PIKE COUNTY, Ky. (WYMT) - A friendship developed through a pen pal program at Belfry High School has been going strong for more than two decades. The Eastern Kentuckian was able to meet her friend from more than 4,000 miles away earlier this month.
"Well, it started with a letter," says Martin Lehner.
In 1990, Lehner and Kyla Roark's friendship began through a school assignment.
Retired teacher, Brenda Phillips says, "I always wanted my students to be able to use the German I taught them to figure out the culture and things of the country. Since we didn't have Facebook or could not Skype...the best we could do was a pen pal."
Roark says, "Martin wrote back and I was like, 'Wow!' I wrote another one and it just continued."
Sending post cards, pictures, flags, and other items.
Lehner remembers "She also sent me a sweatshirt from the Wildcats. Yes from your team here."
Talking about the day's hot topics like Bon Jovi and Def Leppard...also discussing each other's culture.
"He could tell we had a closeness here. He loved to hear about the Belfry football games," says Roark.
Lehner also exchanged letters with German teacher, Brenda Phillips. Lehner says he quickly developed a dream to visit the United States...Eastern Kentucky to be specific.
"I was always asked why do you go to Eastern Kentucky and not Disneyland, California, or something...well it was always a dream of mine," says Lehner.
24 years later his dream came true.
Roark says, "It was like a reunion instead of a first time meeting."
Phillips says Lehner's journey teaches an important lesson, "That dream you have a child, you say I'm going to go here or iIm going to see this or experience that...never give up on that dream."
Their meeting is certainly not the end of the road for how these two pen pals are connecting two cultures
Roark, who is now a teacher says, "I had to explain what a pen pal was to my fifth graders. His girlfriend is a teacher in Germany, she teaches fifth grade and so now our kids are going to write to each other."
As they teach a new generation the art of both writing and receiving a letter.
Lehner says one of his favorite things while visiting Eastern Kentucky has been the people and hospitality. As well as learning about Kentucky basketball and experiencing the cats March Madness run.