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JUST WHAT IKE WANTED, 42 YEARS LATER.

Byline: DENNIS McCARTHY

Ike would have been proud. This was exactly the message the 34th president of the United States was trying to deliver when he established the People to People program late in his administration to convince the world that we weren't ugly Americans.

And now, nearly a half-century later, 30 children in Barbara White's kindergarten class at Anatola Elementary School in Van Nuys were still trying to help Ike out.

One by one, they welcomed the 14 visitors from Taxco, Mexico, sang a few songs, then handed each one a miniature paper American flag they had made for the children back in Taxco. The older kids at the school wrote the Taxco kids personal letters containing pictures.

Watching the scene, Ann Charney gave her husband, George, a warm smile. It was 42 years earlier that the couple had boarded a Western Airlines jet with a group of friends and family from Canoga Park to honeymoon in Taxco.

Not by choice. By presidential request.

The West Valley-Taxco, Mexico, Sister City program was born on that flight in 1963, headed by actor and honorary mayor of Canoga Park Francis Lederer and his wife, Marion, who was Ann's aunt.

``Through the State Department, President Eisenhower wanted the Lederers to start a sister cities program out here, and they chose Taxco,'' Ann said Wednesday, visiting the local elementary school with other members of Friends of Taxco.

Every year since that honeymoon trip in 1963, the friends have hosted families from Taxco, then visited Taxco themselves to stay with families there.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was right. There isn't a better way to debunk the ugly American image than sitting down in a person's home and breaking bread with them.

``We've helped build 14 rural schools near Taxco and the city's first library, and they've reciprocated by sharing their wonderful culture and heritage with us,'' said Reina Scuderi, president of Friends of Taxco.

The Ronces, Benitez, Sierra, Gutierrez, Martinez, Lugo and Antunez families from Taxco brought with them a message from the people of Taxco wondering if their sister city realized ``the magnitude of good all of you have done for our youth and the future of our youngsters.

``Thanks to you, our children can finally have science, chemistry, physics, and biology classes with more than theory.''

The Lewis, Charney, Woods, March, Scuderi, Bonilla, Stauss, Henry and Ritter families from Friends of Taxco thanked them and the teachers at Anatola.

``Today we are exchanging drawings and letters, but years from now these same students could be drafting and exchanging trade agreements, world peace treaties or international medical advances,'' Scuderi told them.

``You have the power to change, inspire, and create new leaders. Who knows if right now in your classroom sits the next (Los Angeles Mayor Antonio) Villaraigosa?''

Yeah, Ike would have been proud. More than 40 years later, his People to People program is still going strong in the Valley.

Dennis McCarthy, (818) 713-3749

dennis.mccarthy(at)dailynews.com

The Friends of Taxco will host a farewell party for the visiting families at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Calabasas Inn, 23500 Park Sorrento, Calabasas. For information or reservations, call Ann Charney at (818) 710-0939.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Anatola Street Elementary School student Maria Fernanda gives Jose Luis Lugo and wife Adrianna, visitors from Taxco, Mexico, two small American flags during their visit.

Tina Burch/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 20, 2005
Words:566
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