Three Generations of Citizen Diplomacy
In 1972, Kettering, Ohio established their first sister city relationship with Steyr, Austria. Since then, they have created lasting traditions and legacies together. The two cities have overseen five adult homestays and have conducted an alternating youth exchange for the past 40 years.
Kettering and Steyr also participate in cultural exchange: they have been sending music and performance groups to each other’s cities since 1980. Their most outstanding cultural exchanges include when Kettering sent their civic band to Steyr to help celebrate the city’s 1,000th birthday in 1980, and in 1993 when Steyr sent their civic band to Kettering to march in their holiday parade.
These long-standing exchanges are exemplary of the legacy these cities have created in the name of peace through people, but there is one legacy that stands out above the rest: three generations of Niekamp-Bruckbauer friendships.
Janet Niekamp (now Bolton) began chaperoning students from Kettering on their exchanges to Steyr in 1986. That year and during subsequent exchanges in 1988, 1992, and 1994 Niekamp stayed with Otti and Fredi Bruckbauer. In turn, Otti would stay with Janet when she visited Kettering to chaperone the students from Steyr. Little did they know, this hosting relationship would withstand three generations.
In 1989 Janet’s son, David, stayed with the Bruckbauer family for the summer while he was there for a work exchange in Steyr. Otti’s daughter, Christine, stayed with Janet while she was working at Wendy’s in Kettering during the same summer work exchange.
The third generation of this friendship was cemented in the summer of 2016 when Janet and Otti’s granddaughters stayed with their counterparts in Steyr and Kettering. While this is where their story ends for now, we are confident that this will not be the end of these families’ connection to one another.
In 2016, Janet and Otti told their story to a crowd of 150 people gathered for a dinner in Steyr celebrating the 40 years of youth exchanges between these two Sister Cities. In the audience was both a youth and adult group from Kettering who were thrilled to hear about the lasting bonds that came out of the Steyr/Kettering relationship.
Sister Cities International was founded on the idea and hope of promoting peace through citizen-to citizen-connections. Eisenhower believed that if people made meaningful connections with people from a different country, we could see a more connected, understanding, and peaceful world. To see three generations of two families from two countries stay connected through the years thanks to a sister city exchange is a wonderful example of Eisenhower’s vision continues to work long after his first call for peace.