Sister Cities: Building Bridges of Friendship since 1966

Sister Cities Mombetsu NewportOn April 8, 1966, a telephone conference between Mombetsu and Newport was made after representatives signed the sister city agreement. Photo from the Lincoln County Historical Society archives.

Internationalism and good international relations were once less controversial than they seemingly are today. This conclusion hits home when comparing today’s headlines with the history of Newport’s Sister City program. A new exhibit at the Lincoln County Historical Society’s Burrows House Museum uses objects and vintage photographs to tell the story of how locals – both in Japan and here in Newport – worked to make the world a better place through improved international relations.

During the Cold War era that followed World War II, President Dwight D. Eisenhower inspired what became known as the sister city program when he promoted world peace through a “people to people” program. In his 1956 speech, he emphasized the importance of learning from each other to work towards world peace. In the late 1950s the sister city program enjoyed a surge in popularity.

In Japan, Shunichi Kobayashi, a young Mombetsu bank worker, traced east from Mombetsu at 44 degrees north latitude and found Newport, Oregon. In 1964, he sent letters proposing a sister city relationship between Newport and Mombetsu to the Newport Rotary Club and Newport Mayor, Bob Updenkelder. Connie Gates, a Newport Rotarian and owner of the Gateway Café, worked to make this partnership official.

The earliest photos in this exhibit are from an album given to Newport from Mombetsu. In addition to documenting the visits and exchanges between the two cities, technology of the time and fashion styles of the cold war era are a visual treat. There are also unique gift items exchanged between the citizens of the two cities, such as a miniature set of samurai armor.

A rather curious story that illustrates cultural differences is that of a stuffed baby seal named “Cecelia.” The stuffed seal was given to the Newport Mayor in 1976, but the gift brought with it much controversy. Finding out why this gift was so controversial will require a visit to the Burrows House! The Sister Cities exhibit will be on display at the Burrows House through spring of 2017.

The Burrows House Museum is open Thursday through Sunday, 11 am to 4 pm, and is located at 545 SW Ninth Street in Newport. Admission by donation. 541-265-7509

Story by Lincoln County Historical Society