In 1960, H. Edwin Riffel, his wife Carol, and their son David left Marion for life on the island of Crete of the coast of Greece. Ed, a 1958 Herington High School graduate, was on active duty for the Air Force at the time, and the family spent two years overseas.
Before their second child, daughter Chris, was born, the Riffels moved back to Kansas, keeping in contact with Greek friends through letters.
“They could have lived on the Air Force base there, but they chose to live with the Greeks because they wanted to get to know the people,” Chris, whose last name is now Herbel, said.
The Riffels always wanted to revisit Greece, finally buying plane tickets for a May 24 departure, even after losing contact more than 30 years ago. David, now an architect and sister, Karen Baliel, accompanied Ed and Chris. Carol, a 1956 graduate of Marion High School, had passed away in 1997.
Attempts to contact a former property owner failed, but the family still traveled to its old home, using help from landmarks and Google Earth.
They had trouble at first communicating with the current residents, but the name of the former proprietor’s daughter helped.
“When we said her name, Joanna, their eyes lit up, and they gave us phone numbers,” Chris said.
The Riffels were pleased to find Joanna still remembered Ed, even though she was a young girl when they last saw each other in person. Ed said he remembered most how friendly the natives were and still are.
“Just to go back and walk Crete again was amazing,” he said. “When you find someone you haven’t seen for 51 years, it was absolutely out of this world.”
The family spent the rest of its time visiting landmarks and relaxing. Chris said the Greeks were very hospitable wherever they went.
“We’re so go-go-go here in America, that we really learned how much we need to slow down and just enjoy life,” she said. “Everything was perfect. It was like mom was with us.”