An Overview of Missoula's Sister-City Programs
In 1991 the Missoula City Council passed a resolution setting in motion the preliminary work toward establishing a sister-city relationship with the German city of Neckargemünd, located near the famous university city of Heidelberg. Neckargemünd itself, consisting of the 1000-year-old core town and four other villages that have been integrated over the past sixty years, has approximately 15,000 inhabitants, but it is imbedded in the Rhein-Neckar county which, with Heidelberg, Mannheim, and numerous other smaller towns, boasts a population of several hundred thousand citizens.
Neckargemünd is located on the Neckar River, a tributary of the legendary Rhine, some five or six miles upriver from Heidelberg and its university with 30,000 students, founded in 1386. Following a Fulbright-sponsored faculty exchange between Professors Erich Pohl ( Heidelberg) and Gerald Fetz ( University of Montana), a Neckargemünd delegation, led by Mayor Oskar Schuster, visited Missoula and conferred with city officials and citizens about the possibility of establishing relationships between the two communities.
In 1992 Missoula’s Mendelssohn Club Choir opened a European tour in Neckargemünd, accompanied there by then Mayor Daniel Kemmis and others. Another exchange of delegations in 1993 and 1994 led to the signing of the official sister-city documents on both sides of the Atlantic, and the relationship has thrived and expanded ever since. Faculty and student exchanges involving the two universities, high school exchanges involving Missoula students from all three public high schools and their German counterparts, art and photo exhibit exchanges, and numerous visits by citizens of Missoula in Neckargemünd and vice-versa are just some of the features of this international relationship. As part of this sister-city program, the Missoula Sister-City Committee for Neckargemünd has staged an annual Germanfest since 1993, and is currently planning an a visit to Neckargemünd for the 15 th Anniversary of this sister city relationship during the summer of 2008.
Missoula’s sister-city relationship with Palmerston North, New Zealand, has been in place even longer, having resulted from a 1983 meeting between then UM President Neil Bucklew and officials from Massey University. That relationship had been nourished by UM Professor of Geography H.W. Bockemuehl, who had earned his Ph.D. at Massey. Although some faculty and student exchanges between UM and Massey have taken place over the years, the sister-city portion of the relationship was relatively dormant until recently. MCC has worked hard to rekindle interest and activity in this relationship through the annual New Zealand Days celebration each June, and the result has been a considerable increase in contacts and plans in both cities.
Only three Montana communities have sister-city programs: Livingston with Naghanohara in Japan, Great Falls with Sharya in Russia, and Missoula with Neckargemünd and Palmerston North.
Thanks to Russ Fletcher of Montana Associated Technology Roundtables (www.matr.net) for this article.