Message in a film canister washes ashore on the Outer Banks 36 years later

A message tossed into the ocean in 1983 makes its way to the Outer Banks in 2019. [April Lovin photo]

In the summer of 1983, 11-year-old Rob Stober wrote a heartfelt letter in search of a pen pal, tucked it into a plastic film canister and tossed it off a pier and into the sea at Ocean Grove, New Jersey.

It was something he’d done every August between 1980 and 1986 or so, on trips “down the shore” for his birthday.

“Having a pen pal in the 80s was all the rage, so I figured this would be a great way to get one,” Stober said.

As a kid, he fully expected someone would find at least one of his messages-in-a-canister, but no one ever responded. He gave up hope, and life went on.

On Nov. 23, Colington resident April Lovin was beachcombing on Pea Island and found an assortment of oddities, including five military meals-ready-to-eat and … an old plastic film canister.

“When I opened the canister I found a folded pencil-printed ruled notebook paper pen pal letter,” Lovin said. “It was a sweet letter with charming facts about his life and a request that if found to write back and send a picture.”

Message in a film canister. [April Lovin photo]
The note wasn’t dated, but Lovin knew it probably wasn’t from this era.

“Since his interests did not include anything electronic, he gave way more information about himself that any mother would let her kid give today and that he signed the letter in cursive, I concluded the letter had been in the water a while,” Lovin said.

So she went on a search for the boy who wanted a pen pal, settling on a man with the same name in a town near that of the sender.

“I sent a private message that just said, ‘This a strange question but did you ever write a pen pal letter, put it in a film canister and throw it in the ocean?’’ she said.

Two days later, she got a message back.

“That is a strange question.”

“I shot him a picture of the letter and he was blown away,” Lovin said.

Stober said he first thought the message from April was spam, until he saw the letter.

In it, Stober wrote about his love of soccer, studying World War II history, climbing trees and practicing “Kung Fu.”

He said he had a gorgeous girlfriend and lived in a small New Jersey neighborhood.

Today, Stober is starting his 21st year in law enforcement as a police officer with the Branchburg Police Department. He’s married, but not to that gorgeous girlfriend, and has a 12-year-old stepdaughter. He’s an avid motocross racer, cyclist and “gym rat.”

He said he called his mom soon after he heard from April, and she found it quite funny that a simple plastic film canister could stay watertight for 36 years.

Lovin said she’s happy to have made the connection and plans to send the canister and letter back to Stober as a family keepsake.

“April was the right person at the right time to find this letter,” Stober said. “I’m still astonished this letter lasted 36 years in the ocean. I would love to know where it went, but I’m glad it ended up where it did. That’s good enough for me.”

After nearly four decades, Stober finally got his pen pal.

About Kari Pugh 364 Articles
Kari Pugh is digital director for OBXToday.com, Beach 104, 99.1 The Sound, 94.5 WCMS and Classic Rock 92.3. Reach her at kari@obxtoday.com

19 Comments

    • “Since his interests did not include anything electronic… …I concluded the letter had been in the water a while,” Lovin said.

      A real Einstein we got here in the OBX.

      The letter was in a FILM CANISTER, wouldn’t that be your 1st clue that it was several decades old? Kids don’t even know what 35mm film is!

  1. Such a hopeful series of events. Kindness and hope to two things we can share with one another and they cost nothing. Thank you April. Thank you Officer Stober.

  2. Wow,This story brings back memories!I’m now in my fifties and as a young girl of about the same age as this gentleman was I to have written many notes and put it in a sealed bottle an threw it in the ocean.My family used to go to castle island in S.Boston ma.Also would write notes when my father put an addition to the house,ei.. new front porch and foundation! Thank you for sharing your story!!

Leave a Reply