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Seven decades of letters keep friends linked

A bond sealed through writing letters has kept a Fruitvale woman close to her former teaching classmates for the past 70 years.
Inez Cheney

A bond sealed through writing letters has kept a Fruitvale woman close to her former teaching classmates for the past 70 years.

But as 90-year-old Inez Cheney ages so does her pen pals and only six remain from the original 12 former roommates who started putting pen to paper back in 1942 after graduating from the Normal School in Moose Jaw, Sask.

“Oh my, it’s good to look through these pictures,” says Cheney, as she flips through old black and whites of her school, teacherage and former students.

Cheney has kept a historical record of the good old days, right down to a placemat from Hopkins Dining Parlour in Moose Jaw, where a class reunion was held in 1981 for the over 200 people who attended the year-long training during war time.

An initial letter started the 70-year commitment that each woman has kept up. A new letter is added to the revolving package after it reaches the queued sender for the second time.

“It’s always very special when it arrives,” she said, holding the package in her home in Mountain Side Village.

Ruth Hetland of Prince Albert, Sask., Vancouver’s Alma Younger, Mary Becker of Medicine Hat, Alta., Kay Jacobs of Regina, Sask., and Cheney are the remaining “survivors” of the “6-21ers,” a sisterhood that started at the home they shared during their educational training.

“We miss them, you know, because we always heard from them,” said Cheney of her other pals who have passed on and no longer fill the envelope with stories of marriage, children and grandchildren.

In the classroom they were taught how to teach skills like handwriting, arithmetic, reading and discipline – some which stuck after graduation.

“They definitely did (teach discipline) but I wondered if we really listened to it,” laughed Cheney, adding that she only used the strap a couple of times to set an example.

“I never used it very much, I tell you, because I warned them,” she said. “You laid down the law in the first few weeks that you were there and that was it.”

Cheney went onto to teach in schools in south central Saskatchewan – first leading a classroom at Pleasant Plains School in Carnduff – before relocating to Trail where she married veteran Lavern Cheney, who has now passed on.

She considers her pen pals like family nowadays after years of sharing personal insight.

“Now comes the hard part, you have to write your own letter to go back in,” said Craig Horsland, a retired teacher who has been a family friend for the past 30 years. “I’m probably going to have to be the strict school teacher and sit her down with her paper and pen.”