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Bob Lind, Published November 16 2013

Neighbors: French pen pal has ‘marvelous’ time in area

There they were, a couple of women doing what both enjoyed: having coffee in the morning and tea in the evening and talking about their common interests, such as traveling, the arts, reading and, for sure, their children and grandchildren.

This was extraordinarily special, though, because the guest of Moorhead resident Diane Rustad was Denise Miller. They’d been pen pals for 58 years, and Denise was from France.

They’d been together earlier, when Diane had visited Denise in France. But last summer, Denise visited Diane in her home for the first time.

Showing off the area

It all began when Diane Bergan, 12, while attending school at Hawley, Minn., submitted her name to the Weekly Reader as one who would like to be someone’s pen pal.

Denise, 13, replied. And the correspondence began.

They met for the first time in 1970 when Diane and her husband, Ron Rustad, visited Europe.

Diane went back three more times. Then this year, Denise came to Moorhead. While she’d been in the United States once before, visiting Louisiana, this was her first time in the Upper Midwest.

Denise had shown Diane the wonders of France, from Paris to the French Alps. Now it was Diane’s turn.

She showed Denise downtown Fargo, the Fargo Theatre, the Fine Arts Club, Concordia College and Minnesota State University of Moorhead, where retired nurse Diane had received her degree, the area around Perham, Minn., the Rustads’ cabin on Lake Ida, Minn., Duluth, Minn., and the North Shore.

“It wasn’t the same as going to Paris,” Diane says, “but I at least could show her my area and what my life is like here.”

Denise loved it, and explained why in a letter, written in excellent English (she’d taught English in a French university) to Neighbors.

Friendly folks

“Visiting Diane’s home state was one of the things I have always wanted to do,” Denise wrote. “That dream became a reality last April/May.

“It is difficult to tell about the overwhelming joy I felt when I landed at Fargo-Moorhead airport. I fully realized how lucky I was to have had such a wonderful and faithful friend all through these past 58 years.

“These two vacation weeks were marvelous. I really enjoyed traveling on the highways in the middle of large, often open spaces, and driving along country roads. I loved discovering scattered farms on the way, the incredible number of lakes and the charming cabins built on their shores, and of course all the sights of Fargo-Moorhead.

“The first surprise I had was when Diane took me to Lake Ida – a small lake, if compared to the great North Lakes – but on that early May day, Lake Ida was still completely frozen and looked like a gray silver mirror. I was enthralled!

“Another highlight was our trip to Lake Superior and Duluth. A startling settling, an incredible landscape with the immensity of the water. There was also a touch of wilderness and in some places a fascinating feeling of untamed and untouched nature. I felt hypnotized by this beauty and I marveled at the strong will and courage of the first settlers.

“When I visited the Hjemkomst Museum (in Moorhead), I also admired the bold men who managed to build a replica of a Viking boat and who successfully sailed it to Norway. As to the Norwegian church replica – Hopperstad Stave – it is indeed a marvel of skill and patience.

“I visited many other places; they were all of great interest and so new to me,” Denise continued. “I could talk for hours about the people I met in Minnesota: Diane’s and Ron’s relatives and friends, and unknown people I talked to in the various shops and areas where we went. They were all very warm and friendly, ready to answer my questions, eager to communicate and showing true interest in our (Diane’s and her) lifelong friendship and in the country I was coming from.

“I would like to end this very short account of an extraordinary vacation by quoting the English poet William Wordsworth, who wrote this marvelously appropriate sentence in the famous poem, ‘The Daffodils’:

“ ‘I gazed and gazed, but little thought

“ ‘What wealth the show to me had brought.’

“I also gazed and gazed when I was in Minnesota,” Denise concludes, “and I know it is for me a wealth forever!”

To this, Diane adds, “I wish everyone would have connections with someone in another country. We’re all basically the same; we have the same core values; for instance, we want our children to be educated and have good jobs.”

Well, here’s one solid such connection: Diane, a woman who is primarily of Norwegian extraction living in Moorhead, with a longtime pen pal in France.

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to (701) 241-5487; or email blind@forumcomm.com