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Celebrating 20 years of connection

Jed Carlson / Student delegates from Ami Machi, Japan, make glass pendants and magnets at Shannon’s Stained Glassery in South Superior on Thursday morning. Student and adult delegates from Japan will spend the week visiting local sites and getting to know residents as part of the 20-year-old sister city program.

Twelve students, seven adult delegates and two chaperones from Ami Machi, Japan touched down in Superior this week as part of a sister city exchange program which began two decades ago.

"I think it's a milestone, 20 years," said Rani Gill, sister city coordinator. "The interest is still here and they still want to come and all the friendships, the connections that we've made over 20 years."

Christy Willmore has been a member of the Superior Sister City Commission since 2008.

"It's always such a joy to have them here and develop friendships, see some people again," she said.

The students got a whirlwind tour of Superior Thursday. It started with a visit to Superior Middle School and a stop at Shannon's Stained Glassery to create a custom pendant or magnet. The Sweeden Sweets candy shop, Billings Park friendship garden and a chance to paddle a dragon boat beside Barker's Island were among the rest of the day's activities, which capped off with a group barbecue.

Along with the big tours — the kids aim to visit a Douglas County dairy farm, the Brule fish hatchery and Wisconsin Point during their stay — these exchange students got small, personal touches, thanks to their host families.

Placing students with host families for the duration of the trip is one of the keystones of the program, said Hiroo Igarashi, coordinator of the sister city program in Ami Machi.

"It's awesome," said Sara Kroeplin, whose family is hosting 17-year-old Marin Inoue of Japan. "I think this is one of the neatest things the city of Superior does."

Her husband and two of their sons traveled to Ami Machi last summer. Kroeplin and their other two children plan to visit next year.

"It seems like when people get involved with this, they stay involved," she said.

A friendship appeared to be growing Thursday between Inoue and host brother Jonah, 13.

"I really like being able to talk with her and making a connection and really getting to introduce her to new things," Jonah said Thursday. "She loves the dogs and cats. We just spend time petting them."

Inoue, who wants to be a flight attendant, said she hoped to get the chance to flex her English during the trip. She was impressed with the middle school.

"Very big," she said. "I'm jealous because my school is little old."

Pop Tarts got the thumbs up.

"Very yummy," Inoue said.

Basements, however, gave her pause.

"In Japan, house is not under the ground," she said.

The family went shopping Wednesday night, but they'll have to stop at a grocery store again before Inoue leaves.

"She wanted bacon, but my son had eaten it all before she got there," Kroeplin said.

Saturday, the family's plans will include some outdoor adventures, per Inoue's request.

"She wants to try trap shooting," Kroeplin said. "We're going to take her around, maybe up the North Shore."

Inoue is no stranger to the exchange. Her family hosted Superior students in 2014 and 2016. When Jonah heads to Japan next year, however, they probably won't get the chance to see each other. The Japanese teen is preparing to start college soon.

The Superior Sister Cities Commission will host an informational session at 6 p.m. Sept. 14 at the Superior Public Library for anyone interested in becoming a delegate for 2018. More information is available at under the mayor's department, the Superior Sister City Commission Facebook page or by calling Gill at (715) 395-7212.