A Japanese delegation visited Jilbert’s Dairy in Marquette during their stay.

By Larry Chabot
No doubt about it: Sister Cities is a living, dynamic nonprofit. Over its 40 years in Marquette, the international agency has provided Marquette residents with opportunities for exotic travel, romance and tragedy, lasting friendships, life-changing experiences and an eye-opening look into other cultures, and it’s never been boring.
The seed for Sister Cities was planted in 1956, when President Eisenhower proposed people-to-people exchanges as a means of personal diplomacy. Sister Cities International became a separate nonprofit corporation in 1967 to promote peace through mutual respect, understanding and cooperation. Over 1,000 U.S. municipalities have 1,700 links worldwide. In 1968, Ann Arbor became the first of 55 Michigan cities to join the program.
Upper Peninsula participants include Marquette, Hancock and Sault Ste. Marie. Marquette is joined with Higashiomi, Japan, and Kajaani, Finland. Last year, 100 U.P. residents, including the Marquette City Band and Chorale, flew to Finland for that country’s centennial celebration.
Higashiomi, Japan, is a relatively new city that was created earlier this century through the merger of seven towns, one of which—Yokaichi—was Marquette’s original partner. Higashiomi has a population of 113,460 and lies 7,200 air miles from Marquette.
Marquette and Higashiomi residents alternately visit each other, a practice launched in 1978 when a delegation of Japanese residents from Yokaichi arrived in Marquette at the invitation of the city commissioner. The following year, Marquette returned the favor. In that delegation was Anne Barnwell, the first exchange student to Yokaichi. Also making the trip, with separate stopovers in California and Hawaii, were teenagers Enga and Rena Rojem, whose family had hosted a Japanese farmer the year before. The two girls worked various jobs to fund their 21-day trip and felt lucky to find “super-saver tickets” at a cost of $2,225 for the pair (equivalent to $8,000 today).

A Horrible Accident
On August 19, 1979, Marquette ham radio operator Pete Treml (father of Jacki Treml), was startled by a message from his Japanese contact Masao Ueki, with whom he communicated in the early negotiations to make Yokaichi and Marquette Sister Cities. The Marquette delegation was in a Japanese field, witnessing a demonstration of corn harvesting equipment. Positioning himself to capture the operation on film was Dr. Pryse Duerfeldt, an accomplished amateur photographer who was head of the Marquette delegation, a founder of the local Sister Cities movement and a professor at Northern Michigan University
As he focused on the equipment through his camera lens, an unseen mower attached to the harvester severed both of his feet. “Marquette Man’s Feet Severed On Japan Trip” bannered the next day’s Mining Journal. His horrified hosts rushed him to a local hospital, then to a larger facility which specialized in reattaching severed limbs. This effort was unsuccessful, but Dr. Duerfeldt’s reaction was an indication of his character. At the request of the Mining Journal, a former Japanese resident living in Marquette phoned the hospital and learned that the patient was not only out of danger but was resting comfortably and was in good spirits.
Duerfeldt’s wife Louise, who was part of the delegation, marveled that his room was “full of food and flowers and linen and every possible thing we could need and more. The people of Yokaichi are simply fantastic. We had no idea that the meaning of ‘Sister City’ would be this deep. We couldn’t be in finer hands.” The professor spent several weeks learning to walk with prosthetics before returning home. Another Mining Journal story told of Duerfeldt’s plans to personally greet the next Japanese delegation, scheduled for the following year: “He will be standing there to greet them… on his feet.” When Duerfeldt retired from teaching in 1997, a Japanese delegation honored him by attending his farewell party in Marquette. The year before, Duerfeldt’s son Treacy made a three-week visit to Japan, but his family was kept home by an attack of chicken pox.

