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Superior, Ami celebrate 20 years of sisterhood

Student delegates from Superior line dance to “Cotton Eye Joe” during the Mai Ami festival in Ami-machi, Japan Aug. 7. For 20 years, Superior and its sister city of Ami-machi have been exchanging delegates and making connections. Learn more about the program and support its 20th anniversary celebration at a spaghetti dinner March 11. Submitted photo

Armed with 60 pounds of meatballs and dozens of personal stories, members of the Superior Sister City Commission are inviting the community to a spaghetti dinner.

"We hope to make this a regular event to support the Sister City Commission and expand our presence in the city," said board member Kim Habig.

The meal runs 4-7 p.m. March 11 at United Presbyterian Church, 229 N. 28th St. E., Superior. Money raised will be earmarked for a 20th anniversary celebration when Japanese delegates fly to Superior this summer.

"We want to educate the public about the Sister City group," said board member Bob McClellan, and encourage Douglas County families to host students or become delegates themselves.

The dinner will include a silent auction and a slide show highlighting two decades of friendship between Superior and Ami-machi, Japan. The partnership has grown gardens, sparked interests and returned World War II artifacts to a Japanese soldier's family.

"To me it was an honor to do that, return family heirlooms," said Mike Herrick, Superior city councilor and a member of the 2016 delegation. "It's part of their history."

The sister city partnership became official in 1997 with biennial exchanges. Student and adult delegates from Superior travel to Japan on even-numbered years, and Superior welcomes a Japanese delegation during odd-numbered years.

"It is our desire to immerse ourselves into their culture, and to learn as much about the people, the town, and the history as possible," said board chairwoman Christy Willmore. When delegates visit Superior, "it is our goal to make them feel welcome, teach them about Superior and our people, and treat them like longtime friends."

McClellan and his daughter flew to Ami-machi in 2014; his wife and son in 2016.

"We just were treated like rock stars from the time we arrived," said McClellan, a Sister City board member. "The families treated us as something extra special."

In 2015, the McClellans hosted a Japanese student during the exchange and planned youth activities for the group. When it came time for the delegation to jet home, there were tears on both sides.

"You see the strength of the program," McClellan said. "It doesn't take long to create bonds."

The exchange has the biggest impact on the youngest delegates, Habig said. Last year, 12 students flew to Japan and stayed with host families. They visited local attractions, shared their talents and took part in the annual Mai Ami festival.

"Each student who goes to Ami-machi, each student who comes here and stays with a family, they build connections and make memories that stay with them," Habig said.

Willmore got involved with the Sister City program in 2007, and her son traveled to Ami-machi as a delegate in 2008.

"He had such positive experience, I was compelled to stay involved in the program," she said.

Last fall, Willmore traveled to Japan for the first time. She felt an immediate connection to the people of Ami-machi, and encouraged others to take part in the exchange. It promotes peace through mutual respect, understanding and cooperation, the exchange of ideas and sharing of cultures, she said.

Cost to attend the dinner is $8 per person, $4 for children under 12, $25 for a family of up to six and $10 for take out.

The commission is seeking additional silent auction items, host families for this summer and delegates interested in travelling to Japan in 2018. To donate or learn more about the sister city program, email kjhabig@gmail.com or ranig@ci.superior.wi.us, or visit the Superior Sister City Commission Facebook page.

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