FROM RUSSIA, WITH HOPE UNDELIVERED LETTERS AWAIT U.S. PEN PALS.
VALENCIA - Six weeks ago, retired sheriff's Deputy Fred Iverson, an avid collector, stumbled across hundreds of unopened letters in decorative Russian envelopes with stamps postmarked in 1989.
Curious, he opened a few and saw letters, drawings and photographs from school-age children, some in Russian and some in broken English.
After reading some of the letters, Iverson deduced that in the summer of 1989, a radio station in the former Soviet Union invited Russian children to write to their American counterparts. The radio station would forward the letters to the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
But the letters were never distributed in America.
``When I saw the first picture that fell out of an envelope of a young boy around 10 years old with a monkey on his lap, I thought it was kind of funny,'' Iverson said. ``But I felt kind of sad because I was able to picture a 12-year-old boy writing to an American child waiting for months for a letter in return.''
According to Iverson, a few coins and collectibles dealers acquired thousands of these unopened letters for resale to stamp collectors. He said another dealer claimed the letters were found in storage at the embassy.
``They could have been lost, sold or somebody threw them away, but now they're selling them to stamp collectors for the envelopes and stamps,'' Iverson said.
Iverson ended up buying 900 letters - bundled and untouched - for 50 cents each, fascinated by the letters and photographs inside.
He read letter after letter with messages like, ``Hello, my American friend,'' ``I will wait for your answer,'' and imploring, ``Be my friend,'' and ``Write me about your country.''
Touched by the youngsters' writings, Iverson is appealing to people to write back.
``These children deserve an answer to their 12-year-old letters,'' Iverson said. ``I just want them to know that American kids didn't get them and that's why they didn't respond.''
Iverson contacted Tatiana Rodzinek, the Russian community outreach coordinator for the city of West Hollywood, to get some help in responding to the letters.
``I felt really sorry,'' said Rodzinek, who moved to the United States from Moscow three years ago. ``Even in my office they said they want to write something back.''
Rodzinek said if Iverson gave her more letters, she would ask more people to write back.
Iverson realizes that 12 years have passed since the kids wrote the letters, but he figures if just two out of every 10 letters get to the right hands, he would be happy.
``If the lottery had those kind of odds, everybody would play,'' he said.
Rodzinek said she felt bad for the thousands of children who wrote the letters eagerly trying to learn about a country far, far away.
``It's sad,'' Rodzinek said. ``I was surprised they were dated 1989, which was just the beginning of the changes and people thought they could see the world.''
If you are interested in responding to some letters, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Fred Iverson, PO Box 801161, Valencia, CA 91380.
(1 -- color) A sample of one of the 900 Russian pen pal letters Fred Iverson of Valencia recently bought from a stamp dealer.
(2 -- color) Fred Iverson is hoping to get help answering some of the 900 undelivered letters from Russian children seeking pen pals. The letters were being traded by stamp collectors.
(3) Fred Iverson found bundles of unopened letters from Russian children that were being traded by stamp collectors. He hopes to get help answering some of them.
David R. Crane/Staff Photographer