Moscow Sister City Association Newsletter

January 20, 2019

This newsletter was sent via the City of Moscow on behalf of the Moscow Sister City Association. This newsletter was written by Moscow Sister City Association authors and may not necessarily reflect the views of the City of Moscow.
In this issue:   
  1. An article on Mary Voxman, first president of MSCA
  2. Report on the Alternative Giving Market of the Palouse
  3. What our scholarship students are doing
  4. Communication from Bainbridge Island/Ometepe Sister Island Assn.
  5. Announcements

[This is the first of a series about people, in Moscow and in Villa El Carmen, of importance to MSCA.]

1. MARY VOXMAN, first among equals 

            by Dave Barber and people mentioned below

“Nobody could say No to Mary Voxman” – Connie Larson and Sara Holup

Those who remember Mary Voxman during her years as president of Moscow Sister City, from the late 1980s until 2009, are likely to recall the Association’s main fundraiser during those years: making and selling salteñas at the Renaissance Fair, first weekend of May. Salteñas are Bolivian empanadas; Mary knew the recipe having grown up in Bolivia until age 13, when she made the big jump to Iowa.

Many Moscow-area residents will remember buying and eating the product at the Fair. Many members recall the whole process of this fundraiser, which went on for years (after an earlier fundraiser, a spaghetti dinner based on a Carla Kappler recipe, was carried out for several years). Sara Holup recalls that “Mary would call for help with extra baking for the annual S.C. booth at the Renaissance Fair, and we would agree, naturally. We all knew that Mary was working harder than any of us, so how could we not?”

The project involved a group of members gathering in April to prepare the onions, tomatoes, meat, bread etc. and form the salteñas:

a group of members gathering in April to prepare the onions, tomatoes, meat,  bread etc. and form the salteñas

Participants remember different things about the process. Linda Christenson recalls, “I had access to a large mixer and was able to mix up large batches of dough. One time I brought a Chinese lady with me to help. She couldn't speak a word of English but knew how to handle the dough and roll out the circles for filling. She rolled so fast, she kept us all busy filling her shells. We finished in record time that night."

What stands out to Connie Larson is the time Mary brought a Latin American friend who taught the people chopping the onions how to minimize tears:  “We held matches in our teeth. We didn’t light the matches, but the slight odor of sulfur neutralized the sting of the onion fumes.” After the salteñas were formed, they were boxed and taken to a freezer, sometimes in private homes, sometimes to C&L Locker. Then the day before the Ren Fair they were taken to members’ homes near East City Park, while Mary and one or two others (Rich Keenan was a reliable aid) put up the tent from which the empanadas would be sold the next two days.

Kenton Bird recalls that for some years the Sister City booth was next to the booth of Coalition for Central America. For a time in the 1980s Mary was involved in both, but gradually focused on Sister City because she resisted the strongly political approach taken by CCA. Kenton remembers “several respectful but heated discussions between her and Carol Smith over lobbying of members of Congress to end aid to the Contras. Mary insisted that being overtly political would undermine support, particularly in rural areas of Latah and Whitman counties, for humanitarian aid.”                            

MSCA members working on various projects

CCA documents at the Univ. of Idaho indicate that Mary was not by herself the main force behind the creation of Sister City; the initial impetus evidently came from Mardi Baron, a Moscow City Councilor at the time, who traveled to Nicaragua with a group from the Seattle/Managua Sister City  in 1986 and then led the push to create Villa El Carmen – then called Villa Carlos Fonseca – as Moscow’s partner. Not that it really matters – and a nasty letter that appeared in the Daily News of October 1986 calls the sister-city endeavor “a pet project of do-gooders Mardi Baron and Mary Voxman.” In an article of 1987, Mary is listed as “acting chairman” of Moscow Sister City, but in 1988 she starts being called “president.”  

Of course, there was so much more to Mary Voxman than her involvement in MSCA. In Sara Holup’s recollection, “Mary and I became good friends over the years, having things in common, such as being the same age. Mary organized a wonderful trip to Peru, including hiking the Inca Trail. It was in June 1998, and I was fortunate to be part of it. A small group of us even got to go with Mary to [her home town] La Paz, Bolivia. We met many of her cousins and visited their homes. Mary was incredibly gracious all the years I knew her. Later, Mary and I were regulars with the Palouse La Treks, hiking together regularly and sharing travel with that group too. Mary was well-known for her New Years Eve parties. She always made Sangria and she did love to dance.”

Mary was a professor of mathematics, along with her husband Bill, at the Univ. of Idaho. I remember her courage in speaking out on political and human rights issues at faculty meetings; she regularly made me feel “I wish I were that brave.” She did not have the credentials to be in the “professorial” ranks of college teachers, but I believe the special rank of Senior Instructor (which granted tenure) was created initially for Mary, and she was the first recipient. Her teaching talent was universally known. And I know it almost personally:  when our son Chris needed review for a college math course, Mary tutored him for a while, and he did great in the course.

