A look at a map by those unfamiliar with Rockford’s location might suggest an isolated community.
The reality is that the region’s industrial history, aviation businesses, education connections and informal and formal links with countries around the world make Rockford a full-fledged international player.
Partial credit can be credited to involvement with the Sister Cities program.
Through Sister Cities — a citizen diplomacy initiative dating back 1956 and President Dwight Eisenhower — Rockford now has links with seven cities ranging a village in Hungary to a Chinese city the size of Chicago.
Among Illinois cities only Chicago has Sister City connections.
“All of our city’s Sister City relationships are different and have unique benefits,” John Groh, president/CEO of the Rockford Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, said in an email exchange last week.
“Some, like Brovary (Ukraine) are more humanitarian in nature while others like Ferentino (Italy) and Borhgholm (Sweden) were established as a result of our community’s historic ties through immigration from those cities/regions.”
Rockford celebrates 20 years of Sister City involvement in 2015. A suggestion from a visiting soccer team from Kiev, Ukraine led to the first connection.
According to a timeline from RACVB, the Kiev delegation suggested a sister city arrangement with Brovary, a Kiev suburb of 98,000 and it was made official in 1995.
A Rockford group traveled to the community and built two playgrounds, the beginning of a Rockford-based “Kids Around the World” initiative that builds play equipment for children in war-torn and poverty-stricken regions.
The ties continue with Rockford residents sending food and medicine while local doctors donate their expertise and services. Brovary’s mayor has visited Rockford, his wife lived here for six months and their son was married in a Rockford church.
Next came China.
“The relationship with China was established in the late 1990s to help Rockford companies build business relationships” Groh said.
In 1999 Rockford residents visited Changzhou, located northwest of Shanghai on the Yangtze River. A Chinese delegation followed to establish a Sister Cities arrangement and toured local businesses and educational institutions. Rockford residents have since been back to explore business opportunities.
Rockford also has links with Cluj-Napoca, an industrial city in Romania, since 2005. Local groups have offered humanitarian support to Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan since the two communities were linked in 2006. Ties with Taszár, Hungary, a former Soviet military center and later home to U.S. and NATO forces, were forged in 2007.
Next-door Belvidere also has Sister City relationships, one that predates Rockford’s involvement.
In 1988 Belvidere linked with Schwieberdingen, Germany, a community of more than 10,000 residents and located in the country’s southwest near Stuttgart. In 1999, Belvidere made Sister-Cities connection with Vaux-le-Pénil, France, located about 45 miles southeast of Paris on the Seine River.
Groh, who spends much of his time working on building regional business and tourism, has had a chance to visit only one of Rockford’s Sister Cities.
“I’ve only had the chance to travel to Rockford’s Sister City, Borgholm,” he said. “It’s a wonderful city and region with many connections to Rockford’s Swedish community and people.”
Rockord’s Sister City connections span the glob
Brovary, Ukraine — The relationship between Rockford and Brovary arose from a meeting with a visiting soccer team from Kiev. The Kiev contingent suggested a sister city arrangement with Brovary, a Kiev suburb of 85,900. The Rockford City Council and Mayor Charles Box made it official in 1995. As a gift to Brovary, a Rockford group traveled to build the first of two playgrounds for Brovary’s children. They did not use wood, because of the risk that it might be stripped to heat homes during the harsh winters. These two projects were the beginning of “Kids Around the World”, a Rockford organization that builds playgrounds for children in poverty-stricken and war-torn foreign cities. Rockford and Brovary maintain a strong relationship. Rockford residents send food and medicine, and area doctors visit to donate their services. Brovary’s Mayor toured Rockford; his wife lived in Rockford for six months; their son was married at a Rockford church.
Changzhou, China — Rockford residents visited Changzhou in 1999 to explore a friendship agreement to foster trade opportunities for both cities. Although more than 2,500 years old, Changzhou is a modern industrial city of more than three million, just a two-hour drive from Shanghai. In October 1999, a Changzhou delegation visited Rockford to sign a Sister Cities agreement with the Rockford City Council. The Chinese delegation toured Bergstrom Inc. (which has a plant in Changzhou), Rockford Products Inc. and Rock Valley College Technical Center. They attended a City Council meeting and had dinner at Cliffbreakers River Restaurant. Rockford delegations have visited Changzhou to explore business exchange relationships.
