Sitting on one of the shelves on the bookcase in my office is a colorful assortment of woven bamboo drink coasters. Each one has a sticker on it that I cannot read, save for the telephone number, which I guess would get me in contact with their manufacturer.
The trouble for me is that I can’t read Japanese, and I don’t know the international long distance code to Japan.
The coasters were a gift from Tetsuya Takasaki, the mayor of Tamana City, the sister city of Clarinda, where I worked before I came to Newton. Takasaki-san came to Clarinda for the 2010 Glenn Miller Festival, at which the Glenn Miller Birthplace Museum was officially opened.
During my two years in Clarinda, I developed a strong affinity for our friends in Tamana City, particularly the Tamana Girls High School Band (seriously, you’ve never seen high school musicians perform as amazingly as those girls). It also helped me develop a stronger appreciation of the several Japanese-owned businesses and the Japanese who had moved into the Clarinda area.
So, when John McNeer came into my office one day shortly after I arrived in town (tell me if you’ve already heard this one), I shared my experiences with Clarinda’s sister city organization. In return, he asked me to join the board of Newton’s Organization Promoting Everlasting Neighbors.
I gladly accepted. And although I’ve missed a couple of recent meetings due to allergy issues (read this week’s Jasper County Tribune for more on that), I’ve been very eager to get involved in a group that I know has and will continue to provide wonderful opportunities for Newton and all of Jasper County.
So, just what is this OPEN-Newton? Well, it is an organization, now nearly 25 years old, that was formed for the purpose of implementing community-wide awareness programs in suport of Newton’s sister-city relationships with Smila, Ukraine, and Wu Chi Town, Taiwan.
The whole thing started in June of 1990 with Newton City Council Resolution 90-41 and the appropriation of $1,000 to establish a community-wide committee to develop a strategy and explore opportunities for global interaction. A few weeks later, the OPEN-Newton non-profit corporation was formed with original board members:
• Bob Anderson
• Rick Baker
• Mayor Alvin Borchers
• Gary Carlson
• Jane Ann Cotton
• Sandra Haines
• John McNeer
• Marvin Shawver
• Leo Van Elswyk
• Mary Beth Wagner
Newton’s first sister-city relationship was established with Smila (then called Smela), which was still part of the Soviet Union, Aug. 22, 1991. Two days later, Ukraine declared its independence from the USSR.
Smila is a city of about 70,000 located in the heart of Ukraine, along the banks of the Tiasmyn River. It’s a largely agricultural area, with a strong mechanical engineering industry (sound familiar?).
Yuri Malovichko (First Deputy Chairman of Smila District Executive Committee and originator of the sister city program), Anatoliy Shpak (General Director of a machine-building corporation in Smila), and Yuriy Kotolup (General Director of an agri-industrial supply corporation in Cherkassy conducted the first official visit of representatives of either sister city in December of 1991. A few months later, Vladimir and Irina Bassis visited Newton for the first time.
They would later become teachers of the Russian language and Ukrainian culture in Newton’s schools. They also became board members of OPEN-Newton.
OPEN-Newton representatives made their first trip to Smila in May of 1993. The delegation included Marvin Campbell, Jane Ann Cotton, Sandra Haines, Dan Krumm and John McNeer.
Newton’s sister-city relationship with Wu Chi Town was forged in August of 1991. It is an ancient shipping port located on the west coast of the Island of Formosa (a.k.a. Taiwan, or its official name, The Republic of China) with a population today of about 47,000.
Wu Chi Town and its Taichung Harbor are one of the main crossroads of international commerce for Taiwan. The city is laced with railways and highways, making it an important city for the people of that nation (kind of like the intersection of Interstate highways 35 and 80 just down the road from Newton).
In July of 1992, Dr. Chou-seng Tou, Director General of the Coordination Council for North American Affairs for the Republic of China visited Newton from his office in Chicago. In August of 1995, OPEN-Newton sent Paul Bell and now-Sen. Dennis Black on the first official visit to Wu Chi Town.
In June of 1994, OPEN-Newton made arrangements for the first two Ukrainian students, Vladimir Ratay of Smila and Dimitriy Ishchenko of Cherkassy, to come to the U.S. to spend a year in the Newton and Baxter schools, respectively, beginning that fall. And, in April of 1995, the Daily News provided a one-month internship to Katerina Serebriakova of the Smila Horizons newspaper.
Also in 1995, Marvin Campbell and John McNeer launched the OPEN Cares project, involving a number of local service organizations, churches and schools to gather aid for the poor in Smila. Within a few months, nearly 1,200 boxes filled with health care items and letters and photos from Jasper County families and groups were on their way to Smila.
An OPEN-Newton delegation of Marvin Campbell, Jane Ann Cotton, Barry Hurto, Tom Mott and Victoria Reynolds escorted the OPEN Cares packages for distribution. They were assisted by Smila’s Department of Social Security. John McNeer and Marvin Campbell received the Greater Newton Area Chamber of Commerce’s Key Award for their efforts on the OPEN Cares project.
In the few years that followed, OPEN-Newton promoted the Smila Medical Project, which resulted in $250,000 in supplies and equipment shipped to Smila. It also promoted an exchange program in which Ukrainian pediatrician Dr. Valentina Zirnyk came to work with doctors at the Newton Clinic, Blank Children’s Hospital and University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.
OPEN Cares II in 1998 benefitted the Children’s Home, or Boys’ Orphanage, in Smila. Nearly 300 groups and individuals made contributions to the project. In all, $5,300 was given to the Children’s Home.
OPEN Cares III launched in 1999 with a goal of collecting good used winter clothing for adults and small children to be delivered to Smila.
In just two months, a 20- by 40-foot cargo container was nearly filled with a wide array of winter clothing. More than 13, 000 items of apparel were included in the shipment, which arrived in mid-December.
But our giving hearts weren’t focused solely on Smila. A devastating earthquake struck Taiwan in October of 1999, and OPEN-Newton led the effort to provide financial aid to Wu Chi Town.
And that, my friends, was just a small sampling of OPEN-Newton activities in its first 10 years. Check back here next week for a look back on the next 10.
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If you’re reading this, thank a teacher. If you’re reading this in English, thank a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.