When Marianne Heikkilä returned to Franklin after 40 years away, one of her first stops was a visit to her old high school.
Heikkilä’s friend, Tammy McCarty, drove her to Franklin Community Middle School, which is where the pair and the rest of the class of 1974 attended school. Then, they went to Franklin’s new, $100 million-plus high school, which has room for 2,000 students.
At first, Heikkilä, who’s from Finland, thought she was looking at a university.
“Do they have so many children that they need so big of a school?” she asked.
The city has changed a bit since she was last here.
Heikkilä spent the 1973-74 school year at Franklin as a foreign exchange student, and she lived with McCarty and her parents during her senior year. During the weekend, she returned to Franklin, which was her first trip back to the U.S. since leaving as a high school senior.
The reason: She wanted to attend her 40th high school reunion and reconnect with old friends, including McCarty, who now lives in Brown County and who has worked for Cummins Inc. for the last 19 years.
“I only have good memories,” Heikkilä said. “So that’s why I’m back here now.”
Heikkilä had studied English in high school and wanted a chance to be immersed in the language before she graduated. She works today as an executive manager of private kindergarten schools in Finland, and as a teen she thought learning more about the language would help her as she got older.
“I was a young girl, (it was) my first trip out of Finland,” Heikkilä said. “It was just an adventure for a young girl at the time.”
About the time Heikkilä was looking to travel to the U.S., McCarty was asking her parents if they would be open to hosting a foreign exchange student for a year. McCarty’s older brother and sister had just moved out of the house, which meant the family had room to host another high school student.
When Heikkilä arrived in Franklin and met the McCarty family, she quickly realized that studying English is much different from being immersed in it. Specifically, this was the first time she was hearing slang and curse words. So she spent her first few weeks with McCarty, learning the meanings of “ain’t” and other words she’d never heard before.
McCarty also told her which words she should never repeat around teachers and parents.
Heikkilä remembers Franklin was a small town where everyone knew each other, and while she was one of the only foreigners in town she always felt welcome. She missed her family and friends in Finland, but she also quickly became friends with McCarty and was accepted by the rest of her family.
“It was a friendship,” McCarty said. “That’s how we looked at it. And we just became sisters throughout the year. And continued to be sisters over the last 40 years.”
Heikkilä left Franklin for Finland in July 1974 and tried to keep in touch with the McCartys. Usually they would exchange one letter per year, with Heikkilä telling her host family about her life in Finland while McCarty’s mother told Heikkilä about what was happening with the rest of the family. But after email became commonplace and Facebook followed, McCarty and Heikkilä were able to talk more frequently.
Heikkilä has wanted to visit over the years. The married mother of three has traveled Europe but not had the time or money to come back to the U.S.
“We both, I know, wanted to (visit),” McCarty said. “Timing had just never been right for either one of us.”
When Heikkilä got word that the 40th reunion for the class of 1974 was coming, she decided to make the time. Coming back to Franklin for the reunion meant she could see old friends from her senior year, and reconnect with McCarty.
“I was elated, and I was actually shocked,” McCarty said. “Because I just never thought we were going to see each other.”
Heikkilä spent her time in Indiana at the reunion and visiting with friends she knew living in Columbus. She and McCarty took a trip to Cincinnati for a Steely Dan concert, where they listened to the same songs they used to listen to in high school.
Heikkilä returned home to Finland on Tuesday, but she’s hoping to make another trip back to Franklin soon. McCarty also wants to visit her friend’s homeland, and she hopes to take a trip to visit Heikkilä within the next three years.