Elkader Sister Cities

International Program

It all began with a name . . .

Elkader's founders had no way of knowing that selecting the name for their city had set the stage for a great international experience for the residents of Elkader.

Elkader, a Northeast Iowa community of some 1500 inhabitants, was founded in 1846 by Timothy Davis, John Thompson and Chester Sage. Davis was an admirer of the courageous and world-famous Algerian, Emir Abdelkader, who in 1830 began a fight against French colonialism in his country that would last for more than 130 years. Davis, challenged with the task of choosing a name for the new Iowa community, Americanized "Abdelkader" and proposed the name "Elkader".

Abdelkader - scholar, statesman and warrior

Abdelkader (1808-1883) was born in Mascara, Algeria, receiving a broad education including theology, linguistics and philosophy. He was a highly trained horseman, a poet, statesman, great orator and a natural leader.

At the time the town of Elkader was platted, Abdelkader was an international hero, justly recognized for his tremendous conviction and leadership in the cause of uniting and freeing his people from French occupation. For sixteen years, commanding diplomatic as well as military fronts, Abdelkader worked brilliantly and unceasingly to unite the Arabs of Algeria while driving the French and Turks from the area.

The political situation in Algeria was so complex that at one point the French rescued Abdelkader's army from the forces of an Arab chieftain who was resisting unification. Years later, after being captured by the French and exiled to Damascus, he was responsible for saving thousands of Christians from being slaughtered by Muslims. Consequently, his old enemy the French government awarded him the Grand Cross of the Legion d'honneur, France's highest commendation. He received commendations and decorations from England, Russia, Prussia, Greece, the Ottoman Empire, The Holy See and from President Abraham Lincoln.

Abdelkader was a man of deep faith without exclusivity or fanaticism which he proved by rescuing Christians during the riots in Damascus. His values and personal character seemed appropriate ideals for Elkader's founders as they formed a new community in a young country that shared those values.

More of Abdelkader's life

The complex and varied life of Abdelkader has been the subject of more than a thousand books, studies, theses, etc. Here are a few titles:
Commander of the Faithful: The Life and Times of Emir Abdel-Kader (1808-1883) by John W. Kiser
The Life of Abdelkader by Colonel Charles-Henry Churchill
The Desert Hawk by W. Blunt

The Elkader-Mascara Sister City connection

The Elkader-Mascara Sister Cities relationship began in 1979 when a staff member of the United States Information Agency in Washington D.C. contacted Donna Menken, editor of the Clayton County Register in Elkader inquiring how Elkader received its name. Ms. Menken submitted a story to U.S.I.A. which was then published in the agency's Arabic language magazine, "Al Majal".

Several years later Benaoumer Zergaoui, a native of Mascara working for the U.S. Embassy in Algiers found Menken's article in "Al Majal" and subsequently visited Elkader in 1983. Zergaoui took his message of friendship offered by the people of Elkader back to the people of Mascara and to the U.S. Embassy in Algiers. The U.S. Embassy suggested that Elkader and Mascara become twin communities under the Sister Cities International program.

The City of Elkader applied to Sister Cities International for affiliation and sent an invitation and resolution to Mascara in 1983. In 1984 the Algerian government approved the twinning of Mascara and Elkader and invited a delegation from Elkader to visit Mascara and to sign official documents.

On January 19, 1984 ten Elkader citizens arrived in Mascara. Elkader Mayor, Ed Olson, and Mascara Mayor, M'Hamed Khaldi, signed the joint Sister City documents on January 25, 1984.

Chronological History of Elkader's Sister Cities Friendship Club

1846 - Timothy Davis selects "Elkader" as the name of our community.

1915 - Elkader High School senior class of 1915 publishes a short story about Elkader's naming and background about Abdelkader entitled, "The Sheik".

1979 - An official at the United States Information Agency in Washington, D.C. commissions Donna Menken, at that time editor of the Clayton County Register, to write the story of Elkader's naming for the agency's Arabic language magazine, "Al Majal".

May 1983 - U.S.I.A. and Sister Cities International contact the City of Elkader to ascertain interest in hosting an Algerian employee of the U.S. Embassy staff from Algiers and to extend and invitation to join the Sister Cities movement.

May 9, 1983 - Elkader signs a resolution to join Sister Cities International and to twin with Mascara, Algeria.

April 2007 - Kathy Garms and Ed Olson formed a new committee to rebuild and reenergize the Elkader Sister Cities Friendship Club.

