For 50 years now, visitors from Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, Australia, have been making the journey across the globe to Leavenworth.
Since 2001, when the city of Leavenworth established the Sister Cities Committee, that journey has largely been on a biennial basis. Recently, however, one Leavenworth resident and longtime host of local Wagga Wagga visitors returned from a trip that gave her a look at the other side of the relationship.
Maxine Hunter said she had been invited to come to Wagga Wagga at the end of October. In addition to 2012 being the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Sister City relationship between Leavenworth and Wagga Wagga, it’s also the 65th annual Miss Wagga Quest, a community competition that culminates in the crowning of Miss Wagga Wagga and the Community Princess, who serve as ambassadors of sorts to Wagga’s other sister cities — Nordlinger, Bavaria, Germany and Kunming, Yunnan Province, China.
Hunter not only got to see the process of picking the winners, she got to participate as a judge, an experience she said she would not soon forget.
“It’s never been a beauty contest,” she said. “It’s about what they can do for their community.”
Over the years, many of the Miss Wagga Wagga and Community Princess winners have visited Leavenworth — 12 of them have stayed with Hunter and her husband, Tab, during those visits.
“I call them my girls,” she said.
Hunter said it may have been her first time in Australia, but symbols of the 50-year-old bond between Wagga Wagga and the First City in Kansas were evident throughout. Like Leavenworth, which christened a portion of the 20th Street Trafficway “Wagga Wagga Drive,” their Australian counterpart has a “Leavenworth Drive.” They also have a new “Sister City Walk,” which features information and gifts exchanged between the sister communities over the years. And a photo mural at that walk shows scenes from Kunming, Nordlinger and Delaware Street in Leavenworth from one angle and an aerial shot of Wagga Wagga when viewed from straight on, showing a sort of unity of the cities.
“They are so proud of their sister cities,” Hunter said.
What she said struck her the most was not as much what she saw, but what she heard.
“I met so many people who had been to Leavenworth back in the 80s and 90s and even in the 70s,” she said, before Leavenworth had a proactive sister city committee. “And I met everyone from their gentleman in Parliament to the mayor.”
That included former Miss Wagga Quest winners who remembered their trip. Despite having last seen the city in 1966 as a Miss Wagga Wagga, Robyn Sadler still remembered her visit — she still had the key to the city presented to her here.
Page 2 of 2 - Hunter said Sadler also had a list of people from Leavenworth that she asked her to look up. Others who attended the Quest reunion that was part of the weekend’s events also asked Hunter about people who had either once been or were still residents of the city. Hunter said anyone who remembers Miss Waggas from the past can contact her at email@example.com for more information.
She said she came back with a better understanding of what it means to be a sister city.
“For the people of Leavenworth, what they need to know is how important this Quest is to Wagga and how important it is that we as a city have been able to be there for them and welcome these girls into our city,” Hunter said.