Not long after Easter Sunday 2020, Betty Smith received a letter from her dad, which he sent to her at Notre Dame College in South Euclid, Ohio. What makes this event more than just another dad sending a student a letter from home is the postmark: April 29, 1947.
Today, Smith, 92, resides at Parkvue Community, a senior living campus in Sandusky that is part of United Church Homes.
The letter started its final journey to Smith on April 9, 2020, Maundy Thursday, when a staff member at Notre Dame brought Karen Poelking, vice president for board and community relations, a letter found while staff members cleaned the mail room. The letter was in the kind of envelope the U.S. Postal Service uses for damaged mail. Poelking told Jordan Vandenberge of News 5 Cleveland, “I did the math. The first thing I did in my head [was the date]: ‘My God, this letter is 73 years old. Where has it been?’”
Poelking read the letter to find out who sent it, and to gather information on the intended recipient. Notre Dame staff researched alumni records and found a Betty Jane Gerhart Smith, who graduated in 1949. But the records lacked a current address.
“Thank God for the internet,” Poelking told News 5. “I just googled” and found an obituary for Victor, Smith’s husband, and a phone number for Betty at Parkvue Community.
Connie Wehner, Parkvue’s receptionist, received the call from Notre Dame. “Due to HIPAA privacy laws, Connie isn’t permitted to share information about residents without their permission,” says Laura Nemeth, Parkvue’s director of marketing. “But she took down the information and reached out to Betty. … Betty and Notre Dame connected, and Betty finally received the letter written by her father over seven decades ago.”
Ironically, because of COVID-19 restrictions, Poelking couldn’t hand deliver the letter to Betty: she had to send it via USPS. But this time, the long-awaited letter arrived in timely fashion, and Smith was overjoyed to receive it.
“I was shocked,” Smith told Vandenberge. “I’m just thrilled to death. Everybody is [thrilled], including all of my sisters. The little four year olds [mentioned in the letter] are 77 now.”
Even though the letter was received a few weeks ago, Smith and the Parkvue staff still are still reveling in the experience. “We are so happy for Betty, and we can tell that the letter continues to bring joy to her heart,” says Shannon Graver, Parkvue’s director of resident services. “She really lights up when she talks about it.”
But for Smith, the most important thing is that she now has this bit of family history with her. As she told News 5 Cleveland, “The letter means more to me than any amount of money.”