After assuming the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce’s top staff position, Fred Ball discovered some old files in Chamber storage about a sister city program. Started during the Gus Backman era, the links had grown inactive during the Max Rich years.
At the time, Salt Lake City had two sister cities of record: Matsumoto, Japan, and Quezon City, Philippines. Ball noticed that Dr. A. Ray Olpin, president of the University of Utah, had been very active in the committee. Olpin briefed him on the concept of the program.
President Dwight Eisenhower created the sister city relationship between Matsumoto, Japan, and Salt Lake City in 1958, one of the first such programs in the world. Eisenhower stated at the time that more good will could be accomplished on a people to people basis than could by governments.
Matsumoto was chosen because of its similarities to Salt Lake City. Both were about the same population. While the most distinctive building in Salt Lake City was the LDS Temple, the most significant structure in Matsumoto was the famous Matsumoto Castle. Both were in similar sections of the downtown. Both cities had a large university located on their eastern boundaries, both cities were close to a body of water, and both relied on tourism.
Ball wrote to Fumio Hongo, president of the Matsumoto Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and to Mayor Fuhaharta of the city of Matsumoto. They responded with a strong desire to reactive the sister city program. They invited the Chamber to visit Japan, and a reciprocal invitation was extended to the citizens of Matsumoto.
Early in 1974 Ball led a delegation of Utah business leaders to visit both sister cities. Business meetings and business appointments were also arranged in Hong Kong and Singapore. This started a strong relationship that endures. Ball said Fumio Hongo became his best friend. Ball and his wife, Joyce, visited Japan seventeen times and when Ball retired from the Chamber, he was made an honorary citizen and honorary mayor of Matsumoto. A large parade and banquet was held in his honor.
Matsumoto citizens visited Salt Lake City on July 23, 1974. A large float was built for the delegation to ride in the huge 24th of July Parade during the Days of ‘47 festivities. Announcers along the route were told to teach parade goers to shout “Ohio go simus” (good morning) to the riders on the float. The Japanese guests were impressed. Two years later, Ball received a letter requesting a return visit from the delegation from Japan. They asked him if Salt Lake could again arrange the very special parade for them. He said he could do that, but it was imperative that they come on the 24th of July.
Thousands of Japanese friends from Matsumoto City and Nagano Prefecture (state) have visited Utah since those early days. Every year a large delegation visits during the Days of ‘47 celebration. Several dozen junior high school students come for an extensive study of Utah history and English language. Gwen Springmeyer, an early and active member of the Sister City Committee, provided the leadership and organization of the student’s visit each year. Gwen and her husband, Bob, were actually married in Matsumoto. A Shinto priest performed a beautiful ceremony early one morning high on a mountainside.
Salt Lake City schools exchanged student art exhibits with counterparts in Matsumoto and the city hosted a sell-out concert in the Mormon Tabernacle for a concert by the world famous Suzuki School of Music, headquartered in Matsumoto. The late Dr. Shinichi Suzuki was world famous for his “mother tongue” method of violin instruction. A visit to the Suzuki school is always a highlight of any visit to Matsumoto.
Visits to Quezon City in the Philippines were also arranged but the relationship was never as strong as desired. Utahns of Filipino descent who were on the Sister City Committee were committed and active, but it was difficult to get great cooperation from the citizens in Quezon.
Mayor Ted Wilson had a strong love of South America. He and a friend, Gary Neeleman, were active in “Partners in Progress.” This organization worked to develop relationships with countries in the Americas. Wilson wanted Salt Lake City to have a Sister City in South America. After study by the national organization, Salt Lake City was assigned to Ouro, Bolivia. There were similarities in both cities. The most prominent was that each was heavily dependent on copper mining. Both copper mines were in the mountains close to the cities and both had populations of about equal size. Ball and Mayor Wilson organized a visit to Ouro. The people were wonderful and there was a strong desire to build a strong relationship.
The mayor of La Paz, Bolivia, wanted to establish cultural, economic, and educational ties. However, there were very frequent political changes in the country, and every time the president was deposed, mayors of cities lost their positions. It was difficult to maintain relationships. The chamber of commerce of Ouro was understaffed and under funded and the relationship, as with Quezon, never reached the same scope, magnitude, or satisfaction as with Matsumoto.
A more unusual relationship began in 1982 when the Chamber “adopted” the country of Belize. One morning vice president George Bush called Ball and said the Caribbean/Central America Initiative recently passed by Congress needed help. He was asked to fly to Washington and meet with President Ronald Reagan and Casper Weinberger.
Ball joined five other chamber managers in the meeting, where they were told that an important part of the program was to build a stronger business community in certain countries where crime was high, governments unstable, and unrest was obvious. Weinberger made the assignments, and Ball drew Belize. “Belize? Where is that?” he asked, and discovered it was the former British Honduras. When the country gained its independence, the British took with them all of its most important product, mahogany trees. The farmers were forced to begin growing marijuana as a cash crop. The challenge was to organize a chamber of commerce in Belize and do everything possible to generate jobs.
Boyd Blackner, an architect, was chairman of the board of governors, which gave approval for Ball to accept the assignment, with the Rockefeller Foundation paying all expenses. He began spending a week each month in the tiny country, so poor that two very old diesel generators supplied intermittent electricity for the entire country. It was a tough challenge that lasted about four years. In the end, with the strong help of the U.S. government, American companies like Minute Maid Orange Juice, Coca Cola, and Hershey Chocolate were established there. Members of the Salt Lake Chamber visited the country lending their expertise, too. When it was over, Ball considered it one of the highlights of his career at the Chamber.
Source: Fred Ball typescript at Salt Lake Chamber offices.