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posted: 9/3/2012 7:37 AM

50-year friendship started with love of Elvis

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  • File photoA love of Elvis turned two women into lifelong pen pals and soul sisters.

      File photoA love of Elvis turned two women into lifelong pen pals and soul sisters.

 
Wisconsin State Journal

MADISON, Wis. -- The magazine was called Movieland and TV Time, and the 17-year-old girl in Buenos Aires, Argentina, liked it because it had color photographs of Elvis Presley. That was 1962.

The girl, Ester Blajer, first fell in love with Elvis on the radio. When she finally saw a photo, she wasn't disappointed.

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Somewhere in between the bright photos in Movieland and TV Time, there was a section inviting readers to submit their names as potential pen pals. All that was required was to send your name, address, age and the name of your favorite star.

In Buenos Aires, Ester set down her information and sent it in. Her favorite star, of course, was Elvis. Were there really any others?

Sometime later, in Waukesha, a 15-year-old Elvis fan named Sandy Lombardi picked up a magazine and noted a girl in Buenos Aires was seeking a pen pal.

"I remember thinking, 'Argentina! How exciting,'" Sandy told the Wisconsin State Journal (bit.ly/PjNZ5C).

On Aug. 6, 1962, Sandy wrote a letter that began: "Dear Ester, I was just reading Movieland and TV Time magazine."

That letter, which still exists, launched an extraordinary, long-distance friendship that today, 50 years later, endures.

There have been hundreds of letters back and forth since, several in-person meetings and, over time, Ester and Sandy went from pen pals to friends. Today, it's more than that. They call themselves soul sisters and consider each other family.

The relationship has survived life changes and technological advances. It even survived Sandy moving on a bit from her early adoration of Elvis.

She still likes him, mind you, but in time Sandy embraced the Beatles, and later the Bee Gees.

For Ester, Elvis is the once and future king.

It was Elvis, along with Sandy, who drew Ester to the United States in August from her home in Buenos Aires.

Ester, now 67, made arrangements with an Elvis fan club in Great Britain to join them in Memphis for a week of Elvis-related activities there and in Tupelo, Miss.

She flew into Madison on Aug. 23 to spend several days with Sandy, who is now Sandy Wise. Sandy, 65, and her husband, John Wise, moved to Madison from Waukesha a decade ago to be near their daughter.

The next day, Ester and Sandy sat at a table in Sandy's home and talked about their unlikely friendship.

On the surface, they appear to have little in common -- beyond Elvis, of course. Sandy's a Waukesha farm girl who married and had children. Ester likes the big city and never married, indulging instead a passion for travel after being educated as a translator. Her English is excellent.

It is much in keeping with their personalities that when Sandy got married, Ester sent her some exotic high-heeled Argentine slippers. Sandy still isn't quite sure what to make of those.

From their earliest letters, however, something clicked. Ester's notice in Movieland and TV Time brought letters from all over the world. She wrote back to several girls but gradually they all fell away, except for Sandy in Wisconsin.

"I liked her and I liked the way she wrote," Ester said.

They exchanged Christmas cards and birthday cards, and Sandy would send Ester the Elvis albums not available in Argentina.

They met for the first time in 1975 when Ester visited Sandy in Waukesha and stayed about 10 days, prior to joining a British group in Memphis that was headed for Las Vegas and a week of Elvis shows.

Elvis collapsed following a performance just before Ester's arrival in Las Vegas, so she never did see him in person. Still, her devotion is undiminished. Today, she wears a heart necklace bearing Elvis' likeness.

In 1999, the two women met in Memphis and immersed themselves in all things Elvis, including Graceland. In December 2004, Ester came to Madison for the first time. She wanted to experience a white Christmas.

The Internet has helped them stay close. Hand written letters gave way to email, and communication became more frequent. Ester said her notes tend to ramble a bit, while Sandy is more on point. It hardly matters. Through everything, they have stayed true to their friendship.

On this latest trip, a celebration of 50 years of notes and visits, Ester has been trying to persuade Sandy to come to Argentina. It may yet happen.

"I don't feel 67," Ester said.

Sandy grinned. "I do."

"Inside I'm still a teenager," Ester said. And Elvis, she'll be the first to tell you, is still the King.

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