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Reunited in the Smokies after 50 years of friendship

Around 50 years ago, 2 boys first met in the Great Smoky Mountains. Their friendship lasted despite international divides, and they look forward to staying friends.

Great Smoky Mountains Natl. Park — It was 50 years ago in the Great Smoky Mountains when John Vanderplough and Hiroaki Ikeuchi first met. They were part of a chapter from CISV, an organization that helps children and average people from across the world come together. The CISV chapter has a presence in more than 60 countries.

Vanderplough, from Cincinnati, was the assistant director of the group who helped everyone's needs. Ikeuchi was an 11-year-old child who had traveled away from home for the first time to Tremont, in the Great Smoky Mountains. He came from Tokyo, Japan.

"I came here, I didn't know what was waiting for us," Ikeuchi said. "But then I was not afraid. I was not an English speaker but I was not worried about it. Because everybody here were very inclusive for me. And we had diversity there."

Ikeuchi said they spent time together the night before hanging out and talking about their lives and memories. 

"It was like I saw him yesterday," Vanderplough said.

Swimming, sports, arts and crafts were all on the agenda back in the day, but the main goal was to get to know each other. 

"We had more of an intercultural focus," Vanderplough said. "Each country had their own national day, and they would prepare things like we'd have some sample foods from Japan, let's say on Japan Day."

On the last day together, Vanderplough and Ikeuchi remembered how Ikeuchi cried at the thought of having to leave his new friend.

"In their experience, where they had so many differences, cultural and language barriers, to be able to come together for a month and have this exchange and to still be in touch and still celebrating it 50 years later — that's amazing," said Erin Rosolina, the marketing manager for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Institute at Tremont.

The nonprofit hosted the children in 1972 and has continued hosting children and adults from around the country to learn about the environment and make new connections.

Meeting for the first and reuniting 50 years later were both experiences that Vanderplough and Ikeuchi said would stick with them forever.

"I hope we can meet again," Vanderplough said.

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