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Thursday, September 5th, 2013

St. Marys hosts visitors from German sister city

By Amy Kronenberger

St. Marys Mayor Pat McGowan, second from left, and sister city organization pres. . .

ST. MARYS - Similarities in culture and values provide a basis for the friendly relationship residents of St. Marys have forged with their peers in Lienen, Germany, for nearly 20 years.
A delegation of 27 German adults arrived in St. Marys on Tuesday evening, marking the fifth U.S. visit since the two cities formed their relationship in 1995.
The group of friends, some visiting for the first time, were welcomed with a breakfast and special ceremony including city officials at the International Friendship Center near Grand Lake in St. Marys.
During the breakfast, the German delegation presented benches as a gift to the Lienen Sister City Organization. Following the ceremony, the visitors toured the city, area businesses, farms and parks.
First-time visitor Paul Lohmeyer said he enjoyed Memorial Park.
"I was very curious to enter the village, and as we drove through and saw the old wooden bridge and the bricks dedicated to the wars ... I really liked it; I really liked the wooden bridge," he said.
Mike Stehr, also a first-time visitor, said he also liked Memorial Park, especially the clock tower. A man was at the tower when the group arrived and he explained its history.
"In Germany, it's not so easy to walk up to someone and start talking," he said. "The people (in St. Marys) are very nice, very warm-hearted, very good. If you're a guest, it's very comfortable for you."
Stehr and his wife, Antji, knew they wanted to visit St. Marys after hearing about the positive experience their daughter, Ramona, had as an exchange student in 2005.
"I think it was very good for her development and made her more independent," Mike Stehr said. "She really enjoyed it here ... We are very thankful there are so many people in this city that will give young people a chance to visit and experience the culture."
The group finished Wednesday with a trip to Delphos to have dinner and visit the postal and canal museums and St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church.    Today the delegation travels to Dayton to visit the Air Force Museum and Carillon Park, and have a dinner and wine tasting at Valley Vineyards.
On Friday they will travel to Berne, Ind., to experience an Amish meal. The three-day visit will close with a farewell dinner party at the friendship center.
Lienen Sister City Organization President Kathy Langsdon said the friendship relationship with the Germans was first forged in 1995. A delegation from St. Marys visited Lienen in 1995 and 1997, and Lienen residents toured St. Marys in 1996.
The group then decided that the communities would take turns visiting each other once every two years. A St. Marys delegation will visit Germany in 2015.
The organization received a request in 1999 from a Lienen student who wanted to participate in an exchange program. However, in order to participate in an official student exchange program, the towns needed to formerly become sister cities, which they did that year.
"We just like to continue and keep the friendship going," Langsdon said. "A lot of times with sister cities, they don't get followed through and are forgotten after a couple years. But this has been going on for almost 20 years, so it's going strong."
An important aspect to keeping the program alive is money, and Langsdon said they have been fortunate with some very successful fundraisers.
"We do really well with fundraisers," she said. "Especially with the student exchange program ... it takes a lot of money."
Langsdon has visited Lienen four times and looks forward to the opportunity to return in 2015. Planning for the next trip has already begun, she added.
"The first time I went I was really scared," she said. "You know, staying in a stranger's house in a foreign country, it makes you nervous. But once you're there, it's just great."
American and German participants in the program agreed they share many similarities.
"A lot of things are different but a lot of things are the same," Langsdon said. "So it's an easy place to visit, easy to be around because so much is the same."
Lohmeyer agreed.
"It's interesting to notice how the American people live, but it's about the same here. And it's too dry here," he added with a laugh.
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