Two Cent Bridge Kotlas - Waterville Area
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Waterville, ME 04903-1747
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Natalia Kempers Receives Volunteer Award

Natalia Kempers was recognized for her contributions to the Kotlas Connection at REM's 2001 Community Volunteer Awards Ceremony, held at 7 p.m. on October 20, at the Waterville Opera House. Volunteers from fourteen other community organizations also received honors.

The ceremony was the inaugural activity of the new REM Partners Program. Twenty area non-profit organizations have joined with REM in an attempt to promote volunteerism and share resources. Besides the Kotlas Connection, the other partners include two hospitals, two colleges, a shelter for the homeless, the local chamber of commerce, the local chapters of the Rotary Club and the American Red Cross, a genealogical society, and a ballroom dance society.

REM itself is a nonprofit organization dedicated to community revival in the Central Maine. Its objectives include developing a vibrant economy, improving education, promoting art and culture, beautifying the environment, and expanding recreational opportunities.

Fifteen of the REM Partners each chose a member from their own ranks to be honored for contributions to the organization. The Kotlas Connection selected Natalia Kempers as its honoree. Each organization submitted a write-up about its chosen volunteer to be included in the awards ceremony program. Our write-up for Natalia follows:

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 Connectionıs volunteers.

The Connection is truly appreciative of all that Natalia has done to promote our sister city program.

This article orginally appeared in the Fall 2001 newsletter. In September 2004, two weeks shy of her 81st birthday, Natalia Kempers passed away, after several months of declining health. For more on Natalia's life and death, see our archives.