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Local visionary leaders speak to Japanese visitors

 Bill Captain and Mayor Russell Thomas
Bill Captain and Mayor Russell Thomas
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AMERICUS — A deegation of a 24people from Americus’ sister city of Konu, Miyoshi City, Japan, arrived  in Americus Wednesday and have toured far and wide around Sumter County. The six adults and 18 ninth-grade students have visited Sumter County Schools on several occasions, and have been feted with dinners and recognition from the City of Americus.
On Thursday, one of the activities planned was a trip to the historic Rylander Theatre where they heard  from former Georgia Southwestern President Bill Capitan and former Americus Mayor Russell Thomas Jr. about the creation of Americus institutions.
Heather Stanley, managing director of the Rylander, welcomed the group and told them a little about the history of the theater.
Tom Detitta, public relations director for Sumter County Schools, who planned the itinerary for the visiting Japanese, also said a few words.
“We’ve been talking about vision; people who have created something from nothing,” he said through an interpreter. “ … When I came to Americus (in 1996), we could see the sky through this building. The only inhabitants were pigeons. Before I came to Americus, it was more or less the same with the Windsor Hotel where you were this morning.

Japanese students listen at the welcoming dinner held at the Rees Park Economic Development Center.
Japanese students listen at the welcoming dinner held at the Rees Park Economic Development Center.

“Mayor Russell Thomas was the mayor of the City at that time. He was able to imagine all of what you see here today. But more importantly, he was able to put together a plan to make his vision work.
“Similarly, when we visit the Rosalynn Carter [Institute for Caregiving] later this afternoon, there hadn’t been … any kind of center for caregivers in the whole country. Dr. Bill Capitan was president of Georgia Southwestern at the time, and both men have graciously offered to talk to you today about creating all of these institutions.”
Capitan was first and briefly addressed the group in their native language. He said that he had never visited Konu but knows some people from there and has visited Japan many times.
“My love for Japan and the Japanese people and Japanese culture goes back many years,” he said. He was a student of a professor from Kyoto University … a grandson of a shogun of Kyoto.
On the idea of the Rosalynn Carter Institute, Capitan said this was a lesson for the young people in the group.
“Every community has … human capital. It means you have people who have something to give to your community. We were lucky to have Rosalynn Carter … as our student at Georgia Southwestern. When they left the White House, we wanted to honor Rosalynn Carter. We knew she was interested in mental health so I asked her if she would like for us to create an institution for the rich and famous people who had mental illness. She said she wanted something that would help people and that tells about the character of Mrs. Carter. She knew that people who take care of others … need help too and that how we came up with the idea for the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving. We were thus pioneers in the whole United States in the concept of … support for those who care for others.

The Japanesed delegation stopped by a photo outside the Rylander Theatre, downtown Americus.
The Japanesed delegation stopped by a photo outside the Rylander Theatre, downtown Americus.

japanese.3“Everybody is as lucky to have a Mrs. Carter or somebody famous in your community, but there’s somebody and some people, some talent. It would you, your parents or somebody you know and it takes leadership to find this talent and to make it useful for your people. “
Thomas spoke next.
“As I look around at all of you, I think about my trips to Asia and about how very sleepy you get about this time of every afternoon. Ya’ll are doing better than I did.”
Thomas traveled to Japan in the late 1980s with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and again in 1998, we went to Konu with the Sister City relationship and at that time, the City had the relationship and it evolved into the school system being in charge.” He said they still speak of the wonderful hospitality the Japanese people showed them.
On the Windsor Hotel and the Rylander Theatre, Thomas said, “Both of these buildings … were in a terrible state of disrepair in the late 1980s. The City was trying to improve the downtown and get more tourists to come to our community. So we finished the Windsor Hotel in 1992, and spent $4.5 million on it … And we spent $2 million on the Rylander. These are the two most famous buildings in Americus and I happened to be mayor when they were … completed … Nothing is done by one person … The whole city got behind us on these two projects because they were so important … for our community.
Thomas thanked the group for coming to Americus and for continuing the relationship.
A question and answer period followed.
Detitta asked both leaders what it took to put forth their ideas.
Thomas was asked how he got people on board for the two projects.
“I was a businessman and I knew people at the banks and other business people in Americus. We got the newspaper (the Americus Times-Recorder) … behind us and interested in the projects, and got the business community involved because they receive the benefits of it … A lot of this was done just by personal contacts. These were two separate groups that did the two projects.”
Capitan said, “My job was easy but the hardest part was to get Mrs. Carter to agree that we should have such as honor for her. I’m not sure how it’s done in Japan, but when a gentleman is interested in a lady to say ‘yes,’ he must be very persistent. I asked her many times for a long, long time while they were up in Washington and she never said ‘no,’ which was encouraging. And then finally, she said, ‘yes,’ and when she did many people wanted to participate all over the country, people who had respected her from the presidency and from the many years that she had worked in the mental health field for the good of everybody.
“It doesn’t always have to be somebody famous, but it has to be something that people can believe in, and particularly if it is good for their fellow man … for everybody.”
Another question was asked by Detitta. “What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome, and what were the naysayers saying ?”
Thomas said, “In every endeavor there are some people who think it’s not a good idea, it’s stupid or it costs too much or whatever … That’s where an idea that is not original to me comes in. And it’s political will and it’s in very short supply in our government right now. The naysayers sometimes win. Not long after we got through with the Rylander … then I lost the next election, so that’s the way it works.”
Capitan said, “My biggest problem was in convincing the local people who said ‘Rosalynn Carter is too busy; she won’t stay here and see this through,’ I had to convince other people that it would and she did. She stayed with it and gave people a lot of time to get the Rosalynn Carter Institute to what it is now.”

The delegation toured the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving on the campus of Georgia Southwestern State University as well as the Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail.
The delegation toured the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving on the campus of Georgia Southwestern State University as well as the Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail.

The delegation was recognized at a meeting of the Americus Mayor and City Council Thursday afternoon and traveled to Plains on Friday to visit the Boyhood  Farm.Farmpart of the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site. They also visited a couple of  the Sumter County Schools Friday afternoon before attending a Japanese and Americus mixer at Café’ Campesino downtown.
Today, the visiting students will spend the day with their host families to enjoy activities such as swimming, a picnic, visiting Andersonville and discounted rides on the SAM Shortline Excursion Train. The adults will enjoy a trip to the newly refurbished Pasaquan in Marion County, followed by lunch in Americus at Monroe’s hosted by the Downtown Development Authority. Chris Usrey, a local pilot, will also offer the students plane rides over the area, weather permitting.
The mayor and his wife entertain the adults with a dinner at their home this evening, followed by a reception hosted by Chris and Meg Usrey.
On Sunday, students will remain with host families while the adults tour Andersonville. A good-bye ceremony will be held shortly after lunch in the Windsor Hotel lobby prior to the group’s departure for Atlanta. They fly home to Japan on Monday.
Earlier this summer, a delegation from Sumter County Schools were guests of Konu, Myoshi City.