DULUTH (AP) -- Earlier this spring, Ben Kinsel got some postcards from Duluth.
Well, OK, more than some.
Ben, 8, asked Duluth News Tribune readers back in April to send him postcards for a geography project at his elementary school in Sandusky, Ohio, about 750 miles away.
Sixty-seven letters and 559 postcards later -- nearly all from northeastern Minnesota -- Ben had more than a class project on his hands.
"What we really received were heartfelt stories, visits into families and their backgrounds, wonderful descriptions of vacation areas, exciting news from other second-graders and even hilarious words of wisdom from a Hibbing High School accounting class," Ben's mother Nancy wrote in a letter addressed to the people of Duluth.
One of those stories came from Master Sgt. David Churchill of the Minnesota Air National Guard's 148th Fighter Wing, based in Duluth. Churchill let Ben's request for postcards sit on his table for three days before deciding it would be a neat gesture to send a photo of his aircraft along with a short letter about the area.
Duluth's Patrick Olson, 67, a member of VFW Post 137, said he was starting to wonder if Ben was ever going to write back after he sent a postcard this spring.
"If he didn't write me, I was going to write him again," said Olson, who signed his postcard with "your friend for life."
When hearing how many postcards Ben received, Olson is quick to praise Ben's teacher, Betty Ann Rowe, for organizing the project. But Rowe refuses to take credit for the project.
Eight years ago, Rowe's fellow second-grade teacher at Furry Elementary School, Laureen Armstrong, started the project as a way to teach students about the mail system, letter writing and geography. Names of cities from all over the country were placed in a hat, with the second-graders drawing two names apiece.
For the first seven years, response to the students' requests was minimal. If they received any postcards at all, the students would typically get about 10 to 20.
And then in March, Ben Kinsel drew Duluth. At that time, Ben had heard of "Minn-in-apolis," but was unfamiliar with Duluth. Three weeks after his requests for postcards were sent to Duluth and to a town in Arizona, Ben had gotten only one response -- from an Arizona businessman.
"Then," Nancy Kinsel said, "they came in basket fulls."
They came from International Falls, Chisholm, Hibbing, Grand Rapids and Duluth -- all over the region. And not just cards -- he received a Minnesota license plate with the name "Ben" for his bike, a rookie baseball card of New York Giants outfielder and Chisholm native A.W. "Moonlight" Graham, and a Finnish calendar.
Some of the postcards were from travelers who had passed through Duluth and seen the request in the paper. Some Northland residents included postcards they had collected on journeys across the country, keeping with the geography theme.
Ben's new pen pals spanned multiple generations, from Duluth second-grader Nicole LaFave to Hibbing's Vivian Kendall, who is 94. Hibbing High School accounting teacher Pat Furlong made his class send Ben postcards.
"They thought it was a bit goofy," Furlong said of his students. "But if I was a second-grader, I'd love to get that kind of response."
Duluth's Winnie Thaisen remembers the enjoyment she got out of having pen pals in Europe during her childhood, so she sent Ben brochures about Duluth along with a letter. She is not surprised that her fellow residents followed suit.
"The people here are outgoing and friendly, and many of them have children," she said. "This was such an appealing thing to do."
And now the Kinsels are planning a trip to Duluth in August. Churchill said he plans to give Ben a tour of his aircraft. Olson guarantees that the VFW will have a fish fry for Ben and his parents when they arrive.
All because the second grader took the initiative to get to know his neighbors from the north, Churchill notes. And got some postcards in return.
Well, OK, more than some.
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