By Joyce Coronel
An international exchange organization that promotes understanding and education between Tempe and cities around the globe is under new leadership after nearly five decades.
Tempe Sister Cities, led by Dick Neuheisel for the last 49 years, is one of the city’s hallmark organizations. Tempe sends student ambassadors to 10 cities, including Timbuktu, Mali; Carlow, Ireland; Cusco, Peru and Zhenjiang, China.
Neuheisel has experienced health issues over the past year and Tempe Sister Cities has elected a new president.
Through the years, Neuheisel has travelled to each of the sister cities to witness firsthand the development of international friendships.
In a post on the Tempe Sister Cities website, he said he believes in the hope of peace between nations that the organization promotes.
The U.S. Sister Cities organization was founded in 1956 as a response to the request of then-president Dwight D. Eisenhower for a people-to-people program that would help build peace between nations.
Tempe Sister Cities established its first international relationship in 1971 with Skopje which in those days belonged to Yugoslavia, a communist city in Eastern Europe.
“This had never been done before,” Neuheisel said adding that the partnership between the two cities grabbed national headlines and led to shock and disbelief.
“Looking back, it was this partnership that opened Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to the Sister City idea, and today there are scores of American cities twinned with cities in these areas,” Neuheisel said.
Doug Royse, who has served on the board of Tempe Sister Cities for 12 years and has volunteered at the organization’s signature fundraiser, Oktoberfest, for 20 years, said Neuheisel’s leadership was “innovative and outside-the-box,” among other accolades.
“He’s been a true leader of the community for many, many years,” Royse said, “and president of the national Sister Cities program.”
Both Neuheisel and his wife Jane were honored with Tempe’s prestigious Don Carlos Award in 2005 for their work.
Dick served on the Tempe City Council and has led the Tempe Sister Cities program alongside his longtime friend, Harry Mitchell, who helped him establish the organization.
Mitchell, a former congressman and Tempe mayor, still serves as vice- president of Tempe Sister Cities. Dick has also been a longtime member of Tempe Kiwanis.
Tempe native Paul Sheard, a Corona del Sol High School grad, has been elected the new president of Tempe Sister Cities.
Presidents are elected for one-year terms and may be re-elected. Sheard lauded Dick’s leadership and service through the years.
“Without his vision and leadership, this organization wouldn’t be where it is today,” Sheard said.
“This year we will be at 971 students who we’ve sent abroad to have a once- in-a-lifetime experience. Without Dick’s leadership and his wife Jane and all of their volunteer hours, even people like myself wouldn’t have been able to travel.”
Sheard was a Tempe Sister Cities delegate to Zhenjiang, China in 2002. “I think the biggest thing is it isn’t really a change in leadership as it is a continuing on of a great tradition that he started,” Sheard said.
Tempe Sister Cities will celebrate its 50th year this coming December and Sheard says the Neuheisels will be honored for their leadership and service to the organization.