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Annie's Mailbox syndicated advice columnists celebrate a decade of answering life's questions
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Annie's Mailbox syndicated advice columnists celebrate a decade of answering life's questions

When Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar were approached to launch their own syndicated advice column, the duo with all the answers, and now published in more than 800 newspapers for the past decade, had to give an answer on the spot.

And without hesitation, after their "yes," on July 28, 2002, the Annie's Mailbox feature was born.

Launched by Creators Syndicate, it's the 10-year anniversary for Annie's Mailbox, with Mitchell and Sugar as the authors of the prose created as the answer for a newspaper feature to replace their legendary advice column written by the late Ann Landers, the strong-willed woman Mitchell and Sugar worked with for three decades.

"I say it was all luck," said Mitchell, originally from Marion, Ind., who at age 19 was hired at the Chicago Sun-Times as a typist in 1969 for Eppie Lederer, who wrote under the ever-famous Ann Landers pen name.

"They said they had just the job for me, since one of Ann Landers' secretaries had just quit. I didn't even know who Ann Landers was, since we ran the Dear Abby advice column back home in our Marion, Ind., newspaper. So when they gave me a tour of the office, I was confused because when I saw her photo, I thought Ann Landers seemed to look just like 'Dear Abby.' That's when someone quickly informed me they were twins who both wrote advice columns."

A few years later, in 1973, Mitchell and the rest of the Ann Landers staff were joined by Marcy Sugar, who was hired to do column research and everyday clerical duties.

After Landers' death on June 22, 2002, Richard Newcombe, president of Creators Syndicate, which distributed the Ann Landers column, realized there was only a six week supply of Ask Ann Landers columns to provide to newspaper clients, and he needed to find a new advice columnist voice right away.

"When Richard started Creators Syndicate in 1987, he negotiated to bring Ann Landers and her column under his umbrella as his biggest feature," Mitchell said.

"And we know there's no one who could ever replace her, and it was she, who even owned the rights to the Ann Landers name. But we loved working for her and wanted to continue the tradition."

It was Sugar's husband, David, who came up with the feature's name Annie's Mailbox, and the women embraced their new roles.

While their mentor Landers had a large Chicago office, complete with a private bathroom, chauffeur and a staff of 12 to manage her popular column and day-to-day duties, Mitchell and Sugar have no staff and work from their homes in Chicago. And while they still get some letters delivered by postal mail, they said 95 percent of their correspondence is now via email.

Unlike Landers, who would occasionally disclose life-altering personal events to her readers, such as her now iconic 1975 column announcing her divorce from her husband of 36 years (and resulting in 35,000 letters from readers in response), Mitchell and Sugar have been reluctant to share much from their personal lives within their columns.

"I think my only time ever mentioning my own family was one column we did back in 2005, answering a reader's question about the cost of a bride in the country of Kenya," said Sugar, the mother of three sons.

"Because my now daughter-in-law Naomi had spent a great deal of time in Kenya, I referred to her in the column while answering the question about a dowry, which in Kenya meant offering cattle and goats to a family in return for a potential bride."

Mitchell said the duo works a good contrast, since she is single, after losing Ron, her beloved boyfriend/significant other of 29 years, two years ago.

"I got through that difficult time by working and never thought of mentioning it in our column," Mitchell said.

"During the years doing this column, I've also never referred to myself being adopted. But still, all of these many aspects of my life and Marcy's life are what make our column so personal as we reflect on our own experiences to provide answers and responses to readers."

A year ago, Mitchell faced one of her hardest personal challenges when she was diagnosed with cancer and required surgery and then treatment, which caused her to lose her hair. Today, she said she feels great and was surprised to find her hair not only return thicker than ever, but also curly.

"I didn't want to write about my own health because that shouldn't be the focus of our column," she said.

"It should be about what's on our readers' minds. Our column is carried all over the world, including Canada, Korea and China. We love to hear from people in other countries, where many tell us they use our column to learn to read English."

As for Sugar, she is all smiles about the arrival of her first grandchild later this year, and about her mother, Goldie, who also happened to be a twin and just turned 90.

"We work hard to have our columns written and delivered to the syndicate with a six-week-in-advance cushion," Sugar said.

"Most of all, we love every minute of being able to connect with so many readers each day because of the reach and audience of newspapers."

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