Hi Spoonbills…Today’s feature on Vladimir, Russia will be further delayed, but this time it is not because of my schedule—the Sarasota Sister Cities webpage is malfunctioning. The page opens but it almost immediately become unresponsive! If any of our Spoonbills are active members of the Sarasota Sister Cities chapter, please let someone know. (Our page is working now) As the website is so rich information about the basis of the relationship with our sister cities, if it does not become operational, our features will be limited to the stories I find in the Sarasota press, information supplied to me from my adopted aunt Linda Rosenbluth who has been active with the group for years, and the foreign press. So sorry! As I wait for the website to work, I am going provide some background on the Sister Cities program that we previously covered in May of 2016.
One of our most active members, Jib Blome Browning, asked yesterday, “what are Sister Cities actually?” It is a great question which we explored when we conducted our first virtual tour of Sarasota’s Sister Cities here at Sarasota History & the SRQ Quiz, but there is no reason not to go over it again, especially as we have so many new members in our flock of Spoonbills. Today’s feature about the “twinning,” that is what Sister Cities International calls it when two cities adopt one another, between Sarasota and Vladimir, Russia will further explore Jib’s question.
For those of you who read the posts from our first Sister Cities Week, you know that Sister Cities International (SCI) was born out of a call to action by the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower which asked all United States citizens to serve as ambassadors to other countries in order to promote peace, prosperity, and even to create common understanding between people of different backgrounds. The Eisenhower administration believed that if American cities allied with different cities across the globe in some sort of formal manner and that if the citizens of those place made efforts to learn about each other through sending delegations of visitors natural cooperation would develop.
In response to President Eisenhower’s call for a new kind of diplomacy, let us call it “citizen statesmanship,” Sister Cities International, a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) nonprofit group was born in 1956. Since its inception, the Sister Cities International network believes it has helped Americans explore their differences and their common bonds with others who share our small planet. Just seven years after Sister Cities International began, Dallas Dort, then President of the young New College, and David Lindsay, Jr., Publisher of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune decided Sarasota should participate in the program. New College was in its infancy and Dort reasoned that a relationship with a city that had a long established center of higher education would behoove his school. Sarasota twinned with Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic which was home to the oldest university in the “New World.”
Since building that first relationship with Santo Domingo, Sarasota has twinned with three cities in Europe, one city in the Middle East, a city in Canada and a city in Mexico, as well as a city in the Far East and the Russian city we feature today, Vladimir. Listing the cities would be easier, but then that would make this week’s SRQ Quizzes a lot less fun and it would ruin it for people who want to look back at the SRQ Quizzes from our first Sister Cities Week in May of 2016. When the Sister Cities program began, the group imagined that American cities would create a bond with a single foreign city and would stir a huge amount of cultural exchange—what the group never envisioned was American cities twinning with more than one other city. Why not create relationships with several cities? Well, no city ever posed that question until Sarasota decided to twin with Vladimir.
Soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union and what seemed like the end of the longstanding Cold War, two Sarasota groups sought to form a bond with Vladimir. Carl Weinrich, the estimable long time leader of the the Sarasota YMCA, hoped to build a YMCA in the Russian city and Sarasota Bay Rotary Club officer Michael Pender, Sr. wanted to export the concept of the Rotary Club to Vladimir. To assist in these endeavors, Pender and Weinrich asked Sarasota Sister Cities President Hope Byrnes to explore adopting Vladimir. Byrnes began to expedite the process.
Soon a glitch developed in the twinning process when Sister Cities International denied the Sarasota-Vladimir association because the organization’s rules stated that only one country’s city could adopt a tie with a foreign city. Bloomington-Normal, Illinois had already established a tie with Vladimir—the two cities had just formalized their sisterhood. But what could possibly be wrong with having additional relationships? Sarasota Sister Cities decided to start a bit of war which would ultimately change the rules of the parent organization!
