Once upon a time … in a land, far, far away, there was a beautiful village, a village with a need. Arlington citizens answered that need – and built an everlasting friendship.
It was the summer of summer of 1951 when Arlington Mayor Tom Vandergriff first learned of Bad Königshofen, a West German village with a population of 4,000, about half the size of his beloved hometown. The town’s City Inspector, Kurt Zühlke, traveled across the Atlantic Ocean with a teacher from Marburg (about six hours away), who was wishing to meet her Arlington pen pal.
Vandergriff discovered during a meeting with Zühlke that refugees fleeing from East Germany had overwhelmed Bad Königshofen, resulting in an urgent shortage of food and clothing. In short order, the people of Bad Königshofen were delivered train cars full of supplies – a gift sent to them by the caring citizens of Arlington.
Coming at a time when Americans’ sour feelings of World War II still lingered, Arlingtonites – many of whom were struggling themselves – learned about and sought to relieve the suffering of this town and collected thousands of pounds of supplies for these unknown foreigners. The clothes, medical supplies and food were shipped from the Arlington train depot to Bad Königshofen, where, to this day, it is reverently remembered that people from another nation cared for them.
Soon after this remarkable display of compassion and humanitarianism, Arlington and Bad Königshofen developed one of the first international Sister City partnerships. Many commemorations, dedications and visits between the cities and their officials ensued through the years, and a true friendship was established.
Fast forward 65 years …
It is now the summer of 2016, when five German high school students from Bad Königshofen express an interest in learning more about Arlington, Texas, the city they have heard about their entire lives. In fact, they want to visit their Sister City.
Once again, Arlington citizens take notice of their Sister City and extend their kindness and generosity.
Northstar School, an Arlington private school of 55 students, opened its doors and heart to these adventurers this past April.
The German students, seeking to learn about the American way of life, were welcomed with open arms into a world of exploration. Much care and thought was put into ensuring that the best possible experience was endowed upon the teenagers. For 30 days the students experienced an American high school.
In addition to the daily classes, camping trips, statewide Student Council seminars, visits to their first theme park, City Council meetings, barbeque dinners, and Texas Rangers baseball games, even the Senior Prom was part of the experience for these high school students. Northstar didn’t alter its programs, but instead incorporated the students into them.
Six host families of Northstar, all united in wanting the cultural exchange for their families, joined in and provided five curious German teenagers a look into the life of an American teenager. This meant incorporating a new “family member” into the schedule of soccer practice, music lessons and what to eat for dinner – no small endeavor.
As a result, Northstar students Grace Ekukpe; Tyler Hood; Cole Benefield; Brandon Haub; Benjamin and Nicholas Kocurek; and Mikayla, Maddie and Makenzie Moyer all have a new brother or sister. As a witness to the day of arrival of the German students, you couldn’t tell the Northstar students and the German visitors apart. There was an immediate connection among the youth, as if they had known each other forever.
This was not the first encounter for Northstar School and Bad Königshofen. Northstar was founded on the principle of offering a global perspective to its educational curriculum. As luck would have it, in 2006, the first operating year of the school, Kay Hunn, President and CEO of Northstar, was presented the opportunity for Northstar’s students to participate in a “pen pal” program with Northstar’s Sister City’s school. Members of Northstar’s board were invited to visit Bad Königshofen as part of the official City of Arlington delegation in 2007.
Over the past 10 years, in addition to hosting the current group of German students, Northstar School has sent students and faculty to Bad Königshofen, hosted culinary experiences for the 2007 visiting German delegation, hosted three students with the German delegation of 2012, and has participated in providing Lebkuchen (traditional German gingerbread cookies) to the organization, Sister Cities of
Arlington Texas, for the annual Texas Christkindl Market.
The board members of Sister Cities of Arlington Texas unanimously agreed to sponsor the five visiting students by providing the funds needed for their extracurricular activities while in Arlington. Northstar School presented a check at a Sister City-hosted barbeque at Stovall Park during the students’ stay. They and their host families received a private tour of the Bad Königshofen Family Aquatic Center and learned more about the park that was dedicated to their city in 2006.
Previously, in 1954, Bad Königshofen had named its city park “Arlington-Park.” Many other forms of appreciation have been extended to Arlington. Indeed, whenever it is learned that a citizen of Arlington is in Bad Königshofen, the Arlington flag is raised in his or her honor. This month, it is Arlington’s turn to celebrate dignitaries from its Sister City. Mayor Jeff Williams, the City of Arlington, and Sister Cities of Arlington Texas will welcome the 2017 Bad Königshofen official delegation, commemorating and celebrating the 65th Anniversary of
“Friendship Solid as a Rock.” Thomas Helbling, Bürgermeister of Bad Königshofen, will honor Arlington by serving as the International Grand Marshal of the Arlington 4th of July Parade.
A float designed to replicate the first shipment of supplies leaving the Arlington train depot for Bad Königshofen will also be featured in the parade.
The initial contact between Arlington and Bad Königshofen began with a pen pal visit, two people reaching across continents to communicate and learn about each other, not knowing their friendship would unite and form an eternal bond between two cities. The gift of kindness and compassion transcends borders and time. Recognizing our fellow man and propagating kindness ensures that many generations to come will have the “fairy-tale-ending” opportunity we all wish for.
For more on our Sister City, visit arlington-tx.gov/sistercity. For more on Northstar School, which offers an enriching and globalized college preparatory curriculum for students from 7th grade through 12th grade, visit northstarschool.net.