The Athens-Limestone Tourism Association was proud to be the host for the 35th anniversary of the Junior Ambassador Friendship Mission.
The program first brought Japanese students to Athens in 1985. It was a very active program that brought 466 students here over a 20-year period ending in 2004. The students would stay with host families for up to two weeks at a time.
The mission began when Mr. Hayashi of Japan began Athens-based Coil Plus with the assistance of Charles Durham, then president of the Limestone County Economic Development Association. Hayashi was interested in bringing Japanese students here to learn more about American culture and history. In return, we sent our students to Japan.
In March, Ms. Isako Oikawa contacted the Tourism Office to request a three-day tour for her; Yusuke Hayashi; Ms. Keiko Ueda, a teacher; and Ueda's son, Rin Ueda. Hayashi is the grandson of Mr. Hayashi.
They wanted to visit places they toured when the program was still active. We arrived at the airport Sunday and picked up the group of four for a tour of Mooresville. Mooresville historian Shirley McCrary gave a wonderful tour, which ended at the 1818 Farm. The boys were surprised to see the farm animals.
A stop at Greenbrier Restaurant was also a location from the past. There they enjoyed catfish and hushpuppies.
The Japanese are very familiar with Helen Keller. They have a monument at the Helen Keller Home in Tuscumbia, so this location was a must-see on their list.
Another attraction was the W.C. Handy Museum in Florence. Handy’s grandson, Charles, the last living heir of W.C. Handy, gave us a personal tour, showing us photos of his grandfather, grandmother, himself and his twin sister.
Back in Athens, Ginger Hickman, communications specialist for Athens City Schools, secured the Little Theater at Athens Middle School for the boys to perform a cultural exhibit of karate and origami. Anna Clem welcomed the boys by having theater and arts students greet them in Japanese.
I would like to thank Amanda Tedford, Angela Pettus and Principal Graham Aderholt for your help, for allowing us to use your facilities, and for the exchange of gifts.
On the last day, we mailed postcards to friends and family in Japan. We made a quick stop at the post office in Mooresville to see the oldest post office in Alabama, and then to our final stop — the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.
We watched the movie “Space Next” and then rode two simulators — Moon Shot and G-Force. We also enjoyed an Apollo virtual-reality trip to outer space with astronaut Buzz Aldrin.
While there, we also learned about aerospace pioneer Wernher von Braun, the space race and the efforts of other countries to explore space.
After leaving North Alabama, the group was off to Atlanta.
— Todd is the president of the Athens-Limestone Tourism Association. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-232-5411.