Bubble gum wrapper leads to Tonkawa woman’s 55 year friendship

November 5, 2019 | Headlines


TONKAWA — Tonkawa resident Wilma Van Hook began an unusual friendship 55 years ago because of a bubble gum wrapper. Today, she is still friends with the New Zealand woman named Susie to whom she decided to write a letter. Through the years, the pair built a strong friendship.

Wilma Van Hook

Van Hook was born and raised in Tennessee.

She also lived in Washington before landing in Tonkawa after her mother married her stepfather.
Growing up, she loved to read. At the age of 10, she got a job rebinding books at the library, which helped her get out of the house and earn money.

When Van Hook was a teenager, she received a piece of Bazooka bubble gum, which included a comic strip of Bazooka Joe. On the back of the comic strip, there were addresses that belonged to people looking for pen pals. “My little sister gave me a piece of Bazooka one day, and I thought, ‘well there’s three people here wanting a pen pal in America, so I wrote three letters,” Van Hook said.

Wilma wrote three letters and connected with Susie who lived in New Zealand. Susie was married to a British naval officer and was a mother.
Wilma’s parents encouraged her to write to pen pals because they believed it was educational.

Over the years, the pair built a lifelong friendship. Sometimes a few months would pass with out a letter but when they did write again, they were able to pick up where they left off. The pair wrote about politics, presidents, life events and different books. They would also send pictures of family and newspaper clippings, which they continue to do today.


The pen pals decided to meet in the 1970s when Susie was going to Hawaii where her husband was being stationed for the winter. Wilma flew to Hawaii and met Susie for the first time. They spent 10 days together, which included New Years Day. During this time, they made numerous memories.
During this time, Susie invited Wilma to spend a day on Her Royal Majesty’s ship. It was the first time she had ever been on a big ship.

The crew served her meals and gave her a tour of the ship including the radar room. The ship had barrels of rum, and the “sailors were allowed to drink rum whenever they wanted to, as long as they did not get drunk.” It was culturally acceptable for British naval personnel to drink rum on the job, and rum barrels were located on every deck. During that week, Susie also fixed Wilma a “normal New Zealand dinner,” and they ate leg of lamb. One morning, they went to breakfast and Susie tried American bacon for the first time. It was a new experience for both, and they were able to experience things from one another’s culture.

Susie later became the mother of three, and Van Hook is the godmother of her daughter, Pam. For Pam’s birthday growing up, Wilma would mail her American products because it was expensive to buy them at the import store in New Zealand. Wilma sent Barbie dolls, Barbie dresses, makeup and even sent a pre-made Halloween costume one year. Susie had two sons who Wilma would also send gifts to, such as Hotwheel’s and Matchbox Cars.
Pam later said that by doing this, Aunt Wilma, as Pam calls her, helped make holidays and birthdays memorable.

Wilma and Susie’s daughter Pam

Wilma spent most of her adult life in Colorado and wrote about her experiences and the places she visited. About 10 years ago, Wilma moved back to Tonkawa to take care of her mother, and since then, Susie has visited multiple times. The pair have also met up with each other in different places over the years, but one regret Wilma does have is not being able to go to New Zealand. The last trip Susie planned was in August, but because of health problems, she couldn’t go. Instead, Pam, Susie’s daughter, came to Oklahoma in the middle of August and spent a week with Wilma.

After visiting Wilma, Pam and her husband went to Colorado. During the evening, Pam would call Wilma and tell her about what they had done that day. Pam visited many of the places that Wilma often wrote about while she lived in Colorado.

Wilma and Susie last saw each other three years ago, when Susie last came to America. “She still has that first letter I wrote her. When she came over three years ago, she brought the letter, so I could reread it.”

The pair do not exchange letters anymore because Wilma’s vision has deteriorated. Wilma’s brother usually helps the pair keep in contact. However, they still have an incredible bond and life-long friendship that started all because of a bubblegum wrapper.