Trans-Atlantic friendships flourish between sister cities

The Saline Reporter 50th Anniversary Edition, December 23, 1998


General Dwight Eisenhower, commander of the Allied Forces in Europe and Africa during World War II, witnessed the death and devastation that hatred between peoples and nations can produce. After the war was won, President Eisenhower and First Lady Mamie were determined to do everything humanly possible to end the continuing tragedy of international conflict. One of the ways they devised to achieve this goal was the People to People program.

Launched in 1956, People to People had an ambitious goal: to establish friendship and understanding between the people of the U.S. and other nations through direct personal contact. With

Mamie promoting the idea as only she could, communities across the country began cautiously examining the possibilities of Trans-Atlantic visits between "sister cities."

In Saline, the Lester McCoys founded Musical Youth International and commenced their series of summer concert tours that eventually took them to many communities in Britain and the continent and eventually to far-off Australia. The teen-age musicians were well-received in most of their host towns, and their experiences as musical ambassadors will be lifelong treasured memories.

MYI continued until several years after Mr. McCoy passed away. Even today, the friendships coming out of the home-stay visits of the Saline-based groups have survived.

That's especially true of the Brecon-Saline relationships. MYI had visited Brecon, then a town about the size of Saline, and had found the Welsh people to be remarkably warm, hospitable, and friendly.

In 1965, Saline's then-mayor George Anderson received a letter from President Eisenhower, urging Saline to join the People to People movement. The letter probably went out to every city and village in the country, renewing the 1956 invitation to join Ike's and Mamie's world peace movement.

Saline responded with a goodwill mission. Jim Levleit, who was chief of police at that time, along with his wife, Bonnie, their children, Sandra and Jimmy, and Jim's mother Melinda, all jetted to England. Jim and Bonnie, remembering the enthusiastic reports they'd received about Brecon's royal welcome of the MYI group, decided to zero in on the Welsh town. Their visit was a resounding success~especially when they were honored at Saline Day ceremonies. Not long after the Levleits returned home, the twinning of the two communities was formalized.

In the years since, People to People visits between Brecon and the "Colonies" have grown in size and frequency. Most recently, the healthy turnouts of Brecon visitors here have encouraged us to build on the inaugural annual Saline Celtic Festival, which was launched in 1996. Continuing the MYI tradition, many of the Brecon-Saline visits have featured choirs, bands, and soloists from the talented musical ranks of both towns.

AND A HOST OF spin-off enterprises, cultural projects and support groups have helped to keep the relationship going and growing. In 1989, the Saline-Brecon friendship Guild, Ltd. was established to promote the sister city kinship and provide funds to continue and expand it. The Guild's annual Pub Night and Auction has built on innovations such as the outrageous, infamous "authentic" plastic antique Roman Coin Sale to help defray costs. Instigated by Jackie Tull, the sale has brought in thousands of dollars from generous bidders.

The trickle of Trans-Atlantic visits grew to a minor flood after the 1973 home-stay of Mayor Tony Elston and his wife Liz here in Saline. In 1976, the Brecon Cathedral Choir was a great hit here. In 1984, the first Brecon Jazz Festival made musical waves in Wales, with world-renowned Dixieland types adding their decibels to the smooth sounds of the Saline Big Band. Saline's own Dill Murrell stayed up all night composing his "Hymn for Brecon," which was premiered in the 900-year-old Brecon Cathedral the next morning.

The friendships have continued and flourished in good times and bad. John Augustus, ranking reporter for the Brecon-Radnor Express, died at his typewriter several years after visiting here. His loss, by heart attack, was mourned by his Saline hosts as a member of our own family. Earlier when the River Usk overflowed its banks and put Brecon under water for weeks, Saline airlifted large quantities of food, clothing, and other emergency needs to our overseas friends.

The twinning has been used for devious devices on occasion. For instance, a year ago, friends of Carl and Mickey Weller plotted to throw a surprise party and mock wedding for them on the occasion of their golden anniversary. The only problem was that the surprise affair was to be held in the Weller's own Carriage House, hard to keep secret from Carl and Mickey upstairs.

A crafty schemer suggested that we tape a choral Christmas greeting to our friends in Brecon on the date of the party. While a crew prepared the Carriage House for the golden wedding anniversary celebration, the Wellers were ordered to join the rest of the gang at Jim and Sue Keezer's home nearby for the Christmas carol taping. With Rick Kuss at the camera, Carl, the smooth talker, was ordered to give a brief Merry Christmas message to Brecon to end the tape. He was ordered to repeat the message a dozen times to "get it just right" and to make sure the secret preparations were completed at the Carriage House. The tape, complete with singers' bloopers, interruptions, and Carl's strung out greetings, was flown to Brecon in time for the holidays. According to Arthur and Dilys Bowley, both of them masters of Welsh schmooze, the tape was a "smashing hit."

The only disappointment ever experienced in all the years of Saline-Brecon friendship has been hard to overlook. It can be traced directly to the former management of The Saline Reporter.

In a fit of enthusiasm and international goodwill, the former management predicted early on that soon the inevitable would happen - a Brecon boy would woo and win a Saline lass-or vice versa-and the resulting nuptials and offspring would produce a blood link, a Yankee-Welsh breed, and eventually a super race to solve all the world's problems and end all the old enmities.

Although it hasn't happened quite yet. it may just be a matter of time.