Longtime Highland resident Kathy Lorei celebrated her 89th birthday on Saturday, Nov. 30.
It’s an occasion that had her reminiscing of 1944 when, for her 14th birthday, she sent a birthday card to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, with whom she shares her birthday, and, to her delight, he sent back a signed “Thank you” letter.
That letter has since been one of her most cherished possessions.
“The war was going on and his name was always in the paper, and I had been doing reports in school [about him]. So, I knew we had the same birthday and thought I’d send him a card and cheer him up and try to do something nice,” Lorei said of her inclination to send the birthday card.
It was his 70th birthday.
The response, signed and dated in December 1944, was especially gracious as it was sent during the last days of World War II, an extremely hectic time for Churchill.
“That elevated him in my mind; made him a special man,” Lorei said of Churchill’s thoughtfulness. “I’ve been thrilled about it all my life.”
The letter, now kept in a frame, was sent from Whitehall, London, to Lorei’s childhood home in Durham, Kan. The envelope is postmarked Jan. 8, 1945, and was resealed with an examiner’s seal after being opened and read by government inspectors, a wartime practice.
Kathy still remembers returning home from school for lunch and being told by her mother that the letter arrived.
“Mom was standing there, her face was all red and her hair was [out of place]. She had lit the oven and it puffed back at her and she had gotten singed. She then announced I had gotten this letter from England.”
When thinking back on the war, Lorei shared that her father was too old and her step-brother physically exempt from military service, but she felt the effects of the war elsewhere.
She remembers rationing of critical materials and certain foods and using blackout curtains, even in Kansas.
For Lorei and her classmates, the cooking lessons in home economics were largely bookwork as the rationing of sugar, butter and other ingredients limited opportunities for the traditional hands-on learning experience shared by most other generations.
In 2019, her birthday was celebrated with lots of loving calls from her family.
“We have over 30 family members with kids, grandkids and great-grandkids. I heard from nearly everyone,” Lorei said. “We’re a pretty close family."