Pen pals meet decades later

Walter Becher, left, and Scott Peeler, center, finally met while Peeler was on a European cruise. Becher introduced Peeler to his daughter, Ines, right. 
Walter Becher, left, and Scott Peeler, center, finally met while Peeler was on a European cruise. Becher introduced Peeler to his daughter, Ines, right. 
Published July 7, 2016

VALRICO — Scott Peeler was 11 years old when he started writing to a boy his age in Germany. He picked Walter Becher's name off a chalkboard list of children who wanted pen pals.

"It was purely curiosity for both of us," said Peeler, now 69.

More than 50 years later, the two men met for the first time in Nuremberg when Peeler went on a Viking River Cruise to Europe in May.

Their correspondence had bloomed from two boys finding common interest through letters in the 1950s to two men growing up together across an ocean.

In the first letter Peeler received from Becher, the German student wrote about school and his hobbies and described himself as being "robustly constructed" in proper English.

Peeler and Becher wrote through middle and high school, but stopped writing to each other in their late teens.

"The correspondence lasted until about 1963 then stopped, probably because I was not a great letter writer," Becher said in an email.

The two picked back up again in their late 20s when Peeler moved from Tennessee to Florida and found a box of Becher's letters.

This time they had careers and families to talk about.

Becher had moved from his home town of Regensburg to Nuremberg to be a tax auditor for the German government. Every year he sent pictures of the home he built from the ground up and his daughter from his first marriage, Ines.

Peeler got degrees in Spanish, French and education and is now a retired Spanish teacher and amateur genealogist. He said he always encouraged his students to take up pen pals, and now serves on the board of the Ybor City Museum Society and lives in Valrico.

When Becher heard he was finally going to meet Peeler, he was ecstatic.

"The greatest letter I received was when we picked up our correspondence again around 1974," Becher said. "The next was the letter where Scott wrote to me about his river cruise and the possibility of a personal meeting."

They mainly talked through letters and Christmas cards, sending gifts until the postage got too expensive. Peeler broke tradition and emailed Becher with the news of his personal visit in May.

"I told everyone on the cruise ship what my plans were," Peeler said. "I was so excited."

Becher arrived early on the dock in Nuremberg with a handful of photos Peeler had sent more than 50 years ago.

Peeler brought gifts from Ybor City: cigar boxes, T-shirts and a Tampa-style Oktoberfest cup.

Becher took Peeler to the house he showed Peeler being built through pictures. In the home's threshold is a drawing of an early 1900s Yakima Indian Peeler had sent years ago. In Becher's home office there is a hefty bundle of 50-60 letters from Peeler.

"Every time I see the (Yakima Indian) picture, I am reminded of Scott," Becher said. "Since the personal meeting in my home, this has a new meaning for me."

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For two days of Peeler's cruise along the Danube River, Becher took him on a sightseeing tour of his neighborhood, with a stop at the oldest sausage tavern in the world, the Historische Wurstkuche in Regensburg.

"There is something fascinating about being friends with a man in another country and continent, and to participate indirectly in his life," Becher said.

They both turned 69 this year and have dozens of letters from each other over more than five decades. They know of each other's families, interests and careers.

Now they have a picture together.

"I called him mein Deutche bruder, my German brother," Peeler said.

When Peeler met Becher's daughter, Ines, 32, Peeler told her he had watched her grow up from across the ocean through yearly pictures.

"Well, I've known you all my life," she said to him.

Contact Chelsea Tatham at cruise. Follow @chelseatatham.