Chillicothean keeps up pen-pal friendship with Swedish visitors

Marianne Gillespie
Jenny Hamilton of Chillicothe, left, and Asa Grünewold of Sweden pose in their red, white and blue finest. courtesy of Jenny Hamilton

What started out as a pen-pal friendship has spanned three decades to keep a Chillicothe woman tied to Sweden.

Jenny (Smick) Hamilton hosted her grade school pen pal, Asa (Fridstrom) Grünewold and her daughter, Emma, in July.

It was about 30 years ago when Asa Grünewold journeyed from Uppsala, Sweden, to Chillicothe to meet her pen pal for the first time. They began writing through Mary Albright’s sixth-grade class at Pearce School.

Since that time, they have made trips to see each other, and as they had families, brought their families along to see each other.

For this trip, Asa and Emma Grünewold needed to be in Chillicothe in time for a holiday.

“My mom loves the Fourth of July,” 14-year-old Emma Grünewold said, who stayed longer than her mom, leaving in early August.

Shopping was a big activity during this trip, with Emma Grünewold taking home a coveted pair of Nike Air Force 1 high tops. The shoes were sold out in women’s sizes in Sweden.

While Emma Grünewold has visited other countries, including shopping in London, there are things in the United States she just cannot get her hands on in Sweden.

She also found fun things to try, including roller skating at Peoria Palace in Mossville.

Some fun proved to a be a little painful while at the paintball pits.

“I’ve never done that before but it hurt pretty bad,” she said.

She enjoyed movies, finding “Guardians of the Galaxy” in 3D and “Lucy” as two of her favorites.

They also found time for swimming and horseback riding.

Getting around is different than in her country as she takes buses everyday, and also can take trains.

Emma Grünewold also noticed that food and drink is different here, too.

Water tastes different, and food choices are abundant.

“You have a lot of choices in fast food. We only have McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Subway, and one Starbucks in the train station,” Emma Grünewold said.

Her favorite Starbucks drink is a vanilla latte.

While a July 25, 1984, Chillicothe Bulletin story about Asa Grünewold’s first trip noted she liked pizza, Emma Grünewold isn’t as sure about American pizza.

“We put everything on it. They don’t pile it on,” Hamilton explained.

Emma Grünewold said she enjoys just ham on her Swedish pizza.

The family also enjoyed some of Emma Grünewold’s cooking, including Swedish pancakes that are like crepes and Swedish meatballs.

She found one food she was not fond of: “Fried pickles. I don’t like them.”

She tried them both on a trip to Orange Beach, Ala., and the Burger Barge in East Peoria.

Now back in her hometown, which is about 45 minutes from Stockholm, Emma Grünewold is in ninth grade at an American school.

She said she wants to travel more. Her dad was a foreign exchange student years ago, something she would like to do as well. One of the places she would be interested in traveling to is Australia.

As the families continue to share cultural experiences, Hamilton encourages others to find a pen pal and start young.

“It would be a lot easier to communicate these days. It is a really good experience,” Hamilton said.

That experience now has included their children.

“For two or three years we didn’t write as much but we never lost touch,” Hamilton said.