Message in a bottle creates lifelong friendship between two strangers

MARQUETTE — In the age of new technology, not many people receive hand-written letters anymore. The friendship of Alice St. James and Missy Mannisto incorporates both.

The Great Lakes are known for many things, but it’s not often that they are known to bring two strangers together. However, this is exactly the case for Alice St. James and Missy Mannisto.

St. James and her family grew up in a suburb of Milwaukee and the family often took long trips on their sailboat. During one trip, her brother, Bill, wrote a letter, placed it in an empty bottle and set it adrift in Lake Michigan near Green Bay.

“None of his letters were found, except for one, that we know of. The letter that was found was form 1974 and it was found in 1984, so it was floating around Lake Michigan for ten years,” said St. James.

The bottle was found in Nahma Township, where Mannisto’s family often went fishing.

“I didn’t want to write back because I was 16 and the letter was from a boy who was older than me, you know, at that time, he was like 21,” said Mannisto. “My relatives were like ‘You really have to write back,’ I went ‘Okay, fine.’ So I did.”

Upon receiving Mannisto’s response, St. James and her mother wrote back right away with the news that Bill had died a year earlier. St. James said Mannisto’s letter was like a gift, lifting her family’s hearts.

The two young girls became pen pals and fast friends after that.

“She knows a lot of things about me that most people don’t know,” said St. James. “Just from when I was a teenager, really goofy things about music I used to listen to as a teenager and some of my dreams and where I wanted to live when I was a kid.”

As the two grew up, they lost touch, until Mannisto found St. James on Facebook in January of 2016.

“I was scrolling on Facebook and it came up as one of those things, ‘People You May Know,’ and luckily, she had her picture on her profile and so when I saw it, I was like ‘Are you kidding me?” I clicked on it, and it had her maiden name there and it had that she used to live in Milwaukee and I went ‘This is her,'” said Mannisto.

Mannisto and St. James have kept in contact ever since. This past weekend, St. James drove up from downstate to meet Mannisto, who lives in Deerton, in person for the first time after knowing each other for over thirty years. They now have matching friendship necklaces and plan to keep in touch with each other.

“I mean, I would like to be friends with Missy forever. We have a special bond. You know, this kind of stuff doesn’t happen often at all. The chances of us meeting and our meeting is so unique, that it’s important to me,” said St. James.