Borgholm, Sweden —The Rockford Region has more Swedish-Americans per capita than any other US city. In 2002, as part of Rockford’s Sesquicentennial celebration of the arrival of the first Swedish immigrants in 1852, Rockford sought a Sister City relationship in Sweden. The agreement was signed in Borgholm in July 2002 and in Rockford in August 2002. Several exchanges have occurred, and various groups are working on exchanges in art, education, business and religion. Borgholm is the largest town on Öland, an island connected to the Swedish mainland by one of Europe’s longest bridges. As a summer resort area for Scandinavia, the island swells with more than 2.5 million visitors, including artists from all over the world — drawn by the “midnight sun”. Borgholm’s top two industries are agriculture and tourism.
Ferentino, Italy — Rockford’s relationship with Ferentino arose from ancestral connections and the desire to reinforce the heritage of Rockford’s Italian-Americans through cultural exchanges. Estimates suggest many of Rockford’s nearly 10,000 Italian-descended residents hail from the Ferentino area, including Representative Zeke Giorgi, who served in the Illinois General Assembly for many years. Located in the Frosinone province 45 miles southeast of Rome, Ferentino has a population of nearly 20,000 and is well known for its ancient Roman structures. The first exchange took place in Rockford in May, 2006 and included Ferentino Mayor Pergianni Fiorletta, aldermanic representatives, and several members of Ferentino’s Pro Loco Association. Mayors Lawrence Morrissey and Fiorletta signed the official agreement at a City Council meeting May 13, 2006. Future exchanges are being explored.
Cluj-Napoca, Romania —The sister city relationship with Cluj-Napoca began as a friendship between Rockford’s congressman and Cluj-Napoca political and business leaders. Cluj-Napoca, in the heart of the historical province of Transylvania, in an ancient city with many historical buildings. It is now one of the most important academic, cultural, industrial and business centers in Romania, with over 300,0009 inhabitants living within the city limits. Exchanges of official delegates have occurred between our two cities and as well as a first high school student exchange to Rockford. Culture has also been a focus, and the Romanian committee created a traditional Martisor celebration in 2009, complete with traditional costumes, food, music and dance.
Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan — The humanitarian organizations Central Asia Sharing Aid of Rockford (CASA) and Mercy Charitable Christian Foundation of Kyrgyzstan have established and endowed schools, orphanages, free medical clinics, economic initiatives and other charitable works in Kyrgyzstan. Friends of both ministries organized the sister city initiative which culminated in an agreement being signed in October of 2006. Tokmok has set aside land for a Rockford industrial park, renamed a lake after Rockford, and was the site of a playground built by “Kids Around the World.”
Taszár, Hungary — Taszar is a small village situated southwest of Budapest. Its airport played key roles, once as a Soviet airfield, and then as the site of multinational and U.S. peacekeeping forces as recently as 2004. The relationship can be summed up by the following comment: “You came as guests,” said Karoly Szita, Mayor of Kaposvar to Rear Adm. Goodwin, “but you are leaving as friends.” The excellent relations between the U.S. troops and local population, as well as connections with U.S. government officials, led to the formation of a Sister City relationship.
Belvidere Sister Cities
Schwieberdingen, Germany — In 1988, the Sister Cities Association of Belvidere, Illinois, Inc. was formed as a not-for-profit corporation. In that year, Schwieberdingen, Germany became Belvidere’s first sister city. Schwieberdingen is a town of about 10,700 inhabitants located in Southwest Germany. The city founded in 1304 is 10 km away from Ludwigsburg and 14 km away from Stuttgart, the capital of Baden-Württemberg. germany
Vaux-le-Pénil, France — In 1999, Vaux-le-Pénil, France became Belvidere’s second sister city. Situated about 45 miles southeast of Paris on the Seine River, Vaux-le-Pénil is in the region of Ile de France, often referred as the bread basket of France. Belvidere has welcomed many visitors from Vaux-le-Pénil. Adult and youth exchanges have taken place in both directions.
— Sister Cities links help make Rockford an international player —