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‘Sister cities’ marking 20 years

Altoona, St. Polten, Austria, celebrate 2 decades of contact

Twenty years ago this fall, after repeated efforts at contact that got little response, followed by a decision to give up, a final try, then success, Altoona established a sister-city relationship with St. Polten, Austria.

In the decades that followed, there have been periodic visits by groups from each city to the other, highlighted on the Altoona side by the arrival of Austrian teens, who have stayed with host families, attended high school classes and visited area sights like the Horseshoe Curve, the Railroaders Memorial Museum and Peoples Natural Gas Field, with side visits to cities like New York and Washington D.C.

Altoona’s Sister City Committee is planning to celebrate the anniversary by receiving a St. Polten delegation in April, Mayor Matt Pacifico said at a recent meeting of the Greater Altoona Economic Development Corp., a committee of the Altoona Blair County Development Corp.

At Pacifico’s request, GAEDC’s board authorized a $1,000 contribution to the committee to help it entertain the 15 to 20 young St. Poltenites who’ll be coming with their mayor to spend a week or two in the United States.

Early in the relationship, the committee amassed a fund from donations, but that fund has been ladled out, so there’s now just “gravy on the bottom,” GAEDC Chairman Jack Sinclair said.

There were no dissenters on the vote.

Personal donations are welcome too, Pacifico said.

In 1999, Altoona representatives worked through a sister-city organization in an attempt to persuade St. Polten, a railroad city of similar size, to make the connection.

St. Polten’s response was tepid, discouraging the leaders of the effort.

So those leaders decided to move on to a city in Italy deemed suitable.

Before doing that, an Altoona representative from Penn State Altoona tried one last time, finally receiving a positive response in the form of a suggestion for a tentative connection.

At that point, the Altoona representative had enough of courting and said the connection needed to be a formal one or Altoona would move on.

St. Polten not only acceded to that demand, but also urged that the relationship be formalized quickly, so the Austrian city could announce the connection in time for the turn of the millennium.

The connection was made city-to-city and not under the aegis of the sister-city organization.

“The whole idea of the program is to generate goodwill in hopes of diminishing the desire for people to have wars,” Dave Duncan, chairman of Altoona’s Sister City Committee, said in 2005.

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