Photo: Kim Carson Photography
Jennie Eisenhower, American actress and great-granddaughter of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, founder of Sister Cites International, will be the honored guest at the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association Founders’ Gala at the Seattle Yacht Club, Saturday, April 1.

Sister City Association strengthens Ballard-Bergen Bond with Jubilee Celebration

By Lori Ann Reinhall

On September 11, 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower convened his White House Conference on citizen diplomacy with the dream of forging relationships in which “people of different cultures could celebrate and appreciate their differences and build partnerships that would lessen the chance of new conflicts.” This was the genesis of Sister Cities International, today a worldwide organization that spans six continents with 2,300 partnerships in 150 countries, encompassing tens of thousands of volunteers, all with one common goal: world peace.

Fate is not always kind, and tragically, September 11 would later go down in history as one of the saddest days in American history. Yet while the world continues to be wrought with conflicts, Sister Cities International endures as one of the most positive and successful citizen-driven efforts promoting international understanding, with programs in youth and educations, arts and culture, business and trade, community and development. Seattle was one of the first to forge new relationships abroad, first with the establishment of the Seattle-Kobe Sister City Association in 1956, an integral piece of the post-war reconstruction effort in Japan. Bergen, Norway, followed in 1967, and today Seattle boasts one of the largest and most active sister city organizations with 21 sister cities across the globe.

Strong Ballard connection

From the beginning, Bergen has had a close connection to the Ballard community with its history of Norwegian immigration, and it was by no coincidence that many of the early founders of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association were residents there. Norwegian-born Leif Eie, one of the original founders, now lives in Ballard with his family, together with many of the association’s board members. “Ballard is still the epicenter of our Norwegian community,” states SBSCA secretary Julie Alright, author of the book Early Ballard (2007), published by Arcadia Books. “It’s our home with Bergen Place, our churches, the Nordic Museum, Scandinavian Specialties and Leif Erikson Lodge,” adds president Lori Ann Reinhall, “so it is natural that most of the activities surrounding the Fifty-Year Jubilee Celebration of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association will take place in Ballard.”

Indeed, 2017 will be the year of Bergen with a flurry of events. “We know how to celebrate,” Reinhall asserts, “and it’s been our goal to offer something for everyone: concerts, lectures, master classes and art exhibits, all in addition to popular annual events, including the 17th of May at Bergen Place, the Seven Hills Walk and the annual Grieg Gala.” The organization is working closely with both the City of Seattle and local Nordic groups in symbiotic relationships that are mutually supportive and beneficial. Most importantly, there will be increased direct exchange between Seattle and Bergen, with performers, composers, youth groups and academics traveling here this year, and two delegations are going to Bergen, first in May and then in October.
Honoring a legacy

While the sister city association has been on a forward-looking upswing during recent years, their first major celebration for their golden jubilee will look to the past with the Founders’ Gala on April 1 at the Seattle Yacht Club. Under the sponsorship of Ballard natives Raymond and JoAnne Eriksen, SBSCA and Yacht Club members, the group is moving to the elegant Portage Bay waterfront location for the evening, where they will honor Eie and all those who worked so hard in the early days to build up the Seattle Sister Cities. They will be in good company with a guest list that includes Mayor Ed Murray, Mary D. Kane, CEO of Sister Cities International, and Jennie Eisenhower, celebrated American actress and great-granddaughter of President Eisenhower. A highlight of the evening will be when Jennie reads from Ike’s famous White House speech that started it all back in 1956. There will be a chance to meet and mingle at the no-host cocktail hour, followed by a full course gourmet meal. Guests will also get the chance to bid in a Nordic-themed auction, and the evening will be interspersed with musical moments from some of our best local talent: pianists Angelo Rondello and Aaron Otheim, violinist Allion Salvador, and soprano Laura Loge. The festivities begin at 5:30 with tickets available at www.eventbrite.com.

Accordion prelude and song

The month of March is a busy one for the association as they prepare for the gala. Their next meeting will take place at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 19, at the Ballard Merrill Gardens, the community’s newest home for assisted living, where SBSCA Bernice Chouery coordinates resident activities. At 2:00 p.m., the public is welcome to join members and residents with accordionist Bonnie Birch and Ruth Pirie, the “Singing Scandinavian Baker.” There will be a chance to sing favorite Norwegian songs and the opportunity to try one of Bergen’s famous Skillingsboller, a marzipan cinnamon bun not often found outside of Norway. Admission is free, with any donations going to the SBSCA. Families are encouraged to attend, as all generations join in the fun. The business meeting is also open to anyone interested in joining the SBSCA: all that is required is an interest in Bergen or Norway. RSVP at www.eventbrite.com.

Stay posted in 2017

There is much more to come for the year of Bergen in 2017. One of the goals of the association is to build a new website in 2017 as a follow-up to their successful Facebook page at www.facebook.com/seattlebergensistercities. For more information, or to join the SBSCA mailing list, email seattlebergensistercities@gmail.com or call (206) 854.7693.

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