Hilde Bennin of Chilton recently received the surprise of a lifetime when her childhood friend visited from her homeland of Romania.
Inseparable as children, the friends had not seen each other in close to 40 years.
The visit began with a Facebook message Hilde received from her friend Gerlinde Schuller asking if she could come and visit.
At first Hilde couldn’t believe it and thought it might be a scam. She said she was in shock and nervous, but also feeling happy of her longtime girlfriend’s unexpected and potentially exciting visit.
“She asked if I would be home on Thursday and said she was in Traverse City, Michigan,” Hilde said of the Sunday night message. “We’re coming to see you,” Gerlinde wrote.
Hilde said the days leading up to Thursday’s visit were long, filled with anxious feelings. “I was so nervous, and I just couldn’t believe she was coming.”

Friendship began in small village
Hilde and Gerlinde were born in the small village of Kirtsch, Romania. “There are not many left in the village today,” Hilde commented. “Most have gone to Germany.”
Hilde and Gerlinde hadn’t seen each other since Oct. 20, 1978, when Hilde’s family boarded a bus to travel to the airport and fly to their new life in America.
“Waving goodbye was the last I saw of her,” Hilde said, adding the girls were in eighth grade at the time.
Hilde’s family, including her father Franz, mother Katharina, and sisters Kathi and Ann, first applied to come to America in 1971. “We kept trying,” Hilde said, adding they were finally able to come to American when they were sponsored by her aunt Elise Schmitt, a resident of Kiel, Wisconsin.
“We could take one suitcase and one quilt and pillow,” Hilde said of the trip to America. “We had a change of clothes and no money.” The family knew three English words including yes, no, and OK.
Hilde adjusted to her new life in America, working at Cal’s Coffee Shop in Kiel and attending school in the Kiel Area School District, graduating in 1982. “I became a United States citizen in December of 1995,” she added.
After Hilde left Romania, the friends had shared a few letters and then reconnected on Facebook about five years ago.

Never forgot her friend and home
Hilde always had plans to go back and visit her friend and her homeland, but so far, she had not been able to do so.
A special mural depicting the girls hometown in Romania spurred Gerlinde’s desire to come. The mural was a gift to Hilde from local artist Miki Wise, who holds monthly painting classes at Hilde’s Deli & Bakery.
The main painting, located on the back-wall entrance to Hilde’s Deli, depicts the village in Romania where Hilde lived, and features Hilde’s childhood home and favorite willow tree. Miki began painting the murals on July 17, 2017, completing the majority of the painting in time for Hilde’s sister’s visit two weeks later. Hilde said the sisters enjoyed reminiscing while viewing the mural.
Gerlinde saw photos of the mural posted by Hilde on Facebook and expressed a desire to see the painting in person. “They wanted to come and see it,” Hilde said.
Gerlinde planned the visit for more than a year, without telling Hilde.

Like they had never been apart
When the day finally arrived and Gerlinde walked into Hilde’s Deli in Chilton, Hilde said the two friends ran to each other and hugged. “It was like we had never been apart,” Hilde shared. “She hasn’t changed.”
Gerlinde and her husband August were accompanied on the trip to America by translator Bruni Barth along with Bruni’s husband Walter and son Jannick.
“They speak Saxon,” Hilde explained, adding Saxon is a dialect of German.
The life-long friends were able to spend three hours together, talking non-stop as they enjoyed Hilde’s famous BAP pizza along with poppyseed torte. “They loved the pizza.”
Hilde said the visitors were overwhelmed with the store. “They came from a little town of busses and horses to this.”
The friends spent a lot of time speaking of their mothers who had recently passed away. “We also talked about things we did as kids.”
“It was the greatest time,” Deacon Dennis Bennin, Hilde’s husband, said of the visit. “It was fun to watch the girlfriends together again.”

Hard to say good bye
Saying good bye was hard for Hilde and the departure was prolonged as long as possible while the friends exchanged gifts.
Hilde said the visit meant so much to her. “Life is precious,” she said, adding she never saw the visit coming. “It is so important because you just never know what life will bring.”
“There were a lot of tears,” Hilde said. “I am still in disbelief that she was here.They went home and told everyone of their experience in Chilton, Wisconsin.