Best of Friends

History, Hometown Heroes, People, Traditions
on February 17, 2011

When American Profile asked readers for stories about their longtime best friends, we were inundated with more than 1,200 letters detailing faithful friendships through life’s ups and downs, joys and sorrows.

From school playgrounds to roller skating rinks, these friendships began with laughter and skinned knees, developed through first loves and first jobs, and were steeled during periods of illness, divorce, family deaths and other difficult times. Many of you thanked us for a reason to write down what your best friend means to you; some of you gave copies of your letters to your friends as gifts.

Here are a few of your heartfelt stories:

Meet halfway
Whenever Kim Grant or Elaine Newsome needed to talk, they telephoned their best friend’s home and said two words: “Meet halfway.” With that, the two teens—playmates since they were 5 years old—rushed to meet midway between their houses on Central Road in Thomson, Ga.

The girls shared clothes, bought matching notebooks for school, and walked to town together to eat and giggle at the soda fountain. But it was their insatiable need to talk, confide, and give and receive advice that was the foundation of their friendship bound by blood—once even “sticking our fingers and swearing to never tell our secrets—and we never did!” recalls Kim, 53.

Since talking on the wall phones in their families’ kitchen or den made privacy challenging, Kim and Elaine designated their halfway meeting place in the front yard of a kind neighbor who didn’t seem to mind. Their conversations could last for 10 minutes, or hours, and often last well past dark. “Sometimes we’d meet in our PJs to discuss breaking news in our circle of girlfriends, major family issues, or just to borrow a shirt for school the next day,” Kim says.

Today, Kim lives in Columbia, S.C., and Elaine, 54, in Dearing, Ga., where they have talked each other through divorces and the deaths of their dads. When Kim retires, she’s thinking about moving to Dearing to be closer to her friend. “We have already picked out the perfect spot to meet halfway,” she says.

Best friends forever
When Jo Bailey’s granddaughter answers her phone and hears the voice of Tara Clifford, she calls out, “Gram, it’s your BFF!”

Friends with Tara for 50 years, Jo shares her four children and 14 grandchildren with her “best friend forever,” a widow with no children of her own.

“Tara has become the prize aunt-gramma-sister-friend to each of them. That is a lot of birthdays to remember, but she does! Best of all, Tara and I have traveled to Bhutan, Peru, Indian, Vienna, Japan and New Zealand over the years. Never were there such simpatico travelers, willing to sleep anywhere, meet anyone, and change plans to include a new adventure,” says Jo, 66, of Bayfield, Wis. “We are one another’s angels”—not to mention BFFs.

Borrowed address
A Brownie troop field trip to a bakery in Hazleton, Pa., launched the 48-year friendship of Justine Oberto and Janie Edwards. When all the youngsters were asked their addresses and Justine didn’t know hers, Janie and her mother came to the rescue, letting Justine “borrow” theirs.

Years later, the girls actually did share an address—as roommates at East Stroudsburg (Pa.) State College. After graduating in 1977, they hopped a Continental Trailways bus to Phoenix, Ariz., to find jobs. “I still have the journal of our misadventures of that trip,” recalls Janie, now 55 and back home in Hazleton, where she gets together regularly with Justine. “Our children grew up together like brothers and sisters, and to this day we celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve together with our families.”

Justine credits Janie and her family for making her the person she is today. “The values I learned from my own family were strongly reinforced by my friend and her mom. As everyone knows, kids don’t listen to their own mother,” says Justine, 55. “I attribute the fact that I still have a shred of my sanity to our ability to laugh hysterically at ourselves, and we did an awful lot of that. I just hope [our friendship] is strong enough to get me through menopause.”

Faithful friend
John Campbell first met Willie “Link” Quick in Mrs. Drake’s third-grade class in Bennettsville, S.C., and across 50 years of friendship, the two never have had an argument or a fight—even during the 1980s and ’90s when John struggled with alcohol and drugs.

“While I went through two failed marriages, Link and his wife, Julia, have been married for over 30 years. Not once did Link turn his back on me. When my family gave up on me, Link was there. I knew no matter where I was or what I had done, I could always talk to my friend. He didn’t agree with my life choices, but he never turned his back on me,” says John, 58, who beat his addictions and founded a religious ministry in 2004 in Princeton, Fla., to help others struggling with similar challenges.

John and Link, who still live in Bennettsville, plan to gather with their families this year on the campus of their former grammar school, which now is a community center, to celebrate a half-century of friendship.

