Foreign exchange

Gillian Hardie, left, and Juliana Schacherer met in May after exchanging letters for 35 years. Photo: St. Paul Pioneer Press

Juliana Schacherer and Gillian Hardie only recently met, but they’ve been friends for more than 35 years — with help from the Postal Service and the Royal Mail.

Schacherer, a Minnesota resident, and Hardie, who lives in the United Kingdom, began exchanging letters in 1980 for a middle school assignment. They continued to write, long after the class project ended.

“Our letters kept evolving through middle school, high school, college, jobs, marriage, kids,” Schacherer told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

The women also used the mail to support one another through tough times, like when Hardie was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002.

In May — after about 200 letters, cards and packages — the pen pals finally came face to face when Hardie and her husband visited Schacherer.

The women hugged and cried upon meeting for the first time, then stayed up late talking and laughing.

Schacherer and her family hope to one day visit Hardie. Until then, the women plan to keep exchanging letters.

“The art of letter writing — that kind of friendship doesn’t really exist anymore, does it?” Hardie said. “It’s a unique and special thing to have.”