Building International Goodwill
Conceived after the destructive upheaval of World War II, sister city programs developed from the simple idea that sharing information and experiences between people from different cultural backgrounds could nurture mutual cooperation between people, cities and nations. These diplomatic exchanges were designed to both cultivate peaceful connections between cities, but to also trade information regarding municipal strategies in addressing challenges related to education, health, welfare, housing, and vocational training. Kalamazoo has had three sister cities: Numazu, Japan, Kingston, Jamaica and Pushkin, Russia.
In the summer of 1962, the city commission extended an invitation to the capital city of the newly independent nation of Jamaica, so as to “promote friendship, understanding, and mutual cooperation.” It isn’t clear why city officials targeted Kingston, but a year prior saw a group of Jamaican librarians arrive in town on an educational visit to learn about library practices. Led by Mrs. Joyce Robinson, the visiting librarians also met with city officials, including Mayor Paul E. Morrison. In October, a resolution was passed by the Council of the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation to accept Kalamazoo’s proposal. Upon invitation from Robinson, Mayor Morrison traveled to the Caribbean island to participate in their independence celebration, that included a meeting with Sir Alexander Bustamente, Jamaica’s newly elected premiere. Shortly thereafter, in January of 1963, a road leading to the national sports stadium was named Kalamazoo Drive. Other than a visit from Kingston’s mayor in 1969, wherein which he urged for a recommitment to “exchanges of citizens, city personnel and college students”, it appears that the relationship between the two cities failed to generate sustained activity.
Conceived in 1962 when a local businessman who regularly traveled to Japan, noticed similarities between Numazu and Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo’s most functioning sister city program officially began in 1963 and continues today. In November of 1962, a six-member group from Numazu arrived in Kalamazoo to complete the agreement between the two cities. Several months later, Mayor Morrison led a local delegation to Numazu in July of 1963, accepting the key to the coastal city from Mayor Rokutaro Shioya. In addition to exchanging gifts, Morrison, his wife, and members of the Chamber of Commerce attended official ceremonies, which included a parade, observed art exhibits, and met with members of civic clubs and students. In April of 1964, it was the Numazu delegation’s turn to tour Kalamazoo, visiting the Kalamazoo Public Library, the Art Center (later the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts), Nazareth College, several junior and high schools, and the Upjohn Company. Year after year, delegates from both cities continue to meet with city officials to tour one another’s civic and governmental institutions.
In 1998, on the 35th anniversary of the relationship, a tree planting ceremony took place in Bronson Park. A red leaf Japanese Maple was planted along South Street, across from the city building. A plaque attached to a large rock was later added below the tree that acknowledges the enduring connection between the two communities. The plaque was later moved to the ring of memorials in Bronson Park.
The most recent effort in developing a bond with another city was in October of 1992, when the city of Pushkin, Russia and Kalamazoo agreed to a “partnership agreement for community exchanges and cooperation”. The dissolution of the Soviet Union had left many cities like Pushkin in desperate need of both financial support, and guidance in how to transition from Soviet-style governance to a more democratic expression of city management. The local Kalamazoo-Pushkin committee was created to raise the private funds in order to interact with Pushkin.
“Members of the Kalamazoo delegation that brought $287,000 worth of medical supplies to Pushkin earlier this year told commissioners the Russian city has desperate needs in health care, the environment and the economy.”–Kalamazoo Gazette, 10-6-92
Article written by Ryan Gage, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, January 2022
“Send Invitation to ‘Sister City'”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 28 August 1962
“Pushkin, Kalamazoo Affirm Ties”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 6 October 1992, page C2, column 1
Local History Room Files
Subject File: Sister Cities – Kingston
Subject File: Numazu (Japan)