Tammy Foster displays some of the autographed photos
and memorabilia she has collected since she was 13
Tammy Foster of McKenzie has a unique hobby: collecting
friends. It's something she is so good at, she has
maintained several long-distance relationships over many
years. No ordinary pen pals, Tammy's correspondents are
the stars of television that most of us never dream would
care enough to write personal letters. Yet the letters
Tammy receives from big-name T.V. stars are like those old
friends might write.
Now 29 years old, Tammy started her hobby when she was
just 13, after developing a debilitating back condition
called kyphosis. Kyphosis is similar to the better-known
condition scoliosis, which is a sideways curve in the
spine; however, in kyphosis the spine develops an
exaggerated backwards curve causing its victim to appear
hunched over. Worse, doctors advised Tammy's parents,
Kenneth and Bonnie Foster, her organs could become
crowded, stressing her heart, and eating and drinking was
difficult for Tammy.
It was a tough row to hoe for a young girl who had just
reached her teen years. From the time she was 13 until she
was 16, Tammy was confined in a back brace. Unable to
handle independent tasks such as rising or tying her
shoes, she had to leave her studies at Gleason School and
received tutoring through a homebound teacher.
She sent her first fan letter in 1986 - when she was 13 -
to Lynn Herring, who then played Lucy Coe on General
"I told her I was going to come to California and be on
the show and be her friend," grins Tammy. Unfazed by
Tammy's youthful fantasies, Lynn wrote back, the note
penned in her own handwriting, thanking Tammy for her
letter, sharing other tidbits and ending with, "Hope to
hear from you again soon!" She enclosed an autographed
In the sixteen years since that first note, Tammy and Lynn
have exchanged many more letters, and Lynn has sent
updated photos, the most recent reflecting her new role as
the same character in the spin off soap opera, Port
Tammy wrote many other soap opera and T.V. stars, telling
them first of all that she was a Christian, explaining her
back problems, and asking for prayer. Since she also asked
each one for an autographed photo, she included a
friendship pin as a gift, a custom she has continued over
In the past 16 years, Tammy has amassed a huge collection
of autographed photos - at least six albums full - but
what is more, she has developed some very special
friendships and has had a lot of fun corresponding with
the stars. Don Jeffcoat (who was Joey on One Life to Live)
wrote that he pinned the friendship pin Tammy sent onto
his backpack. Julian Stone (Jerry Jacks on General
Hospital) pinned his onto his jeans.
"Eighty percent (of the people she writes) write back,"
Tammy says, noting Susan Lucci (Erika Kane on All My
Children) is one star who did not respond.
"We did this for entertainment and turned out some people
are interested in it," says Tammy's mom, Bonnie.
Tammy's back problems continued past her teens, and she
spent a good part of her 19th year outfitted with a
"halo", an apparatus that was actually screwed into her
head and which supplied 36 pounds of weight as traction to
help straighten her back.
"And I only weighed 84 pounds back then," says Tammy, who
is still petite.
The nurses at the Shriners Hospital in St. Louis
affectionately called her Agnes because she held her head
so straight, her neck regally tall. Back in a brace until
she was 20, more surgery followed when doctors removed a
rib which they fused along her spinal column with two
Through it all, Tammy was sustained by the good nurses at
the hospital, the many people whose prayers were lifted in
churches across McKenzie and the local area, and her
friends from Hollywood.
"Their hearts went out to her," says Bonnie. "They were so
good to her when she was in the hospital to write and pray
and we would never have gotten through it if it hadn't
been for prayers."
Many stars wrote and told Tammy that they, too, were
Christians, among them Rebecca Hearth (Elizabeth of
General Hospital), Brian Presley (Jack on Port Charles),
Ryan Brown (Bill Lewis on The Guiding Light), and many
"Luke on Days of our Lives was the first to tell me he was
Christian," smiles Tammy.
Tammy has received telephone calls from Les Bryant of
Another World and Richard Jackson (Saved by the Bell) and
has an autographed script of episode #1915 of the soap
Santa Barbara, sent to her by actress Karen Moncrief.
In addition to her 16 years of regular correspondence with
Lynn Herring, Tammy has been pen pals for 11 years with
General Hospital's Nancy Lee Grahn. The ladies share
events of their lives with Tammy and ask her ideas about
their shows' happenings. As special as those relationships
are, however, Tammy's favorite pen pal for the past three
years has been Nicholas Pryor, Port Charles' Victor
"Dear Tam," his later letters begin, the earlier ones
beginning more formally, "Dear Tammy Kay." He says he
feels he knows McKenzie, and speaks to Tammy about the
events of her life and his as if they had known each other
personally in former days.
Just a sampling of the autographed photos in Tammy's
albums are those of her original teen heart throb Jeremy
Licht of The Hogan Family, the Leave it to Beaver crew,
Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Winnie of The Wonder Years,
Jonathan Jackson from General Hospital and his fiancé Lisa
Vultaggio (Hannah Scoot), the cast of Home Improvement,
Heather Locklear, Paige Rowland (was Kit on All My
Children), Melissa Joan Hart (Sabrina the Teenage Witch),
the late Joshua Ryan Evans (Timmy on Passions) and Carroll
County's own Dixie Carter.
Today, one would never know, to see Tammy in passing, that
she had ever had a problem with her back, though she still
experiences some difficulty standing or sitting for long
periods of time and was last year diagnosed with a nerve
condition that requires medication to control involuntary
movements of her extremities. The physical problems she
has experienced have not dampened her spirit, however, nor
have they diminished her sweet personality, making Tammy
as enjoyable to be around in person as she is in her
letters to far-away pals.
In addition to writing letters, Tammy enjoys doing "church
work", such as changing the lettering on the roadside
billboard at the First Baptist Church in McKenzie where
she is a member.
An avid reader, she also enjoys reading Christian love
stories, mysteries, and romances that are not too steamy.
She has recently started honing her own writing skills,
developing a Christian love story with an intricate plot.
"Ideas just come one right after the other and it's
interesting," says Bonnie, who is privileged to hear the
play-by-play development of the budding novel.
"I wish there was someway we could express our heartfelt
thanks," Bonnie says concerning the prayers of those both
near and far.
Mother and daughter have another message to share:
"Hollywood has a heart."
"We appreciate every prayer that went up; we came out of
it with help of their prayers."
Tammy's sister, Tiesia Dowlan, lives in Trezevant.