MacGyver Chief Bridges International Divide with Italy

It started with a routine question.

While working as an optician, Spotsylvania County resident Eric Martin said he asked a customer about her daily activities so that he would know what kind of eyeglasses to recommend.

The woman and her husband, who used to live in Spotsylvania, went on to tell him about an 800-year-old palace they planned to restore in Roccadaspide, Italy, near Naples. By the time they finished chatting, Martin said, the store had closed.

“I found that to be an interesting and amazing story, especially the parts about how the palace was once used for torture chambers by the spoiled-brat prince who would sunburn his victims as punishment,” Martin, who was appointed this year to Spotsylvania’s Economic Development Tourism Committee, said in an email.

roccadaspide-castleThat chance meeting two years ago culminated Tuesday, when the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors voted 6–1 to establish a Sister Cities International partnership with Roccadaspide. The partnership this year will cost the county $2,080—$880 for Sister Cities International’s annual membership fee and $1,200 to exchange promotional materials with the Italian town.

“For a modest investment, we hope to connect our students, citizens, tourists and business owners with opportunities beyond our borders,” Tom Rumora, Spotsylvania’s director of economic development and tourism, told the supervisors.

Supervisor Timothy McLaughlin cast the lone dissenting vote. He said he thought the money for the partnership should have been taken out of the Economic Development Authority’s spending plan instead of from the general budget.

Sherry Bowdin–Quimby and her husband, Andy, plan to convert the old castle in Italy into a bed-and-breakfast, Martin said. The two, both of whom are defense contractors, owned a farm in Spotsylvania for decades and now live in Germany, he said.

roccadaspide-provinceRoccadaspide, which had 7,448 residents in 2009, is a three-hour drive from Rome. Bowdin–Quimby, who addressed the tourism committee last month, said the town is known as the “chestnut capital of Italy,” according to minutes of the meeting. Buffalo mozzarella, olive oil and wine are also produced there.

Sister Cities International was formed at President Eisenhower’s 1956 White House conference on citizen diplomacy, according to the organization’s website. Eisenhower thought that relationships with other cultures would reduce the chance of new conflicts.

Spotsylvania is following in the footsteps of neighboring Fredericksburg, which has Sister Cities partnerships with Fréjus, France; Princes Town, Ghana; and Schwetzingen, Germany. In fact, Martin’s wife, Brenda, who works for Fredericksburg, is the city’s point of contact with Schwetzingen, Martin said.

Supervisor Chris Yakabouski thanked Martin for pitching the idea. “The connection that we’re going to make with the town, it’s going to benefit us,” said Yakabouski, who appointed Martin to the economic development group.

At its meeting Sept. 9, the Board of Supervisors and the mayor of Roccadaspide will approve resolutions in a “ceremonial telecast,” Rumora wrote in a report.

“I believe that this is a very goodwill, making-Spotsylvania-look-good type of thing to do, and it would be the first in what I envision as several teamings with other cities,” Supervisor Greg Cebula said.

by Jeff Branscome, Free Lance-Star

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