In my previous column, I have described the reaction of numerous readers of my new book, "Reports from a Distant Place," a compilation of my Virginia Gazette and Lake Placid News columns that dealt with survival during the Holocaust and life under a Communist regime. The readers expressed interest in how a refugee from Communist Czechoslovakia who found shelter in America, started anew in a new country.
We chose Lake Placid, as our new home. The decision was made partly as a result of the fame Lake Placid attained as the site of the 1932 Winter Olympics.
The same reaction plus the fact, that Lake Placid kept the sports venues after the 1932 Olympics in good condition, brought about it's selection as the site of the 1972 FISU University Games.
In the winter of 1972, more than 600 student-athletes from 19 countries descended on the town. They were housed at the venerable Lake Placid Club and transported each day to the sport venues. Recruited as volunteer translators, my wife and I soon noticed that the student-athletes had few opportunities to go shopping, sightseeing or interact with local population.
I presented an idea to the president of the FISU Games, Ron MacKenzie. To establish a People-to-People Program that would ask local residents to serve as hosts. The program would enable foreign student-athletes to get acquainted with Americans and permit to build lasting friendships. I received the go-ahead and with the help of the local media, we alerted residents to the program.
After the announcement, the phone started ringing and never stopped. The only problem we encountered was, demand for student-athletes outrun, the supply.
One episode in conjunction with the People-to-People Program received worldwide media coverage. My wife learned that Galina Karelina, a 21-year old Russian girl who won a gold medal in pair's figure skating, was going to be married to a famous Soviet hockey player after her return to Moscow. The People-to-People Program decided to make her stay in Lake Placid memorable .She become the recipient of a beautiful lace wedding gown.
Galina's selection of the gown at a local store was recorded by the Associated Press. Her photo, in the new wedding dress, accompanied by the story, was published in newspapers around the world. The People-to-People program in the framework of an international sport event, turned into an unqualified success.
No wonder, eight years later, during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games, held in Lake Placid, it was resurrected as the Olympic People-for-People Program.
This time athletes from the People's Republic of China emerged as the most sought-after guest to be hosted by American families. The visit by a group of Chinese athletes at the home of Slayton Underhill, of Wilmington, a well-known American portrait painter became a media event.
He Zhengling, the Secretary General of the Chinese Olympic Committee, accompanied the athletes. He was suddenly called to the phone and was informed the International Olympic Committee had decided to accredit the People's Republic of China, not Taiwan, as the official representative of the country. The news media, out, in force to cover the athlete's visit to an American home, made the best of this development. TV images of the visit were broadcast worldwide. .
According to news reports, it was during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games that He Zhengling, developed the contacts that facilitated China's successful bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.
My involvement with the impending Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid made me aware of the need to increase local knowledge of world affairs. Thus, together with former U. S. Ambassador Roger Tubby, once President Truman's press secretary, we established the Lake Placid Council on Foreign Policy.
Through his contacts in Washington, we were able to attract nationally known expert on foreign affairs as speakers at our monthly meetings. For almost a decade, the Council fulfilled its function. I articulated my sentiment in a news article this way: "Democracy functions best with the participation of informed citizenry. And the Lake Placid Council on Foreign Policy is committed to the idea that a citizenry educated in world affairs is vital to a democratic society."
This credo that I have seen put into practice at our American "homestead," become a guiding light in the ensuing years. At our second home, in Williamsburg, this was what motivated my wife and me, to get involved in the campus life at the College of William & Mary. This, in turn, culminated in having the opportunity to provide assistance in establishing of Reves Center for International Studies.
But that's another story.
Shatz's book, "Reports from a Distant Place," (Price $12.95) is available at The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid,
Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette.