A Wisconsin Dells High School graduate teaching English in Iwaizumi, Japan thought of creating a cultural exchange between students and teachers in Japan and Wisconsin Dells, and thus began one of the first outward signs that the sister-city relationship, now two decades old, had begun.

Dells resident Richard Schauf was mayor at the time. He knew the former high school student, Brian Marty, who proposed the exchange. Schauf worked as a chemistry, math and computer science teacher for more than 30 years in the Wisconsin Dells School District.

Soon after, Schauf said he was invited to visit Japan by the mayor of Iwaizumi at the time. It was about 1991. He went accompanied by the school board president and school superintendent.

The city officials in Iwaizumi had also sent representatives to Wisconsin Dells. Soon every year students from Japan came to the Dells and every summer students from Wisconsin Dells visited Japan. Schauf said he believed the first group of students to go to Japan went in 1992. To this day the Japanese students usually visit the Dells in January.

"I think it's a great thing, the interchange of governments, schools. We learn who the Japanese are," Schauf said in a phone interview Oct. 13.

According to Jan Hess, the school representative on the city's Iwaizumi Welcome Committee, about 300 Dells students in the past 20 years have gone to Japan.

And as present Wisconsin Dells Mayor Eric Helland said at a gathering between Iwaizumi school and government leaders and Dells area residents Oct. 14, the signs are the relationship between the two cities is strong, having survived modern-day, global terrorism and worldwide pandemics like that of the H1N1 virus, or swine flu, that interrupted travel plans in the 2009-2010 school year. Helland spoke at the Glacier Canyon Lodge conference center at Wilderness Territories Resort to the mayor of Iwaizumi, Katsumi Date, who was visiting the Dells for the first time in 11 years of being mayor.

Also present were Dells residents who had either organized visits for the Japanese in the past or had served as chaperones for Dells students bound for Japan.

Date, whose Japanese was interpreted by Kyoko Archibald of Baraboo, said he was thankful for the sister-city relationship. He said he wanted to apologize for being mayor for 11 years and only now making the first visit to Wisconsin Dells, but he joked a little bit by saying out of so many Japanese students that came, not one asked him to come along.

He said the future of the program depends on the relationships the students make seeing as how sooner than later the mayors of Iwaizumi and Wisconsin Dells will die. Date offered some suggestions, like maybe moving the time that Japanese students come to visit from January to another time of year and creating an exchange between teachers.

"Maybe we can have another 20 years of wonderful relationship," Date said through the interpreter.

Gift-giving is an important part of Japanese culture. Date received a gift from Wisconsin Dells, a large painting by Wisconsin Dells School District art teacher Anne Klein. Helland, representing Wisconsin Dells, received an ornately carved wooden box from Date.

Schauf explained the significance of the giving that was just as important 20 years ago when he was representing the Dells to the Japanese people.

"Every time you meet a Japanese person, they're going to give you some little gift. It may be a little thing," he said, adding once he gave pens on a trip to Japan. "The Japanese expect to receive a small thing. It doesn't have to be much. Anything. That's the way they say thank you, show their appreciation," Schauf said.

To celebrate the 20-year anniversary of the sister-city relationship - organizers said it would have been celebrated last year had it not been for the H1N1 virus impacting travel.

Date, Katsuhiko Shimokawa, superintendent of the Iwaizumi Board of Education, and several other representatives from Iwaizumi went sight seeing. In an e-mail, Hess wrote that they toured the Wisconsin River and the H.H. Bennett Studio before lunching at Trapper's Turn Golf Course. Others from Japan on the trip included Koji Yaegashi, director general of the Iwaizumi Board of Education, Jeffrey Holscher, English teacher, Kaneo Yamazaki and Kazunori Oyumikawa, International Exchange Association members.

"Combined with the city gearing up for Autumn Fest and the beautiful decorations around town, I think his (Mayor Date's) impressions of the Dells in the autumn were more than favorable," Hess wrote.

She also said in an e-mail she was impressed by Date's travel plans and commitment to the sister-city relationship.

"Many people might not realize that he travelled almost 23 hours round trip to stay only 22 hours in the Dells," she wrote, adding he had to begin the return trip home right after the Oct. 14 gathering.

With all that has been maintained throughout the sister-city relationship, some changes have taken place. Hess wrote that before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Japanese used to visit Washington, D.C. and New York City. Since then, they have been flying into Chicago, sightseeing there and then they come to the Dells.

Hess wrote that technology has also impacted the program.

"I know students still are Facebook friends with their former guests and/or e-mail each other. Jeff Holscher, an English teacher in Japan, also maintains a Facebook page for both past and current exchange students. You can go to the site and see pictures of past visits as well as network with those you may have lost touch with," Hess wrote.

Schauf couldn't think of many obstacles to starting the relationship in the early 1990s when he was mayor. "The city council agreed to go along with the sister-city relationship to make it a firm commitment," he said.

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