Karl Liewer: VOLUNTEER HOME HOST FOR THE YOUNG AND YOUNG-AT-HEART

Interview Date: June 17, 2013
Interviewer: Sandra MacDonald Davis

Karl: My name is Karl Liewer. I was born in a small town, Osmond, in the northeastern part of Nebraska. It still has a population of 800, which was the population when I grew up. I spent one year at the University of Nebraska when I was 17 years old. After that I was privileged to go to the US Military Academy at West Point where I spent 3 years, graduating in1945. During that period of time, one of my classmates who I knew even at that time was Harry Amos who is also a member of the Sister Cities Association and has been interviewed probably by Sandy prior to this for a similar project.

Karl: My association with the Sister City Association dates back, I don’t know the exact date, probably 20 years. My wife and I became aware of the Sister City Association because of a trip that they were sponsoring at that time to our sister city in Aachen, Germany. At that time we met John McCracken who was chairman of the Sister City Association and was for a long time. My wife and I on this occasion were with a group of probably of 5 people privileged to represent Arlington at a ceremony, the Karlpreis, which is an annual event in Aachen, dating back to the days immediately after the Second World War – an opportunity to memorialize individuals in the Western European, American, and English speaking community who have made a contribution to the western democracy. The reason it’s called Karlpreis is because of Charlemagne, the first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire dating back to 800 AD.

My wife and I enjoyed the trip very much. In the course of succeeding years, and prior to her death in the year 2000, my wife and I had traveled to all of our sister cities with the exception of Coyoacan, a suburb of Mexico City. In the earlier years, up until very recently, I considered that I was very active in the organization. Certainly I share the values for which it stands. And particularly the opportunity to share experiences with, to get to know, and to influence and to be influenced by populations outside the United States, among people that are different in language and culture than everybody that we would normally see over the course of 365 days here in Northern Virginia.

During the 1990s, we were pretty much struggling really to keep alive. As with many similar organizations, there’s always the problem of money. We didn’t really have the money to do anything. We tried various fundraising outlets. These did not produce large sums of money. There was only a minimal association at that time with the local administration: Arlington, VA, County Board. John McCrackin remained president of Sister Cities for a long time. John was succeeded as president by Jim Rowland. During these years, we had relations mostly with our sister city Aachen. With Mexico, the relations were dormant at the time whereas there was a very active relationship with Aachen. When Jim Rowland left the organization eventually, Sandy, served as our president for a long period of time, very actively, very productively, very enjoyably for all of us.

The growth of the ASCA took place largely during these years. During all of this time, it seems to me our principal association with our sister cities has been in the field of education – the children, the active exchange of students between our schools in Arlington and similar schools on the grade school and also high school level in our various sister cities. This has proved to be a very fruitful outlet for contact, as far as I’m concerned, over all this time and is very worthwhile. We would have liked to have other projects and have tried to promote association between professional people in our sister cities and Arlington VA: with our universities, with lawyers, doctors, businessmen. As far as I know, that has not really proved to be very productive. But the association benefiting children in education has proved to be very rewarding and worthwhile. In my case simply the fact of being able to visit and observe life in Aachen, and Reims, and Ivano-Frankivsk, and San Miguel, has been rewarding to me.

… At one time in the past, and I believe this has kind of gone by the boards, we took a very active interest in the Arlington county fair, staffing a booth, year after year after year, and spent time speaking to people who stopped by to interest them, to acquaint them with our activities. This was a source of membership. At various times, perhaps Sandy and perhaps others have made speeches at various places in Arlington in an attempt to drum up support for the ASCA.…

Karl: I remember the trips to our sister cities because of the impressions on me of these great world cities, Aachen and Reims in particular. The impression of being in a foreign place was perhaps more relevant to me at the time than student exchange in Reims, which was just beginning whereas Aachen had been active for a much longer period of time. It was a great pleasure for me to visit these places, and be hosted by people who lived there. I have a special affection for San Miguel having been to the carnival quite a number of times and realizing that the members of the San Miguel committee have really contributed a great deal to the ASCA: making money for the organization with their practice of recruiting a young woman to act as our queen and representative at the carnival we attend in November of each year. This is a money-making proposition. It has been very successful, our queen, and the presence of our queen is treated with great regard in El Salvador. So that has been particularly rewarding for me to participate in.

Sandy: And what is done with the money by San Miguel committee?

Karl: Well, during the time we are in San Miguel, we have used some part of the money to buy supplies for schools, books, and paper, and pencils, because everything is really wanted over there. A large part of the money raised by its San Miguel committee is turned over to ASCA, as you know, for its needs. In addition to the visit to the schools in San Miguel, for example, we also visit a retirement facility for very old people who are very poor and have nothing at all. This is perhaps the most personally rewarding thing that I have participated in my association with the ASCA.

Sandy: That is indeed out of the ordinary. Is a contribution made to that home?

Karl: Yes it is. We bring things to eat, rice and beans, and stuff like that. Yes.

Sandy: I think we have covered it. Any last words about the value of the sister cities association to the community? Do you feel that it makes a unique contribution in any way?

Karl: Well, we’ve spoken in general terms about what the ASCA does and accomplishes. I’d say its value, as far as I’m concerned, is in the exchange and interchange of friendship between different societies of countries and cultures. Also, the exchange of students particularly, which is the biggest thing that we do, is heartwarming and very worthwhile. It’s very popular with our friends in the foreign countries. It’s easy to get people to come to the U.S. It’s more difficult to get children from America to other foreign places, as I understand. Certainly, all of the association that I’ve had with our sister cities, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to see, talk to, and observe friends from foreign countries.

Sandy: Well, the association has certainly benefited from your participation and representation of Arlington County overseas. Thank you for your long support.