REM Awards (2001) — Kotlas Connection — Natalia Kempers

Natalia A. Kempers is a founding member of the Kotlas-Waterville Area Sister City Connection. Born in Yugoslavia of Russian parentage, Natalia came to the United States in 1946. She settled in Waterville in 1973 and worked in the Colby library. She was married to the late John Kempers, a professor of Russian at Colby. She has four children and four step children. An American citizen, she has maintained her interest in Russian affairs, culture and history.

After a number of fruitless attempts to establish a sister city relationship with Kotlas, Natalia addressed a postcard with colorful United States stamps to the office of the mayor of Kotlas asking it be delivered to an “ordinary mortal.” To the good fortune of the relationship it was turned over to Vyacheslav Chernykh, an avid stamp collector, who soon became a regular correspondent with her. This communication was followed by others. So the woman who signed the postcard as a mother and a babushka paved the way for the sister city organization.

The citizen-to-citizen movement warmed and in 1989, Natalia was one of three Waterville area residents who, while visiting Moscow, received permission to journey to Kotlas. Thus she became one of the first Americans to visit Kotlas since the origination of the Cold War. This visit prompted another invitation from the mayor of Waterville to the mayor of Kotlas to send a delegation to visit the Waterville area. The invitation was accepted and Natalia was a part of the committee established to prepare for the visit. She would subsequently open her home to the visitors for a part of their stay in the area. Natalia would visit Kotlas a second time in 1992 as part of student visit to that city and a third time in 1993.

Natalia has been an active member of the Kotlas Connection from its beginning. She has served as hostess for visitors from Kotlas, is a translator and teacher of the Russian language, and consistently maintains a positive attitude in our relations with our sister city and with Russia. She is truly the first among the Connection’s volunteers.

Note: Natalia Kempers passed away, after several months of declining health, in September 2004, two weeks shy of her 81st birthday. For more about the life of this remarkable woman, go here.

For more information about the Kotlas - Waterville Area Sister City Connection, please visit its website.

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