By Kris Leonhardt
MARSHFIELD — Sister City International was created during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration to promote peace and prosperity around the world. By creating bonds with foreign cities, organizers hoped to celebrate cultural differences to encourage brotherhood and avoid conflict.
In 1995-1996, three members of Marshfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Leadership Marshfield class set out to carry on that tradition as they established a springboard for a Sister City Program in Marshfield.
The idea developed once project organizers Jane Bredendick, George Rohmeyer, and Patti Rous discussed the changes in the community and what they could do to benefit its future. After talking with city leaders, the group began to focus on projects that might strengthen Marshfield’s “sense of community.”
When then City Administrator Randy Allen came to the group with the idea of a Sister City, development began to take its course.
The group worked closely with Sister City International and the Stevens Point Sister City Project to get a sense of direction, and after garnering support in the community, the program began in earnest.
“The Leadership Marshfield group was looking to connect Marshfield with a community in another country, and my understanding is that they decided that they wished to connect with a Spanish-speaking country, and they narrowed it down to Argentina,” said former Marshfield High School teacher Cathy Lau. “They at first attempted to connect with a different city in Argentina, and for whatever reason that just didn’t work out right, or there wasn’t enough communication back and forth quickly enough for that to happen, and they eventually settled on the two cities that we are linked with now.
“At about that same time, email was really getting going, and I think because of email the person here who was looking for a community and the person there who was doing the same thing at the same time were really able to communicate more quickly.”
Organizers had drawn up a list of the criteria, and after exploring two of the cities who were interested in creating a bond, they realized that they had a match.
“Shortly after that decision was made, I came on board,” added Lau. “Don Beyer was an English teacher at (Marshfield) high school, and he asked me to help out because they realized that they would need some folks that could speak Spanish, so that is when I jumped on, and they had linked with those two cities — Jáuregui and Luján — and it seemed like it was going to be a go.”
For the relationship to become official, representatives from either community were required to travel to the proposed Sister City to establish the program.
“It was decided that our mayor at that time, Nate Norberg, would go there, and he and a group of other people went, and the documents were signed, and it became official,” explained Lau. “Other people that were involved on the ground floor were Marilyn Hardacre and Lynette Zais.”
Lau continued working with the program for the next 10 years. The Sister City relationship between Marshfield and Jáuregui and Luján continues today.
“It was because of the Leadership Marshfield program that this happened. Otherwise this probably wouldn’t have started,” said Lau.