Originally Published: July 23, 2012 12:01 a.m.
PRESCOTT - As with any decades-long friendship, the Prescott/Caborca connection offers some insights into the passing of time.
Tony Martinez, the first president of the Prescott Sister City organization back in the early 1970s, had one of those moments Saturday night, when he encountered a 48-year-old Caborca man who had been a child when Martinez first visited the Mexican community.
"I remember him wandering around when he was 8 years old," Martinez said. "Now, 40 years later, we're still rocking and rolling."
Indeed, for the 100 or so people from both sides of the border who gathered at Jim and Barb Buchanan's Sundown Ranch Saturday evening to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Prescott's relationship with Caborca, Sonora, Mexico, the Sister City friendship did appear to be thriving.
With a country band providing the music, and steaks on the grill, the gathering was a virtual sea of cowboy hats and goodwill.
The staying power of the bond was not always a sure thing, however.
Even though Martinez remembers the fledgling group of 1972 as being "phenomenal," he allows that it had its ups and downs.
"We were struggling, because we didn't have any money," Martinez said of the local organization. "I'll be honest, I'm surprised - pleasantly surprised - that it lasted."
Like any good friendship, the relationship requires tending. Residents from both communities have made a point of keeping in touch, exchanging visits several times a year. They often stay in local homes, and the hosting communities provide the itineraries.
"It's been fun," said Robert Greninger, a long-time member of the local group, and the current president of Arizona Sister Cities and the Arizona State Coordinator for Sister Cities International. "It's like family - no matter the changes in administration, all of the people of Caborca treat us royally when we go there."
Several of the 35 to 40 Caborcans who made the trip had similar stories to tell.
"For me, it was one of the best experiences as mayor," Dario Murillo, the outgoing mayor of Caborca, said through an interpreter. "I have learned a lot about the culture and the people from Prescott."
Guillermo Sandoval Lizarraga, president of the Caborca Sister City organization, said the personal relationships have been the highlight of his time with the organization. "I love my friends in Prescott," he said.
"It's a beautiful relation for me. In Prescott, I'm happy."
Manny Acosta, a Prescott Country Club resident who has been a member of the Prescott Sister Cities for about 15 years, said friendship also has been a focus of his trips to Caborca.
"It's a beautiful thing," said Acosta, who joined the group after retiring from a 32-year mining career in Bagdad. "This organization is a good way to build a good relationship with our neighbors."
Along with the personal and cultural exchanges, the Sister City relationship has been an avenue for charitable donations. Murillo mentioned the many gifts of ambulances, medical supplies, and school supplies that have come to his community from Prescott through the years.
In light of the 40th anniversary, Saturday's event focused on the past, and the many members who were active through the years.
For former member Herta Koole, the regular visits to Caborca were a happy reminder of her native Germany. "I felt at home there," said Koole, who joined the Sister Cities group in 1983 and was active until about 10 years ago. "The family closeness reminded me of Germany."
After her husband died in 2003, Koole said she left the organization. But Saturday night, she was obviously happy to be back among the friends she had made years before.
Dorothy Randall had similar feelings as she mingled with the Prescottonians and Caborcans.
"I'm not a member now, but it's great to come and see the people we used to know," Randall said. "I think we need more of this type of inter-communication."
While some of the attendees switched easily from English to Spanish at the Saturday event, bilingualism was not the norm.
Susan Jones, chair of the Prescott-Caborca Sister Cities Association, estimated that about one-third of the members of each group speaks the language of the other.
Even so, Jones said language has never been a barrier. "What's fun about this is that people discover it doesn't matter," she said, pointing out that the two sides always find a way to communicate.