy of Pink Pony Limousine, and dinner at Charleston’s was on the house.
Fanali and Thomas spent some quality time together while their daughters did some sightseeing in Bricktown.
Fanali said she and Thomas have never had a full conversation on the telephone, and she does not intend to start communicating that way. They plan to keep writing each other.
“Hopefully, we’ll come back next year,” Fanali said.
“My family made great friends. It was like we knew them all.”