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Pen pals meet 45 years later

Ace Becker met Mary Rytkonen in Big Lake earlier this month. The two were pen pals 45 years ago.

Forty-five years ago, at advanced Army training in Fort Lewis, Wash., Ace Becker received a letter from a stranger.

Mary Bentler, a farm girl from Randall and a student at the Wadena tech school, had read about the Deer Creek soldier in the Pioneer Journal and decided to send him a letter. Over the next year, when Becker was station in South Korea, the two exchanged a couple dozen letters, writing about their families and other details of their young lives.

"I promised I'd call her when I got out," Becker said.

He never did.

Becker went on to start a family and worked for the railroad for 43 years, retiring in 2010. Bentler became a distant memory.

Fast forward to this spring. Becker was exploring a box of artifacts from his stint in the Army, when he came across Bentler's letters.

Feeling shame for his broken promise, Becker decided to try to get a hold of his old pen pal. He was able to track down her brother, who gave him Bentler's married name, Rytkonen, and her suburban Twin Cities address.

So Becker sent her a letter, which included an apology and a request to contact him. He included a couple old letters "to jog her memory."

In early June, she gave him a call and the two heard the other's voice for the first time. They talked for a half-hour, updating each other on the nearly half century since they last communicated, and agreed to meet, at last, in person.

"I was kind of anxious," Becker said.

Earlier this month, Becker and Rytkonen, an administrative assistant at Cargill, met at a Big Lake cafe.

Becker said he's glad he kept his promise, albeit a bit belatedly.

"I knew I had to get in touch with her somehow," Becker said, "even if it was 45 years later."