Skoal! Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association Celebrates Fifty Years of Friendship with Founders’ Gala
by Lori Ann Reinhall, President, Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association
When I took over the presidency of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association a few years ago I knew that I had big shoes to fill, as well as a number of challenges to face. Over the years, our association has been known for its best practices and was acknowledged as “Best Overall Program” by Sister Cities International in 1970. The accomplishments were many in multiple areas: education, culture, business, science and research. Symbolically, a tall, impressive Northwest Native American totem pole stands in Nordnes Park in Bergen as a testimony to all that has been achieved over the years.
Yet with the passing of some key individuals who had led the organization, there had been a large decrease in membership and decline in activity. With our jubilee year approaching, we faced a task of significant magnitude. To pay due homage to the past, we needed to revive the present. Our Founders’ Gala on Saturday, April 1, 2017, was a milestone event, and our celebration at the Seattle Yacht Club became a testimony and celebration of all accomplished, both past and present, with an eye on the future.
The strategy to rebuild the SBSCA was a simple one: first raise local awareness of the local association through cultural programming to increase membership, re-establish direct contact with municipal authorities in Bergen, and then reinstate direct exchange between the two cities. Here Seattle is fortunate that Bergen is one of Europe’s cultural capitals and the home of Norway’s most famous composer, Edvard Grieg. Working with young local musical talent over the past three years, we built up a large following for an annual gala concert featuring the music of Grieg and Bergen. We were fortunate that many of the participating musicians came to celebrate with us at our Founders’ Gala, where we heard performances by pianist Aaron Otheim, soprano Laura Loge and violinist Allion Salvador. They were joined by pianist Angelo Rondello, who will be performing in Bergen next month as part of the Seattle Music Exchange Project. The evening’s musical interludes were not only enjoyable, but served as a testimony to the high caliber programs that the SBSCA offers. A high point of the evening was the announcement of the revival of the Edvard Grieg Society in the Pacific Northwest, and the audience was also delighted to learn that the 2017 Grieg Gala in June will feature two prominent guest artists from Bergen for our golden anniversary.
The recent work of the SBSCA has not gone unnoticed by Sister Cities International, and we were honored that SCI President and CEO Mary D. Kane was able to make the trip from Washington, D.C. to deliver the keynote address. Kane spoke about the history of the organization over the past sixty years, the successful efforts to rebuild relationships with Germany and Japan post World War II, and the new problems we face today in North Africa and the Middle East. Overall, the message was of the relevancy and urgency of the work of sister cities in today’s unsettled world. In the past we have had to look into our hearts to see our adversaries as fellow human beings, and we are challenged to do this again today… but one thing we know for sure: sister cities work.
But the real highlight of the evening came when the evening’s guest of honor took the podium: Jennie Eisenhower, great-granddaughter of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the founder of Sister Cities International. Jennie, an accomplished actor, director and teacher based in Philadelphia, read from Ike’s famous 1956 White House speech on citizen diplomacy that started the people-to-people movement. Beautiful, poised and gracious, Jennie touched her entire audience with the immediacy and relevancy of her great-grandfather’s message today, and all were deeply moved when she proceeded to sing “America the Beautiful” against the backdrop of the American and Norwegian flags. It was an unforgettable moment.
The evening was not complete without a roll call of all who have contributed to the work of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association — those no longer with us, and those still active today. We remembered Rosemary Odom and Anne-Marie Steiner, both who laid groundwork in the areas of education and culture and, most notably, Olaf Kvamme, who led the SBSCA for over twenty years at the height of its activity. Several members of the Kvamme family were present to commemorate him, together with representatives from a long list of major Scandinavian-American organizations in the area. It was important for the SBSCA to recognize all of them, along with its own board and gala committee members. The SBSCA prides itself as a group that works together with other Nordic groups in a cooperative spirit that is nurturing and mutually beneficial.
One of the most important members of the Seattle-Norwegian community was unable to attend, Honorary Royal Norwegian Consul Kim Nesselquist, but he sent his greetings in the form of a letter of congratulations that eloquently summarized many of the accomplishments of the association over the years. Most of all, Consul Nesselquist paid tribute to one of the SBSCA’s most beloved members, Leif Eie, who was present to be honored for a lifetime of achievement and contribution to the Seattle Sister Cities.
With all of its serious undertones, the Seattle-Bergen Sister Cities Founders’ Gala was a joyous occasion, a fitting commemoration of a time-honored organization. The Seattle Nordic community came out in full force, together with key representatives of the City of Seattle and the Seattle Sister Cities, including Mayor Ed Murray. In his opening remarks, Murray appropriately underlined the mission of the Sister Cities International to build bridges between cities around the world, as he offered a Norwegian welcome toast — Skoal! — to the guests. It was a festive celebration of a strong friendship between Seattle and Bergen, one that has lasted for fifty years and that will continue to endure with our common goals of progress, peace and prosperity.