September 11, 2007 - Sister Cities Concert and Meeting
Elkader proved itself unique among Iowa’s small towns on the 6th anniversary of the 9-11 attack on New York’s Twin Towers by holding a series of events promoting peace and international friendship. Kathy Garms organized the first noon concert in Keystone Park and an evening meeting to revitalize Elkader’s Sister City relationship with Mascara, Algeria. A candlelight vigil led by Julie Grau completed the series.

Church bells rang throughout the city to announce the start of the outdoor concert, and Ed Olson asked those assembled to rise for the national anthems of both the United States and Algeria. Mayor Bob Garms announced a city proclamation dedicating the day to promoting peace. A volunteer chorus led by Chuck Lammers and accompanied by David Beck then sang several songs appropriate to the day, including “We Are One” with the words “Sister cities, brother nations, hand in hand in celebration” written by the late John Denver. The concert was filmed by Channel 7 TV and appeared on the evening news along with interviews of Mayor Bob Garms; Kathy Garms, President of the Elkader Sister Cities Friendship Club; and Frederique Boudouani, co-owner of Schera’s Restaurant.

Ed Olson presided at the Sister City evening meeting and gave a brief history of Sister Cities International and of Elkader’s 25 years of membership, recalling visits to Elkader by Algerian ambassadors, students, and tourists. Pat Matt shared memories of chaperoning Elkader students on an exchange visit to Algeria in the 1980’s and Frederique Boudouani spoke about his first visit to Elkader.

May 2008 - As Sister Cities representatives, Kathy and Keith Garms were guests of the Algerian government when Kathy was a presenter at the Council of Nation/Emir Abdelkader Human Rights Seminar in Algiers, Algeria. In addition to touring the Algiers area and getting to know the wonderful people there, Kathy and Keith were hosted by their Sister City Mascara. Being exposed to the culture, rich traditions and friendly people of the Mascara area reinforced the Garms’ desire to encourage networking throughout both communities and countries. Thus, e-mails were shared between citizens of all ages, communication continues and future exchanges between the communities are the goal.
Read more about Kathy and Keith's visit to Algeria . . .

July 5, 2008 - “Celebration of Community Spirit and Algerian Sister Cities Friendship” events. It was a picture perfect day for Elkader’s “Celebration of Community Spirit and Algerian Sister Cities Friendship” event…in both weather and attendance. Our Sister City connection with Mascara, Algeria, has truly formed a stronger bond because of this event.

We were extremely honored to host Algerian Ambassador Amine Kherbi and introduce him to Elkader and its marvelous citizens who warmly welcomed him. The community in return felt his sincere compassion and sympathy for what the citizens are dealing with in regard to the flood disaster and relief efforts. The people of Elkader gratefully and graciously acknowledged and thanked the Ambassador and Algeria for its most generous donation to Elkader’s rebuilding project.

The Elkader Fire Department volunteers, FEMA volunteers, Red Cross volunteers, church volunteers and many other heroes were honored for their countless hours and days of assisting wherever they were needed in the devastating flood cleanup efforts.

Mascara Park (named after our Sister City) was brought to new life by the many efforts of Main Street Elkader, the Opera House Players, Fire Farm, the City of Elkader and countless other individuals in the community who worked literally day and night to transform the park into a venue of peace and honor for all to enjoy. A locally designed Peace Pole was unveiled and another identical to it will be sent as a gift to our Sister City Mascara.

This event was a team project that was planned and carried out by a great number of diverse individuals and committees. Each segment of this day was relevant to the other and was necessary to achieve such a positive end result.

September 11, 2008 - The Elkader Sister Cities Friendship Club Concert was held in conjunction with the global Sister Cities International concert series.

Many talented singers joined together to use the power of music to spread the message of peace throughout the world. Bringing people together through music helps us all appreciate the connections that draw us together, forces us to halt our busy schedules, and helps us consider how each of us can make a difference in the world.

Following the concert, an Algerian meal was served at Schera’s Restaurant. Bill Aossey and Joe Aossey shared information and answered questions on Islamic beliefs in order for us to learn more about the world around us.

Earlier in the day, the elementary students (grades K-6) presented a delightful Peace Program complete with historical facts and musical offerings. Led by Kathy Ruhser and Jane Metcalf, the students did research and came up with an interesting and educational production.

Additional Resources:

Abdelkader Education Project