Different paths
The friendship of Marcia Sexton and Helen Nodland is a friendship of different paths.

In the eighth grade, they were thrown together as the only two girls attending the Lutheran church in Spirit Lake, Iowa. “Needless to say, all the boys were nerds, and we became fast and forever friends,” says Marcia, now 60.

Marcia went on to graduate from a state university, married and landed a job before settling down to raise three sons in her hometown. Helen graduated from a private college with dreams of seeing the world, which she did, sending Marcia letters and postcards describing her adventures in Indonesia, Singapore, New Zealand and South America.

Today, Helen lives in Chicago and Marcia remains in Spirit Lake, where she is grateful to Helen for staying in touch and “filling me in on her travels, giving me a chance to dream of far-off places.” The women regularly get together to “laugh, cry, tell tales of joys and sadness, and reminisce over a bottle of wine she has brought. She knows the world and wine. I know grandparenting,” Marcia says. “We are best friends. It goes without saying. Our roots go deep.”

Twisted sisters
“If you have one true friend, you’re wealthy,” says Peg Carey, 54, of Rock Island, Ill.

Based on that statement, Peg is wealthy beyond compare because she has five best friends—Tammie Close, Rhonda Brown, Diane Overstreet, Joanne Hughes, Vicki Verschorre—affectionately known as the “Twisted Sisters,” all of whom graduated together from Rock Island High School and still live within five miles of one another.

“We have stood up for each other in our marriages and been there for the births of our children and now grandchildren,” Peg says. “We held each other as we buried parents, siblings and husbands. We go on a yearly vacation and spend the following 11 months planning the next one. We may be 54 years old but when we are together, we are young again.”

A good symbol for the soaring 55-year friendship of Jackie Paxton and Ray Parks is the kite that they pieced together in the fourth grade to win a kite-flying contest at Oak Grove Elementary School in Van Buren, Ark.

“Ray’s kite was made of paper and was torn apart by the strong winds, while my kite was made of plastic but the sticks supporting it quickly sapped,” Jackie remembers. “Faced with the problem of two broken kites, we did what we have done so many times before and since—we worked together.”

Using the sticks from Ray’s kite and the plastic covering from Jackie’s, the boys built a kite that flew so high that it unfurled two rolls of twine.

Such teamwork and loyalty have helped the buddies succeed as adults as well. “Ray served as my campaign manager when I was elected justice of the peace and to the school board. I served as his campaign manager when he was elected constable,” says Jackie, adding that when his dad died in 2009, Ray was a pallbearer.

Now 60, the men live near each other in Van Buren. “It’s a great feeling to know that there is a friend you can always count on, someone who always has your back through thick and thin,” Jackie says.

Perfect match
When JoAnn Trainer moved in 1974 to Yuma, Ariz., her new junior high school assigned her a student “buddy” to help her get acclimated. Little did she realize that she and Penni Randazzo would become buddies for life.

“So I’m sitting in the office of my new school, and in comes this crazy-looking girl with mismatched shoes and socks and her outfit looks like she had pieced it together from 20 different pieces of clothing. One side of her hair was down, and one side was up in a ponytail,” recalls JoAnn, who blurted out “you’ve got to be kidding.” The girls both had a good laugh when JoAnn learned that it was “mismatch day” at her new school—and their friendship turned out to be anything but a mismatch.

“From that moment on, Penni and I were pretty much attached at the hip,” says JoAnn, 49, who now lives in Yucca Valley, Calif., about 100 miles from Penni’s home in National City, Calif.

“When we get together, we still act like those two crazy schoolgirls,” JoAnn says. “We laugh, we giggle, we reminisce, we joke, we cry, and we talk and talk and talk.”

Side by side
For an eighth-grade program at Van Voorhis (Pa.) School, Joan Ciccarelli and Jean Celaschi dressed as hobos with knapsacks on a stick as they danced and sang “Side by Side.”

The two singers have been side by side as friends for almost 70 years, beginning in the coal-mining town of Van Voorhis where they lived on opposite ends of a row of houses. After playing together, they took turns walking each other part of the way home and, for the last part of the walk, called each other’s names back and forth until yelling a final “I’m home!”

In school, Joan and Jean were cheerleaders and played on the basketball team, and when they grew up, Joan was godmother to Jean’s two children. Today, Joan lives in Belle Vernon, Pa., and Jean lives two miles away in Charleroi.

“It would take a ledger to record all the things we have done during our lifetime, some good, some bad, some happy, some sad, but we went through life side by side,” says Joan, 72.