JASPER — Since 1985, the sister city partnership between Jasper and Pfaffenweiler, Germany, has acted as a bridge for Dubois County residents to connect with their roots.

It’s also given Germans the chance to see an American community their ancestors helped create.

And after 35 years, the bond is still strong.

Sandy Wehr, president of Sister Cities of Jasper, explained that the beauty of the exchange program is the way it weaves together the different lives of people who are more similar than you’d think.

“We’re doing really well,” Wehr said. “We’ve got lots of things that we’re working on, and several things that we have accomplished that we’re proud of. So we’re always looking for new opportunities.”

Every member of the Jasper Deutscher Verein — the city’s German club — is part of the sister city group, but the sister city wing has its own leadership. Jasper’s outfit is affiliated with the Sister Cities International organization, whose programs focus on the exchange of arts and culture, humanitarian assistance, youth and education programs, as well as economic and sustainable development.

“Here in Jasper, we focus a lot on arts and cultural exchange,” Wehr said. “We focus a lot on the youth programs. We have a very active exchange program with two high schools in Germany, and then we also work on economic development.”

Under the arts and cultural exchange umbrella, the group facilitates trips to Pfaffenweiler, and it also works to bring residents of the German village to Jasper. When it comes to economic development, Pfaffenweiler wine is imported and sold in its sister city.

Wehr said the exchange program is “very successful.” Last summer, 18 local students stayed with host families in Germany during the month of June, where they went to school and took day trips that educated them about the area.

A Jasper student who previously took a trip to Pfaffenweiler now lives in Germany and is married to his exchange partner. Another is a German-speaking flight attendant for a major airline. Others have gone back and studied in the country.

“We count those as pretty big deals,” Wehr said. “It’s awesome. It just makes my heart explode with happiness. These kids, a lot of them don’t know what to expect when they get there, and the end result is they end up making lifelong friends.”

She continued: “You just never know. That’s the beauty of this whole exchange program. The connections that you make, and the longevity of those connections.”

In recent years, the Jasper sister city organization has been recognized by the international group for its work.

In 2018, it won an award for the best overall program for cities between 10,000 and 25,000 residents. The following summer, it won another award in its classification for its economic development efforts.

“To me it’s education, but then also, the whole idea of Sister Cities International is citizen diplomacy,” Wehr said of the benefits that come from having the group. “People to people. You get to know people, and you find out that at the end of the day, we’re more alike than we are different.”

Part of the Jasper chapter’s 35th anniversary includes the unveiling of a new logo. Through a contest that was open to residents of Jasper and Pfaffenweiler, the fresh emblem will be revealed this afternoon.

Jasper citizens will also visit Pfaffenweiler this summer to celebrate the anniversary.

Looking ahead, Wehr said the group will continue looking for ways to branch out. Expanding membership and offering more exchanges are both on her radar. Though nothing is set in stone, these could include ideas like a teacher exchange or a sports team exchange, she said.

“We’re always looking for new ideas and new opportunities,” Wehr said.
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