History of sister cities partnership in South Dakota

Apolda, Germany is one of two sister cities linked to Rapid City. (KEVN)
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SPEARFISH, S.D. (KEVN) - Did you know South Dakota has four sister cities in Germany, Japan, and Ireland? Some of those partnerships have lasted for more than 20 years.

The post-war initiative started back in 1956 with President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

"He really wanted to see continued peace across the globe, so sister cities began as an arm of the state department. There are 500 member cities in the United States, we have an outreach of about 1800 partnerships," said Sister Cities International South Dakota Representative Andrée Brisson.

One of Rapid City's sister cities (Apolda, Germany) became active after the wall came down in East Germany in late 1989. It includes several entities like student exchange, a police group, firefighters and medical.

"There's some areas of technology that we've seen over there, some things that I've never seen, like some research stuff. We've visited other hospitals and it's opened my eyes to some things that are out there that I wasn't even aware of," said Rapid City/Apolda, Germany Sister City Organization Secretary John Weber.

The student exchanges normally happen every fall with a group heading to Europe or one heading here. The students stay with a host family, attend classes at a local high school and travel around the area.

The specialized groups tend to happen every other year.

"It's a good exchange because we get to visit with people in the same profession as we are, but they're just overseas, just learn how life is for them," said Weber.

The other Rapid City partnership with Nikko, Japan only involves high school students who sometimes get to experience a mock city council session with Mayor Steve Allender.

"They are also a very active group. They tend to have, every year, students going to Nikko, Japan and students coming back. They do this really great home exchange, students spend days with families. For many of these students, I would say it's really their first time abroad so the Japanese students I know had a really great time coming and seeing Mt. Rushmore and living with a family and seeing the Black Hills and really seeing a piece of the United States," said Brisson.

So you may be asking why should you join sister cities? There are membership dues to be involved, which depend on the population size of your city.

"You have a lot of support and really we set you up for success. We also carry you through any crisis you might have, any mentoring you might need, we have volunteers who have been doing this for 30 years. We have a great network given the state department and just given our partnerships all over the world," said Brisson.

For Weber, the best benefit to being involved is making lifelong friends.

" I have friends over there that if I ever wanna visit Germany, which I have, I've always got a place to stay. It's like going to visit family, but it's relatives you wanna see, not like somebody you don't wanna see," said Weber.

So if you want to bring this to your city, there are a few things to check off your list.

"Basically, you would form a committee, so kind of a cross-section of your city, representatives of your hospitals, from the university, the mayor is always great to have because that's when it becomes a formality," said Brisson.

It's good to look at the heritage ties in your city with some future possibilities for Rapid City.

"We do have a French background. We also have a lot of Scandinavians here so these would be ideal countries to matchmake with in my opinion. I also would love to see some cities that have indigenous peoples," said Brisson.

There's one guess as to why the Apolda sister city is so successful here in town.

"There's lots of people with German backgrounds, German heritage like myself. It's just interesting for us to meet people from Germany and see where our ancestors have came from, what their heritage is over there," said Weber.

So whether it's with Japan, Germany or Northern Ireland, it's good to get involved to know other cultures.

Spearfish is looking to add a sister city and in the very beginning stages. If you want to get involved on the ground floor, you can visit the Sister Cities website here. To get ahold of Brisson, the state representative, you can email her at andreemariebrisson@gmail.com.