Bath-Tsugaru sister city program elects new president

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BATH — The board of the Bath-Tsugaru Sister City Exchange Program elected Andy Bailes as its new president Jan. 21.

Bailes replaces Dr. Deborah Patten, who led the program for 15 years.

When Patten took over in 1999, “it was really just me doing everything,” she recalled in an email. “Somehow the city support had fallen away and my predecessor was moving on and away. I was inspired to do so after my first visit to our sister city.

“It was an amazingly rich experience, and in seeing how much our sister city was pouring into the exchange (a third of their city budget at the time), I was motivated to continue it and build it up at this end,” Patten continued. “As a pediatrician, I often saw the life-changing and inspirational aspect of this trip for teens.”

Bailes, of Bowdoinham, has been with the organization for about 10 months. He traveled with members last summer, he said Jan. 22 in an email.

“I am honored and a little nervous,” Bailes said. “I’ll do my best to bring new ideas and new direction to the program. We also have a new trip coordinator in Anne Hershberger. She has been wonderful so far with getting out into the schools and public spaces to spread the word about the program. … We are excited to re-energize the program and make it really something special in the state and New England.”

The longtime friendship between Bath and Tsugaru was born out of tragedy, after Japanese residents cared for survivors of a Bath-built ship that wrecked offshore of Skariki, Japan, in 1889.

A century later, a delegation of officials from Shariki – which later merged with four other villages to form Tsugaru City – traveled to Bath to propose a formal sister-city relationship. The proposal became a reality in 1993 with the signing of a declaration of the relationship, according to Patten.

Students from the Bath and Tsugaru regions take part annually in an overseas exchange program.

Patten, a longtime Bath resident, said she ran the travel and hosting program from her home for years, with help from supporters and friends in the city.

“One of my goals was to get the program on the more permanent footing that it deserved, and things started falling into place about five to six years ago with city hall and school support,” she said. “We were able to organize as a (nonprofit organization), form a board, create bylaws, and in 2010 hire a coordinator to run the travel/hosting program.”

Patten at that point became board president, and the organization started focusing on publicity, education and development, she said.

“We held culture weekends, created a website, and are building our annual fundraising program,” Patten said. “Once this was all in place, I was looking for the appropriate moment to start backing out, although I doubt that I ever will completely.”

Patten submitted her resignation last November. Vice President Jonathan Hull filled in until a new president was elected.

“It’s been a creative and compelling and important project in my life. It’s been fun putting together years of projects, connecting with area people, and especially, seeing where it has taken young people,” Patten said. “I’ve made wonderful friends on either side of the ocean because of this, and have a love for Japan. Bath  deserves to keep this program going, and the program deserves support and attention.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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Dr. Deborah Patten led the Bath-Tsugaru Sister City Exchange Program for 15 years.

The board of the Bath-Tsugaru Sister City Exchange Program elected Andy Bailes of Bowdoinham as its new president Jan. 21.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.