HURON – Not long after Swedish foreign exchange student Stefan Spinnell began his senior year at Huron High School, he was writing to his mother about a girl named Sue.
Sue was Sue Sampson, the daughter of then-high school home economics teacher, Lois Sampson.
Of all the girls he was meeting, it was Sue he was telling his mom about back home in Nordmaling, Sweden.
“His mother kept all the letters that he wrote home,” Sampson said. “Historically, my name came up in those letters in October.”
That’s October of 1966.
“We spent time together; we celebrated his 18th birthday in my parents home,” she said. “We went to the junior-senior prom together. We dated, I guess is what you would say.”
And about five weeks ago more than 50 years later, they got married.
They are among the 80 or so 1967 graduates of Huron High School attending their 50th class reunion this weekend.
Spinnell had applied for a scholarship to spend his senior year somewhere in the United States.
When he heard that he was selected to go to a place called Huron, he looked it up in the local library in Nordmaling.
He learned of three Hurons. Lake Huron, a place in California and Huron, South Dakota.
“I got to come here and I was happy about that because I think that coming from abroad this is kind of what you call the heartland,” he said.
“I had so many friends that went to the suburbs of New York or Los Angeles or whatever,” Spinnell said.
South Dakota is home to any number of folks from countries like Norway and Finland, Germany and England.
“I felt at home,” he said. “It so happens at that time the closest relatives I had were first cousins of my grandmother and they lived in Huron and Salem,” he said. “And in this huge country …”
He also found out he has relatives in Platte, and has been back for large family reunions.
Sampson calls herself a local kid. She went to school with Spinnell’s American brother from third grade on.
“My family was just one that always wanted to welcome people, make them feel comfortable,” she said.
Sampson has heard stories about her mom at the reunion.
“Quite a few of the girls in our class now have told me today how influential she was in their lives, so that’s pretty cool, too,” she said.
“She was a preacher’s kid and that’s, I’m sure, part of the reason she was always wanting to welcome people,” Sampson said.
When graduation day in the spring of 1967 had come and gone, Spinnell and Sampson, like all of the kids, went their separate ways.
He returned to Sweden, attended medical school and became a surgeon.
She left Huron for the University of Colorado and earned a degree in nursing. She spent a couple more years working in Denver, but then moved to Alaska where she worked for 38 years at the same hospital.
They lost touch with each other for decades. Four years ago, he found her on the Internet and they renewed their friendship.
“We just started seeing one another, mainly in the United States,” Sampson said. And then I went to Sweden a couple different times.”
On her first trip, she met 37 of his relatives.
In a ceremony in his hometown, the retired surgeon and the retired nurse tied the knot in late August.
So, in their wildest dreams …
“The answer is no,” he said as they laughed.
“Similar professions, similar climates, all these wonderful similarities for us,” she said. “It’s been a real blessing for both of us.”
Photo by Roger Larsen of the Plainsman
After dating their senior year at Huron High School and then going their separate ways after graduation in 1967, Stefan Spinnell, a now-retired Swedish surgeon, and Sue Sampson, a retired nurse from Alaska, recently reconnected and were married a month ago. Spinnell lettered in tennis while in Huron as an exchange student, and still has his letterman’s jacket