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Newton group celebrating 20th anniversary

Published: Monday, June 20, 2011 11:48 a.m. CST

When looking back on OPEN’s 20-year history, it’s hard to believe there was ever a Cold War.

This year’s graduating seniors were not even born then, as the Soviet Union officially broke up on December 26, 1991. The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was long ready to re-establish its own identity (after only five short years of independence from 1918 to 1923) and, following the example of the three Baltic states, declared its independence on Aug. 24 of that year.

Newton already had begun its sister-city relationship with Smila (then spelled Smela and pronounced “SMYEH-luh” in Russian), putting the official paperwork into place. Former Newton businessman Tommy Chu, owner-operator of the Jen-Fu Chinese Restaurant on the frontage road of Highway 14, was helping to expedite the formation of another such relationship with Wu Chi on the island of Taiwan.

Of course there were “birthing pains” but, with the passage of time, it only seemed natural that Newton should begin to make itself known in a meaningful way to the citizens of Smila.

With the first visit to Smila in 1993 a success, OPEN began working with Irina and Vladimir Bassis, Ukrainian citizens who were teaching Russian language and culture at NHS, as the contacts; and Marvin Campbell, a board member who has been the organization’s official project chairman, to put a plan together. Campbell did virtually all of the detail work in creating “OPEN Cares,” wherein Jasper County families could “sponsor” a Smila family deemed by Smila Region’s Department of Social Security under the direction of Galina Kravchenko to be on the verge of poverty by making up a care package containing a variety of personal care products from a prepared list.

Those taking part often included letters, photographs and drawings by their children to punctuate the effort with a personal touch.

A great deal of filmed history was made by John McNeer in conjunction with this venture. Once completed in June 1995, a contingent made up of Jane Ann Cotton, Campbell, Tom Mott, Tori Reynolds and this writer flew to Smila at their own expense and personally helped distribute the boxes to sites in the region, including the villages of Kostyantinivka, Balakleia, and Smila’s Children’s Home (or Boys Orphanage) through director Anna Serbina. It was uring this visit that long-lasting personal relationships were forged. “OPEN Cares” spawned a spin-off project later, “OPEN Cares II,” delivering new and used winter clothing to the region in 1999 as well as underwear and socks, stocking caps, mittens and scarves for the orphanage in 2005.

In addition, a container of medical equipment sent to the Smila Regional Hospital with its cargo worth $240,000 in May of 1996, another significant accomplishment.

The bulk of OPEN’s other projects with Smila have involved largely exchanges having to do with the arts, music, cooking (at DMACC), sculpture and the Ukrainian folk art of pysanka (italics), Ukrainian egg painting. Verbena, named for the fragrant flower, was a trio of attractive bandura players (Lidiya Zayinchkivska, Olga Kaluna and Ludmilla Arikova) who introduced local audiences to that native Ukrainian stringed instrument via a series of concerts in 1997. Other musical artists have included a performance by the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral Choir of Chicago on the Newton Community Theatre stage in mid-2000; and jazz pianist Serhiy Krasheninnikov at First Presbyterian Church in 2004.

Ukrainian-American Alexander Poletz of Minneapolis and then Viktoriya Lytovka, a charming ethnologist from the Cherkasy Regional Museum, introduced Jasper County residents and students to traditional egg decorating in 2008. Smila graphic artist Sergey Kozachenko visited us in 1998 to display his unique etchings, including a reception at Park Centre; and noted Cherkasy sculptor Vladyslav Dymion was commissioned to prepare a permanent work for the Jasper County Historical Museum to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II.

These are only some of the major highlights and amazing successes of Campbell’s initiatives.

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