The Bonds Grow Tighter
In 1980, the NMU Board of Control launched a popular tradition of one-year scholarships for Yokaichi youth, the first of which went to Atsuko Nakamizo. In 1989, Masumi Honda became the first Sister Cities student to graduate from NMU. According to local Sister Cities Vice Chair Paulette Lindberg, herself a frequent traveler to Japan, the program is welcoming its 39th visiting scholar this fall. NMU presidents who made the long trip to Japan include James Appleberry, Les Wong and Judi Bailey.
Visiting Japanese teachers have taught briefly in local schools, and U.P. teachers had the same opportunity in Japan. Marquette school children wrote to Japanese students and swapped videos; then, in 2005, two youth reporters for Marquette Monthly (Jerry Peterson and Pryse Bender Hadley) joined a delegation.
Delegates to Japan enjoyed a wide and fascinating range of adventures at cultural and historical sites and a unique kite museum (kite-flying is a national pastime), as well as courses in origami, stenciling, meditation and a fundraising walk for cancer cures. U.P. residents Bobby and Lorrie Hayes made two extended trips to perform on a paddlewheel boat called Michigan, and Gale LaJoye—Marquette’s beloved Snowflake performer—toured Japan for six weeks with his special talents. The 2011 delegation was delighted to see that the Japanese translators were former Sister Cities scholars.
Japanese delegates enjoyed local Marquette highlights like Black Rocks, BMX racing, Hiawatha Music Fest, museums and boat rides, Art On The Rocks, the boathouse theater, Jilbert’s Dairy, Donckers and Bonanza restaurants, Bay Cliff Health Camp, a city commission meeting and an alpaca farm. One year, a 13-member group donated $800 to the Marquette Rotary Club to support their projects.
With so much interaction between visitors and hosts, it is not surprising that romances blossomed. In 1993, Brian Enos—a frequent visitor to Japan—and host Tamiko Hagihara were married. In 2001, Randall Heldreth and Ayako Ishimi were wed on the boat Michigan on Lake Biwa in Japan with their families present. And three Japanese visitors attended the 1995 wedding of NMU professor Toby Rose, who completed a teaching stint in Japan.
In a rare treat for the 2004 delegation and hosts, Marquette Mayor Jerry Irby and Yokaichi Vice Mayor Yoshio Oku belted out a duet at a luncheon in the Presque Isle pavilion. Irby, who had been involved with the program during his tenure in office, still treasures a special medallion given him by the visitors.

A Life-Changing Trip
Jacki Treml was only 16 and admittedly nervous when she flew to Japan as a Sister Cities exchange student, which she said was “ mainly because I didn’t think I could eat Japanese food. I had tried seaweed at one Sister Cities meeting and hated it. When I arrived late at night, my small but fierce host mother, Akiko, whisked me away to a little house with three young sleeping children, and we drank tea and ate chocolate snacks. She had a little school above her garage where she taught kids to improve their English, and I got to help out in her classes.
“I loved it there, and they were so very kind to me and so excited to include me in their daily life. Akiko did everything she could to find food I could eat, and I was grateful. It was like the very best kind of dream. I returned home with a suitcase full of gifts and souvenirs and vowed to return as soon as possible, so I set my sights on the Japan Center for Michigan Universities (JCMU) in Hikone, a 20-minute drive from Yokaichi.
“I took classes at Northern, including Japanese, while in high school and had enough credits to go directly to JCMU upon graduating. I spent many weekends with Akiko and her family and also with her neighbors. I had a wonderful year and returned [home] to complete my degree in Asian studies and psychology, and in graduate school, I went to Japan for two more years.”
“My trip gave [my life] such an interesting texture that it is hard to imagine who I would be right now without Akiko and my magical experience in Japan. It was a Japanese teaching job that brought me to New York. And my family makes and eats sushi almost every week. Japan changed everything.”
For two weeks in 1999, the Tremls hosted Kazumi Oku, a neighbor of Jacki’s Japanese host family. Three years ago, Jacki brought her own children to Japan on the trip of a lifetime.
A Japanese delegation of seven people was scheduled arrive in Marquette in late August, staying with seven host families to keep the rotation going. Marquette was rated one of the very best Sister Cities in the Midwest by the Japanese counsel in Chicago. To date, 3,380 individual visitors and hosts have been involved in the local program, according to Paulette Lindberg. The various gifts received by Marquette delegates and hosts are available for viewing in the Peter White Public Library. In 1992, the Marquette Sister Cities program was brought to the attention of the U.S. Congress when then-Congressman Bob Davis had the group’s historical narrative published in the Congressional Record.
Anyone can apply to be a Sister Cities delegate, but they must attend pre-trip meetings to prepare them for the experience. This is a private program, with no taxpayer money involved, and you never know who or what you’ll run into.

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