People will Talk: Louise Simon Schoene
Louise Simon Schoene
Louise Simon Schoene, 53, has held volunteer leadership roles in Western New York for over 35 years. After a 17-year career as a financial advisor, she retired to see her daughters through high school (mostly—they are 19, 18 and 15). Now she is a director and the New York State coordinator of Sister Cities International.
This week, she’ll present the New York Sister City State Conference (www.nystatesistercities.com). Events include a reception at City Hall, and programming on Saturday. We spoke about the benefits of sister cities, the appeal of an empty office, and keeping busy.
Jana Eisenberg: How did Sister Cities become your thing?
Louise Simon Schoene: At Nichols, where my older girls went, I helped for years at their International Dinner. The girls did student exchanges; my daughter Erica went to Europe three times, and Amanda, to China. And we brought kids in to Buffalo.
In early 2009, the Mayor’s former associate, David Granville, asked if I would be interested in helping with the Buffalo Sister Cities program. I said yes.
The very first day I came to City Hall they installed a brand new computer, email, and phone line for me. I got the very strong message that they wanted me there; it was irresistible.
They also didn’t have a New York state coordinator, so, soon after, with the Mayor and David’s support, I was appointed by the D.C. office.
JE: The express goal of Sister Cities is “to promote global partnerships (educational, cultural, and economic development).” What makes this so compelling to you?
LSS: One thing that I like about sister cities is that they promote the area in many different ways.
N.Y. State is second nationally, as far as international students—this population brings in more revenue then the Buffalo Bills. It can create jobs, and bring in even more money.
Roswell’s Dr. Youcef Rustum runs another exciting international program; the only one like it in the U.S. He brings doctors here to learn how to do cancer research—they pay to do this. It brings money in, and helps communities all over the world.
Our arts and cultural assets are another great opportunity; the Burchfield Penney and the Darwin Martin House spent tens of millions recently on building and renovating. We want worldwide people to visit these places. Over 10 million people per year go to Niagara Falls; we want to expand [the areas they visit to include] Western New York and more of New York State.
There is also the humanitarian side—it’s about helping people. It’s fascinating meeting people from all over the world; learning how much we are alike. It’s also important to celebrate, not just tolerate, our differences. We should learn about each other so we can have a better world.
JE: Who should attend the conference this week?
LSS: Everyone who is interested. There are going to be people from sister city organizations, government officials, businesspeople, those interested in finding out more about sister cities; it’s open to everyone. There’ll be tours, talks by a host of impressive local and international dignitaries, a reception at City Hall.
This is the first time we are charging for anything; the $50 admission is an unbelievable bargain. Attendees will receive goodie bags, which include complimentary admissions to attractions, coupon books, prizes. It’s a good value for their money.
JE: What do you do in your spare time?
LSS: I’m at a point in life where I’m very fortunate to be able to do this as a volunteer. I’m also on the Burchfield Penney’s council. I collect art—I love putting collections together, though I don’t do that as much as I used to. I collect antiques ... between that and the work I do with the children’s schools, that keeps me busy.
For more information about Sister Cities and the conference, visit www.nystatesistercities.com.
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