Friends from Australia visit Whitleys

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Recently Blake and Debbie Whitley, of Cassville, entertained long-time friends from Australia. Noreida Fotheringham, and daughter, Kim Wilson, of New South Wales, Australia flew into Springfield for a 10 day visit. As a senior in high school, Debbie was an exchange student for a year in Australia and stayed with her host family, the Fotheringhams, for a quarter of her visit. "It's been 42 years since Debbie was actually in Australia with us," said Noreida.

Noreida, her husband and four children, which Kim was the oldest of, have hosted youth from several countries through the years on their farm. "Debbie was our first exchange student. After she left it was a couple of years before we did it again, though. All of us, and especially my husband, got so attached to Debbie." During Debbie's stay in Australia, not only was she exposed to a different lifestyle and culture, but she brought her American style to them, "For years after Debbie left, our youngest son would say, 'The devil made me do it,' which was something he picked up from Debbie while she was here," Noreida shared with a smile.

Debbie Whitley enjoyed a visit from her Australian guests, Noreida Fotheringham and her daughter, Kim Wilson. The Fotheringhams were the host family to Debbie when she was an Australian exchange student 42 years ago.

Besides the United States, Noreida's family has hosted kids from Argentina, Japan, South Africa and Canada. "I enjoy traveling and have been fortunate to stay in contact with many of the kids that stayed with us and have traveled to see them." The Fotheringham family has kept a special tie with Debbie and her family, and considers the Whitleys an extended family.

Kim was unexpectedly able to travel to the states along with her mother, so they decided to surprise Debbie. "I have bad knees and need a wheelchair to travel through the airports. I told Kim to push me and see if Debbie would notice her." Sure enough, as Kim pushed her mother to where Debbie was meeting them at the airport, she did not notice Kim right away. "I saw her and screamed, 'Kim!' I had no idea she was coming!"

During their stay with the Whitleys, they have traveled to rodeo events where Debbie and Blake's son, Brent, competes. They also toured the Justin Boot plant, which they found very interesting. Kim also spent some time with Blake at Whitley's Pharmacy, since she, too, is a pharmacist in Australia. Kim said, "I spent the morning with him in the pharmacy. It's fairly similar, but there are differences, too."

The exchange program in which Debbie took part in was sponsored by Rotary International. Debbie was chosen to participate in the program while going to school in Ada, Okla. Though she didn't know him at the time, Blake's father was in charge of the exchange program for the local Rotary. He, and the rest of the committee, interviewed Debbie for the program, "Blake's dad told me that his son was already in Australia, and he said that he would write him to send me some pointers on what to bring and what to expect when I went there." Blake was there six months previous to Debbie's scheduled travel to Australia, "After that, we started writing each other back and forth. He was really homesick."

When Debbie got to Australia, Debbie and Blake had opportunity to finally meet, "It was about three or four weeks after I'd been there, and he visited for a weekend. Blake was in a city, and I was in the country. It was a real adjustment for him to be in the city, since he was used to living in the country." Kim explained, "Blake was three hours away, and took the train to visit Debbie." Debbie also developed a relationship with mother and father Norton, who were Blake's host family at that time, "They were a cute older couple." Of course, after their trip to Australia, Blake and Debbie continued their friendship and eventually married.

After their travel to Missouri, Noreida and Kim are continuing their travel to New York where they will be meeting with another sister. Kim has planned to meet with another friend there, "I have a penpal in New Jersey. We have been penpals since youth and share the same birthday." This is the first time for them to meet. Then, Kim will be heading back to Australia while her mom and sister head north for Canada.

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