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The legacy of Howard Chapman

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader


The real hero of the week in Gera, Germany, was Howard Chapman — not the Mayor, not me, not any of the other dozen or so dignitaries who traveled from Fort Wayne to our German sister city to celebrate 20 years of partnership and to renew our vows of cooperation.

Years ago, in the mid-70s, Mr. Chapman was one of a small group of Fort Wayners who established our sister city program starting with ties to Japan’s Takaoka. It sprang from a simple concept: to unite the people of the world through person-to-person contact. President Dwight Eisenhower had presented the idea in the 1950s as a reaction to the carnage and devastation of World War Two.

It has worked spectacularly. Today, there are thousands of relationships around the world. Our sister Gera, for example, has 11 siblings, and over the years Fort Wayne has acquired a total of four sisters, most recently Taizhou, China.

This trip, led by Mayor Tom Henry, was in honor of the 20th anniversary of the first signing with Gera, two years after my solo, adventurous visit there in 1990 when I sold the then mayor of Gera on partnering with Fort Wayne to build exchanges at all levels of our two societies. I was able to do this because of Mr. Chapman and the others.
Year in and year out he has been instrumental in making our sister city relationships a grand success resulting in thousands of Fort Wayners traveling to our sisters and thousands of Germans, Japanese, Poles and now Chinese visiting Fort Wayne and
contributing to our way of life.

Years ago local businessman Simon Dragan and I led a group of swimmers from Fort Wayne Aquatics to Gera. For two weeks the kids met, played and partied with German kids. They swam competitively against Germans, learned their training methods, stayed with host families, experienced German homes, breakfasts and lifestyles. Ask anyone of those kids today and they will say the trip significantly changed their lives for the better.
Today, too, our police department has a flourishing relationship with the Gera PD that yields insights, new approaches and new techniques in crime fighting in both communities There is nothing so informative as seeing the same problem tackled in slightly different way.

The same is true with other officials, including our mayor, Tom Henry, and our deputy mayor, Mark Becker, who have seen how Germans order their communities for the benefit of their citizens and have borrowed ideas for the best interests of northeastern Indiana. Travel does that: it inspires, informs and educates. Travel to our sister cities where we live and work with counterpart provides an in-depth chance to steel ideas.
This was Tom Henry’s third trip to Gera and he spoke eloquently to our friends there about the ongoing need to knit our two societies together so that we could continue to learn, understand and borrow from each other. He added, that it is time to focus Gera and Fort Wayne businesses on trade and economic exchanges. Germany is a powerhouse of industry and manufacture. Our tie with Gera should create jobs and enrich both communities. He was passing business cards around to everyone in sight, as were others in our delegation.

In Gera I was also to be awarded their highest citizenship prize, the Golden Sampson. My dear friends in Gera thought they were recognizing my work in founding and fostering over many years the ties between our two cities, starting with that cold 1990 Christmas trip. The award was quite an honor and certainly made the many hours and frustrations worth the effort, but the award should have gone to Howard Chapman and his 70s colleagues, but especially to him.

Thanks to Mr. Chapman there is a substantial pool of money available to send our students to our “sisters.” Mr. Chapman has invested hundreds of thousands of his own earnings in the young future of Fort Wayne and should be honored for his long service to both understanding and the improvement of our community.

Also on this trip to Gera was Councilman Tom Didier, who paid his own way and that of his wife. Unfortunately, in the past many years council has failed to fund travel between our sisters and Fort Wayne. This stingy, penny-wise-dollar-foolish policy is simply shortsighted. Mr. Didier was there to serve us.

On the trip Mr. Didier learned much that will inform his deliberations on behalf of our city. He wanted to be there, to learn and grow as a councilman. He did.

Disappointingly, the city travel budget has nothing to fly more officials, administrators and community leaders to our sisters to learn their methods of efficiency and community investment. Tom Henry should budget more funds, council should come to his support, for the good of the community.

Mayor Henry commented that he brings so much home from Germany each trip. Mr. Didier effused the same thoughts. So did Fort Wayne city forester Chad Tinkel who was there to learn German methods of urban forestry.

Mr. Chapman, the real hero of the sister city program, has helped thousands to travel around the world like modern Marco Polos and those travelers, like the famed Italian, have enriched Fort Wayne into the distant future. Mr. Didier and Tinkel are only the latest explorers.

My Golden Sampson goes to Mr. Chapman with my challenge to the community to recognize his foresight and leverage his generosity.

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