In 1984, 22 teachers from Saitama Prefecture (the equivalent of our “state”) visited Longview. Arrangements were made for each of them to stay with a teacher in Longview for a home visit. Saitama had been sending teaching delegations all over the world for a dozen years, but the opportunity to stay in a teacher’s home was a first for the group. Because of the extra efforts made, the tone was set for a long-standing friendship.
In 1985, the Longview School District was awarded a $75,000 grant by the Weyerhaeuser Foundation to start a Far Eastern Studies program. Through this funding, the school district was able to hire Jim Kolberg to begin teaching Japanese at Mark Morris High School.
Grant Hendrickson, Superintendent of Longview Public Schools, visited Saitama in 1985 and met Kunji Suzuki. “Mr. Suzuki has been the real Japanese force behind all that followed,” said Hendrickson. “He visited Longview as our guest in 1987 and saw the program at Mark Morris in action. He suggested that we establish a sister school relationship between Mark Morris and Wako International High School.” Many student exchanges have taken place since that time, promoted by the efforts of Jim Kolberg and Principal Gary Kipp at Mark Morris.
Suzuki and Hendrickson were active in the Rotary programs of each of their communities. With very little prompting, the Longview Rotary Club established a sister club relationship with the Wako City Rotary Club. Hendrickson and his wife, Pat, have twice been their guests in Wako. There have been several return visits by Japanese Rotarians to Longview.
Through Rotary contacts, the mayor of Wako City, Shigeru Tanaka, became interested in a sister city relationship and has continued to encourage the formalizing of that relationship. Each summer Mayor Tanaka sends groups of middle school students to Longview and has personally funded visits of Longview students to Wako City. Adds Hendrickson, “I can't say enough about the generosity and leadership provided by both Mayor Tanaka and Kunji Suzuki.
There have been many other visits back and forth during these years by groups of students and adults.
On Friday, October 1, 1999, the Sister City dream was realized at a formal signing ceremony at City Hall. Wako's 27-member delegation, including Mayor Tanaka, hosted a beautiful reception at City Hall. At 7 p.m., Mayors Tanaka and Leber signed and exchanged proclamations from their respective cities that recognized each entity as a formal Sister City. Many visitors were on hand at the ceremony to express their thanks for making the Sister City opportunity a reality.