Byrnes argued that Sarasota’s first sister city, Santo Domingo, had decided to twin with Miami; meanwhile, though the Sarasota Sister Cities chapter considered the Dominican Republic’s largest city now to have an “emeritus” status as its sister, the parent organization recognized it as “legal” for Santo Domingo to have two American sisters. If it was okay for Santo Domingo, what would be the problem if Vladimir twinned with Bloomington-Normal and Sarasota?
As battle lines were drawn, Vladimir’s representatives sat on the sidelines while Sarasotans and the people in the Illinois city duked it out with the leadership of Sister Cites International. Believe it or not, at first Sister Cities International stood by its ruling, but Byrnes with the able assistance of Mayors Gene Pillot, Nora Patterson continued to petition to establish the tie with Vladimir. It became a matter of civic pride for the threesome and after digging in their heels for two years there was a leadership change at the parent organization and the charter was amended to allow more than one American city to twin with a foreign city.
The Sarasota Sister Cities chapter victory in what should be called “The War for the Twin” changed how Sister Cities International works all for the better, but it also calls into question the goals of the organization. Jib smartly asked about the underlying purposes of the alliances and how does and American city decide to twin with a foreign city? When we conducted the first tour of Sarasota’s Sister Cities in May which included the history of the relationships with Santo Domingo, Treviso, Dunfermline, and Hamilton, Ontario as well as Bradenton’s twinning with Barcarrotta, Spain some of our more vociferous Spoonbills like Bill Watrous asked the same thing. What do cities need to share in common to make the relationships mutually beneficial?
Though Dallas Dort and David Lindsay, Jr. felt that New College would benefit from the relationship with the University Santo Tomas de Aquino which would later be more simply known as the University of Santo Domingo and David Lindsay, Jr. reasoned that Sarasota’s young tourist bureau could learn something from the largest city in the Caribbean, ultimately the two cities shared little else in common and the sisterhood failed to blossom. It became clear to the leadership of the Sarasota Sister Cities chapter that there needed to be an underlying reason for the twinning.
The bond with Treviso, Italy is rooted in the Asolo Theatre’s historic opera house—A. Everett “Chick” Austin, Jr., the first Director of the John and Mable Ringling Museum found what is now the Asolo Theatre’s first opera house staging and interior in crates. The theater had been built in 1798 in Asolo which is in the province of Treviso, but the u-shaped theater set had been dismantled in 1930 and placed in storage. After Austin rescued it and restored it in Sarasota, the jewel-box theater became the pride of our city. Reaching out to twin with Treviso made perfect sense.
The story behind the desire to twin with Dunfermline, Scotland is similar to the Treviso story. What Sarasotans know today as the Mertz Theatre at the Asolo was first an opera house in Dunfermline. After the Dunfermline Opera House was basically condemned to death in its native Scotland as the city did not have funds to continue its operation, the baroque theatre was given a second chance to sing when Harold and Esther Mertz bought it and gifted it to the Asolo Center for the Performing Arts. Five time Sarasota Mayor and very active Spoonbill Lou Ann Palmer played a major role in bringing the opera house back to life and she also was an active leader with Sarasota Sister Cities. Once the opera house reopened in 1990 on Sarasota soil, talk began about twinning with Dunfermline, The two cities tied the sisterhood knot 2001.
Some of the other pairings make less sense, but they still have been the source of great mutual enjoyment. You see, there really is no firm answer to Jib’s or Bill’s question about what the cities need to share in common for the twinning to be successful. Sarasota has little in common with the industrial port city of Hamilton, Ontario save for one of its mayors loved Sarasota and often vacationed on Longboat Key; our cities twinned in 1990. Bradenton adopted Barcarrotta because it was the birthplace of Conquistador Hernando De Soto whose ship landed on the shores of the Manatee River in 1539. Though Sarasota Sister Cities chapter has chosen to twin with 9 different cities across the globe, Bradenton, which formed its Sister Cities chapter a year before Sarasota joined the organization, decided to focus its relationship on Barcarrotta and has never twinned again.
Stay tuned ! Much more to come!
Jana Susan Paley
Tel Mond, Israel