Mary had an email relationship with Ana Julia’s nephew, Roberto Castillo, although they never met. In 2008, after one of the trips where Elisabeth Berlinger took around 18 people to Nicaragua, Mary, who did not go on the trip, responded to a Christmas greeting he had sent her (he says it was the only time she wrote to him in English): 

Hi Roberto, I want to send you my best wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a New Year of peace, good health and joy. It is good to get your greetings.  I hope to be able to meet you in person someday soon.  The group of people who went from here were so grateful to all of you for the very nice reception, and greetings that you gave them.  The nice thing is that now we will have more people working for the sister city relationship with Villa El Carmen.  Someday, too, I hope to go back and visit all of you.  Probably not this next year but who knows?  Anyway thanks so much for writing.  Best wishes from Mary

Roberto still regrets that Mary never made that trip. She retired as president of MSCA the next year. Mary died in 2014.

Roberto, in white t-shirt, at a neighborhood party in Villa El Carmen, 2016
Roberto, in white t-shirt, at a neighborhood party in Villa El Carmen, 2016

Mardi Baron’s overview describes Mary’s essential qualities:

Mary Voxman epitomized the Servant Leader.  Mary sought no attention to herself, but had a vision of what a better future could look like and a determination to be part of making that vision a reality.  She had courage, compassion, conviction, and a steadfast commitment that inspired others to follow her. This selfless leadership inspired our Sister City relationship with Villa El Carmen, and the countless cultural opportunities that that affiliation has spawned. When I was with Mary, I was always sure we were headed in the right direction!

Mary Voxman

2. Alternative Giving Market of the Palouse

Treasurer Jim Reece reports that we received $1,742 from donors to the Market. This is a major testament to the generosity of area people.  Other recent contributions have raised the total of recent donations to around $2,100. In total, we have a total balance of $10,642. This is more than enough to cover our current scholarship commitments. The question now is our future activity, which the board of directors will discuss beginning this week.

Alternative Giving Market of the Palosue

3. What our scholarship students are doing:

Nine of the ten current students have returned to their university, the UNAN (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua). The tenth, who had been seeking employment, has now decided to return to the university next month. Scholarship money for them is in the account run by Ana Julia Castillo and will last through April, when the semester will end. (Before the crisis, the semester was scheduled to end last December.)

Yanci Espinoza, scholarship student, at the UNAN studying for an exam, 2016
Yanci Espinoza, scholarship student, at the UNAN studying for an exam, 2016

4. Communication from Betsy Carroll of BOSIA -- the Bainbridge Island-Ometepe Sister Island Association

I’ve been contacting other sister cities to see how they are handling the current Nicaraguan political situation. This note from Betsy is the most useful I’ve received. Keep in mind that the BOSIA program is huge and well funded, in comparison to ours. 

[Note: About a dozen people in Villa El Carmen or Managua want to receive the newsletter. But because there are reports – including Betsy’s comments here -- that the Nicaraguan government is looking at electronic modes of communication like to identify protestors and dissidents, I will delete sections, like this one, that contain criticisms of the government when I send the newsletter to any Nicaraguans.]

We have been lucky to have people travel down to Ometepe to give us some feedback on life there as well as conversations with our office staff on the island.  The government has arrested and is still searching for people who participated in building barricades and other government protests.  Some are in hiding, some have fled the country. People are very quiet about their political views now and are not participating in any demonstrations. We were told on Monday evening that the government is using Facebook to track down students who were involved in protests so I caution you about ways you are in contact with the university students that you know. 

Because BOSIA has operated on Ometepe for almost 35 years, the organization and its relationship with individuals across the political spectrum is well known. We are able to continue with most of our programs, however, we are very careful to follow the recommendations of our office staff in this regard.  We are working with the schools on projects and our scholarship committees for each of the nine high schools are continuing to operate.  These committees have members from across the political spectrum, and we have been told that when they sit down as the Scholarship Committee, they set those affiliations aside and work together to read through the scholarship applications and recommend qualified students.

We continue to maintain our individual relationships through letters and email.  We have a group of three who are traveling down this month to work with the deaf students on a sign language workshop and are hoping to have other delegations this year, but of course that depends upon the political climate.

We do share information as a board but discourage people from sharing political posts on any Facebook communication. I would encourage you to stay in touch with your university students but be very cautious about the nature of your conversations.  If you feel that it might endanger them to be in contact with Americans, then it might be best to keep a low profile right now. – Betsy Carroll, BOSIA, 1/16/19

Ometepe seen from the shore of Lake Nicaragua / Cocibolca
Ometepe seen from the shore of Lake Nicaragua / Cocibolca

5. Announcements

A.     The board of directors (Dave Barber, Elisabeth Berlinger, Lubia Cajas, Linda Christenson, Amy Garwood, Cindy Magnuson, Jim Reece, Susie Wiese),  will meet Tuesday, Jan. 22, with this agenda:

  • Discussion of the importance on being nonpolitical in the current Nicaraguan situation
  • New members for the board? Policy on inviting members to board meetings?
  • Communications with other sister cities
  • Discussion of committees? Do we need any?
  • Technological matters:  new website? Managing the Facebook page?
  • Planning for future activities
  • Other items: added by board members or BY MEMBERS:  EMAIL ME IF YOU HAVE SUGGESTIONS.

B.     The University of Idaho’s CRUISE THE WORLD show is Saturday, February 2. It’s a kick, for kids as well as adults.
C.     If anyone is interested in forming an informal group to examine the political/social/economic situation in Nicaragua, send me a note at Whether discussions will be entirely in English or include Spanish would be up to the members. I figure a good place to start might be the Nicaraguan Constitution.

Newsletter by Dave Barber, President MSCA

MSCA Mailing Address:
PO Box 8367
Moscow, ID 83843

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