In 1975, the U.S. President was Gerald Ford. Microsoft was founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen. “Saturday Night Live” debuted on NBC. The Vietnam War ended. A gallon of gas cost .57, a dozen eggs were .77 and a gallon of milk was $1.57.
It was also the year Becky (Wade) Finch received a letter from Debbie (Dean) Hohle.
Finch, of Farmington, was in Mrs. Jean Mills’ class at Jefferson Elementary. Mills read Hohle’s letter to the class and explained how the young girl wanted a pen pal.
“Every hand in the room went up,” said Finch. “But I was on the front row right in front of the teacher’s desk. Mrs. Mills said, ‘Becky’s got her hand up so she can take care of this.’ I got the letter.”
Hohle, of Moody, Texas, said her teacher wanted them to write to someone in another state. Her uncle and aunt, Jim and Cora Dell Key, lived in Farmington.
Aunt Dell was the school secretary at Finch’s school, and she gave the letter to Mills.
Finch sent her first letter to Hohle.
“I told Debbie that I was happy that I got the letter and was thrilled to write back to her,” said Finch.
So, the pair began a friendship and sent handwritten letters to each other at least twice a month, and they always signed their letters with “FF.” That stood for “friends forever.”
The girls talked on the phone – a rotary phone – for the first time in 1977. Even though they were about 12 hours and 700 miles apart, they were deeply connected.
They met in person for the first time in 1978 when Hohle’s family, including her parents T.R. and Virginia Dean and younger sister Charlotte, visited her aunt and uncle in Farmington.
The girls met at Aunt Dell and Uncle Jim’s house and they made an instant in-person connection.
“We started running around town together,” said Finch. “We met each other’s parents and went to a movie.”
Finch’s parents were William “Bud” and Vernice Wade.
They met in person again the summer before their junior year, and then they met again the following summer before their senior year when they went to Farmington’s former drive-in theater.
“I really connected with her,” said Finch. “We became the best of friends.”
So, the girls grew up together miles apart. They shared their life’s happenings through many letters. Even with so many miles between them, they still maintained a special closeness.
Finch married her husband Chris in 1982. Her son, Bryan, was born in 1984. Her daughter, Brianna, was born in 1987.
“I loved sharing the news of my pregnancies with Debbie, but it was hard because she didn’t live close enough to enjoy it with me,” said Finch.
Hohle said, “We’re about 12 hours away from each other, so many times we’ve wished we lived closer together.”
Hohle returned to Farmington in 1990 when her uncle Jim died and their families met again for the funeral.
During the summer of 2001, Finch and daughter Brianna visited Hohle in Texas.
“It was such an amazing trip,” said Finch.
Just the year before, Hohle had built her home. She had been writing — now via email — to Finch to tell her all about it.
Hohle, who has a huge love for antiques, built the house to look like the one her father grew up in. From antique lumber to the counter from her grandfather’s old country grocery store, it seemed everything in her new home had a history.
The church Hohle now attends is located just across the river from her. Years before she attended services there, that church was renovated. Hohle was able to get some of the original stained-glass windows from it, which are now part of her kitchen.
Hohle met her husband Michael, and they married in 2010. They had attended school together in Moody, Texas, but graduated and went their separate ways. Hohle saw Michael’s brother in 2009 and the couple reconnected through him. In one of life’s full-circle quirks, Michael had grown up in that church from where she got the stained-glass windows. Now, Hohle and her husband attend that church together.
In late 2003, Finch’s husband Chris had a massive stroke and was given only a few hours to live. At the time, they had just purchased five acres and were building their first-ever brand-new house. Finch was working at the house while Chris worked in St. Louis when she received the call that he was being taken to the hospital.
In 2004, Hohle returned to visit her aunt and Finch. Finch said Hohle’s visit that year was so important and greatly appreciated because everything was difficult during Chris’s recovery from his stroke.
Through almost 50 years, the best friends have only seen each other in-person fewer than 10 times. But they’ve shared many happy memories as well as numerous difficult times together. From giggly girls to matured women, they’ve been each other’s comfort during the darkest times and shared many successes throughout their friendship.
Yet their lives have followed the same paths even hundreds of miles apart. Finch’s mom was placed in hospice care and passed away in August. Hohle’s mom followed the same path not much later.
“Our parents aged at the same time,” said Finch, “and we went through the same things. We have gone through a lot together over the years.”
“Our lives have paralleled in so many ways,” said Hohle.
“I’ve always felt I could write to Debbie and tell her anything,” said Finch.
Hohle said, “And I feel the same way.”
She continued, “You know, we’re getting older. Even though it is just 12 hours away, it takes a while to be able to come back to see Becky. We both have busy lives. We can’t always get back when we want to. But when we do get together, it’s always very, very special.”
Finch said whenever she gets a text that says Hohle is coming to Farmington, she gets excited every time.
“My daughter also gets super excited,” she said, “because she’s very attached to Debbie, too.”
Finch explained that Hohle’s life has been much different than hers.
“Debbie’s life has always seemed calmer and simpler to me,” said Finch. “She has all her antiques and her peaceful little farm, and I’ve grown up in town.”
She and Brianna love Hohle because she “inspired us to have the backbone that she does. She was single for a long time. We watched her and saw how she built her own house. We both really admire her.”
Hohle has loved watching Finch’s grandchildren grow, including Brianna and son-in-law Jeremy’s 17-month-old daughter Lily, and Bryan and daughter-in-law Ashleigh’s children, 12-year-old Lincoln and 6-year-old Amelia.
Earlier in March, Hohle traveled back to Farmington so the friends could do something together they’ve never done before: celebrate their March birthdays together.
The best friends were both born in 1962: Hohle on March 29 and Finch on March 31.
Through the last nearly 50 years, these two friends have shared countless memories and experiences. They’ve exchanged handwritten letters, emails, texts, Facebook messages, countless cards, phone calls, Christmas ornaments, and more.
“Even though we live miles apart, it’s like we’re never apart,” said Finch.
Hohle agreed. “We pick up right where we left off last time.”
Looking back, Hohle said she actually mailed two letters: one to Farmington, which Finch received, and one to Oklahoma.
Regarding the pen pal from Oklahoma, Hohle said, “We wrote back just a couple of times and that was it.”
She continued, “But with Becky, we just stuck together. We’re so alike. We both love our families and antiques. I just really know this was meant to be.”
Finch agreed. “We were both raised in that time when families were families and they stuck together. I’m so glad we’ve stuck together all these years.”
Hohle smiled. “We’re both very blessed. We both have great husbands and families, and we have each other.”
Finch looked at Hohle and returned the smile. “Friends forever.”
Pam Clifton is a contributing writer for the Daily Journal. Her work is often seen in Missouri Life magazine.