Ftn Hills leaders seek sister city in El Salvador
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 5, 2006

Jessica Coomes

FOUNTAIN HILLS - An unlikely partnership is budding between a quiet Arizona community and a developing Central American country.

Fountain Hills leaders have big plans for a mutually beneficial relationship with El Salvador.

Mayor Wally Nichols, schools Superintendent Marian Hermie and a handful of other town leaders are trekking to El Salvador in February to find a suitable sister city. It would lay the groundwork for student exchanges with the Spanish-speaking country and encourage tourism with El Salvador. Former Town Councilman Rick Melendez, who is Salvadoran, started pushing for a Fountain Hills partnership soon after he was appointed honorary consul of El Salvador for Arizona.

"The sister-city relationship I'm proposing will be more than President Eisenhower's vision of friendship and culture," said Melendez, who came to the United States more than 50 years ago to attend university. "What we want to do is bring trade, tourism and commerce into it."

Fountain Hills already has two sister cities: Kasterlee, Belgium, and Dierdorf, Germany. But leaders say a partnership with El Salvador would be different because it is a Spanish-speaking nation.

"The Spanish-speaking world is one of the most important parts of life in Arizona," said former Mayor Jerry Miles, who also plans to make the February trip. "We have continuous contact with the Spanish-speaking peoples of the world."

Fountain Hills teachers have expressed interest in an educational exchange, which could range from 10 days to a full year, Hermie said.

"Ideally what we'd love to see is a teacher with five or six students in El Salvador come over, and we'll send one of our teachers and the same numbers of our students," said Hermie, superintendent of the Fountain Hills Unified School District. "The teachers can exchange their duties, and the students will, too."

The sister-city relationship Melendez proposed actually includes three colonial cities, Ataco and Apaneca and Juayua, in a mountainous region called la Ruta de las Flores or "the Route of the Flowers."

Nichols estimated the sister-cities relationship could be official in a year. Another February traveler could be Sharon Morgan, also a former town mayor and leader of the town's sister cities organization.

In another show of partnership, Miles, who is also an amateur photographer, will spend a week in El Salvador this month, photographing the country and its tourist destinations.

His photos will be exhibited in Fountain Hills and other Arizona communities to promote El Salvador tourism and will be used by the El Salvador Ministry of Tourism.

"I had an opportunity to take pictures of an entire country and have the country sponsor the entire trip," Miles said. "It's one of those things you don't turn down."

Tourism discussions will continue in December when Fountain Hills will host Minister of Tourism Ruben Rochi, Melendez said. The minister will travel in Arizona, stay at the Inn at Eagle Mountain in Fountain Hills and meet with community leaders, he said.

The tourism push also could bring visitors from El Salvador to Fountain Hills, so Frank Ferrara and Mark McDermott, representing the Fountain Hills Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, are considering taking the trip in February.

"I'm certainly not anticipating we'll have a huge influx of visitors from El Salvador right away, but over time, you'll see what you can do with it,"
said McDermott, director of the Visitors Bureau. "Over time, these things grow and evolve."