Denfeld News

Jan. 6, 2008
Duluth News Tribune

Sister cities program creates lasting relationships

Many people’s lives have been changed by the Duluth-Petrozavodsk sister city relationship. Here’s a look at three of them.

Irina Ensign

For Irina and Andy Ensign of Proctor, the sister city relationship led to their marriage. Irina, 31, and Andy, 35, had their first child, Alexa, in July.

The couple is one of at least 20 couples who met through the Duluth-Petrozavodsk ties and later married.

As a teen, Andy was part of the first Duluth delegation visit to Petrozavodsk. Irina, who is from Petrozavodsk, came to Duluth in 1997 for a three-week language camp at the College of St. Scholastica. She was playing volleyball with a group on Park Point, and Andy came to hang out because of his experience with the delegation. Several Americans volunteered to drive the Russians around during their stay in Duluth, and Andy became the driver for her and her friend.

After Irina left, they began an e-mail correspondence. She said she wasn’t looking for romance because they lived so far apart, but their friendship grew.

Andy visited her in Russia in 1998. In 1999 they met in Finland and she later visited him in the United States. In 2000, he traveled to Russia three times and on the second visit he proposed. In 2001 she moved to the United States and they got married.

“We have so many friendships established,” Irina said. “People in Petrozavodsk really feel like Duluth is something familiar. Everyone can tell you where Duluth is. … I know Russians treasure that relationship a lot.”

Irina hopes the sister city relationship continues.

“It’s interesting that the people who started it are getting to be older,” she said. “I hope the new generation gets to continue the tradition and keep up with all the fun stuff that goes on between the two cities.”

Alexander Chernyshev

In 1990, pianist Alexander Chernyshev came from Petrozavodsk to Duluth through the sister cities program to perform as a musician. That led him to return to the United States in 1991 to work for a concert company in Minneapolis. In 1993 he began teaching music at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

His wife, Olga, is a violinist, and their adult son, Igor, is a pianist living in Texas.

“All of us are musicians and we are very happy here,” Alexander Chernyshev said. “We’ve played everywhere we can.”

The cultural aspect of the sister city relationship is important to him, and he considers himself an ambassador for the sister city relationship. “It’s very important for both countries,” he said.

There have been musical performances and exchanges of musicians and conductors between the two cities. In 2006, for example, Chernyshev led a group of UMD faculty members who performed at the Petrozavodsk Jazz Festival.

Melissa Kadlec

Melissa Kadlec’s interest in Petrozavodsk is personal and professional. She is executive director of Duluth Sister Cities International, as well as the mother of two children that she and her husband adopted in Petrozavodsk.

“I came to this job because I care so much about this organization,” she said.

Kadlec first traveled to the Soviet Union in 1986, when she was a student at St. Cloud (Minn.) State University and was living in Denmark. That trip inspired her to get a minor in Russian.

When she moved to Duluth in 1991, Kadlec became active in the sister cities program to get to know people. In 1993, she spent three months in Petrozavodsk and taught English. In 1996-97, she lived there for a year and taught English in a high school. Her goal was to improve her Russian.

In 1999, Kadlec went to Russia to look into adoption. A year later, she and her husband, Dan Green, returned to adopt Kristina and Andrew. Their children are 11 and 8.

She said she and her husband try to keep the Russian culture alive in their family and often host Russians.

“In the Russian culture, having personal relationships is so important. You hold it very dear to you. Some of my best personal relationships are with Russians,” she said.

Kadlec said many relationships have formed because of Duluth’s sister city relationships. The other sister cities are Vaxjo, Sweden; Ohara-Isumi City, Japan; and Thunder Bay, Ontario. Kadlec said she knows people involved in relationships through those sister cities have feelings similar to those who are involved in the Petrozavodsk relationship.

The whole purpose of sister city relationships is to promote peace and understanding of other cultures, Kadlec said. “It’s made our world a smaller place,” she said. “I really believe that.”

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