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Oregon Trails: Sister City

GRANTS PASS, Ore.– In the winter of 1990, Grants Pass and Josephine county joined the fraternity of sister cities by voting to join with the Siberian Soviet city of Rubtsovsk. But it wasn’t

Posted: Mar. 27, 2015 3:03 PM
Updated: Oct. 19, 2017 1:38 PM

GRANTS PASS, Ore.– In the winter of 1990, Grants Pass and Josephine county joined the fraternity of sister cities by voting to join with the Siberian Soviet city of Rubtsovsk. But it wasn’t an easy sell in the politically conservative community. At a hearing in front of county commissioners, Grants Pass resident Gedney Webb appealed for a “no” vote. He said, “we are opposed to this establishment of a sister city relationship with any city inside the USSR until the Soviet rhetoric on glasnost and perestroika has been matched by deeds of implementation.” After long discussion, county and city leaders agreed to make the connection which stemmed from white water rafting contacts the year before by former Josephine county resident Cindy Patterson. Later that summer, in 1990, Mayor Candace Bartow and her husband and daughter, myself and several students and others made the trip to Rubtsovsk, in the Altai region of Siberia.  There the agreement was signed.  And as they say… the rest is history. Sister city committee member Nancy Hitchcock says, “Things have evolved over time. We’ve had over 50 exchanges. Official exchanges both ways over the last 25 years. About 25 outgoing and more than that incoming. Almost every year we’ve had visitors, either in Rubtsovsk or in Grants Pass, and people have friends, contacts, relationships, and good feelings about each other in both cities.” That’s reflected in comments from delegates on some of those trips. Former Hidden Valley high student body president Mike Yunker observed that, “People just took ya right in ya know. You didn’t know somebody but you felt like you knew ‘em for a thousand years.” Within a year, the mayor of Rubtsovsk led a return delegation and the stage was set for many more back and forth over the years. As the political and social situation became more difficult in Russia in the early 90’s, local residents started gathering medical, food and clothing supplies to be shipped to Rubtsovsk. Cindy Patterson made one of several trips the next year taking with her some relief supplies, and finding warm hearts and hands amid the freezing Russian winter. Cindy says, “many, many people told me that my being there, and my conveying to them the best wishes of American gave them renewed hope.” Grants Pass resident Marla Flaherty shipped hundreds of pounds of donated children’s winter clothing over the next several months as well. She commented that, “whatever I bring is going to be a very small impact, but I wanna help as much as I can.” Another delegation toured the Russian city in 1993 with a local theatre and dance group, and we were there again as well. Tour organizer Bobbi Kidder says, “they loved everything we did. So it was just a wonderful time.”  Another project sent several new sewing machines to a school for the blind, organized by blind Grants Pass High School teacher Mary Edwards. The biggest project came when Asante built a new hospital in Grants Pass, and made available thousands of dollars in surplus medical equipment. Earlier delegations had noticed a severe lack of technology in Rubtsovsk’s hospitals and with the help of local Rotarians got the equipment to Rubtsovsk. Sister City member Ruth Pepple told us that “It’s kind of like a wonderful dream. Every day we think things are gonna be o.k., and today they’re really gonna go. And it’s is so exciting. And so thrilling.” Hitchcock observed that “It really cemented, uh a lot of relationships, and it encouraged a lot of our health care providers both–in both cities to visit each other.” Other exchanges allowed Russian students to attend Rogue Community College, while local police and fire officials exchanged ideas and trips to see how each other do their jobs.

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