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Senior’s Long Lost Letter Finds Its Way Home

Seattle, WA 3/05/2012 09:45 PM GMT (WooEB)

Every year on the first day of spring, Orchard Oaks Assisted Living and Nursing Home holds a festive spring fling complete with music, refreshments and activities. The main attraction at this spring fling is the launching of the balloons. 

“Each member of the Orchard Oaks community writers a short letter introducing themselves”, said Sherry O’Collins, activity director for Orchard Oaks. “The letters are attached to the balloons and sent in the air with the hopes of them landing in the hands of a caring individual who will write back.” 

Orchard Oaks has sent out 15,000 balloons with letters attached to them. Of those 15,000 balloons, about 15% are returned within a year with some sort of letter or correspondence. 

“Most of our residents don’t receive responses back”, explained O’Collins. “The low return rate doesn’t dampen our residents’ spirits. They all rejoice when someone finally receives a letter. It’s like a community-wide celebration.” 

This past winter an old and battered letter arrived at Orchard Oaks addressed to a Patty Smith. The return address was from a small town just outside of Orlando, but it wasn’t the return address that raised eyebrows. It was the date it was sent. The date on the front of the envelope read “July 17, 1980”. 

“I did a double take when I saw the date on the envelope”, said Teri Swallow, secretary for Orchard Oaks. “All the letters that come in are nice, crisp and white. This was battered and yellowed. It just looked old.” 

The letter was forwarded to activities director Sherry O’Collins, who opened it up. Inside was a detailed letter from a Mark Consequo. It was a response to a balloon-mailed letter that Patty Smith wrote for the spring fling in 1980, the third year the assisted living community and home health care provider held the balloon mailing themed event. 

“I knew our residents would be extremely thrilled to see that a letter this old got returned”, said O’Collins. “We read it at our weekly community meeting over tea and the residents were so overcome with joy that you’d have thought they were Patty Smith.”

Unfortunately, Patty Smith passed away in the fall of 1990. Orchard Oaks tracked down her son and grandson, personally delivering the letter to them. 

“If my mom were still alive she’d have been overcome with joy that her letter got returned”, Dave Smith said. “It’s certainly a story I hope my family passes down for generations to come.”



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