Burhans on mission to Wesel

September 30, 1997


Staff Writer

Each time Jane Burhans returns to Wesel, Germany, the memories flow over her like a warm breeze.

She is there now, celebrating the 45th year of the sister city relationship with Hagerstown established by her late husband.

It turns out the little town in Germany was the actual seat of Winslow Forthman Burhans' ancestry.

Ironically, Wesel was chosen by accident - the Burhanses didn't know the personal connection until later, she said.

"Winslow gave a speech in 1955 in Wesel ... in German," she said. "He practiced for six months."

While they were there for that event, the Burhanses discovered, and nurtured, the personal connection.

Burhans, a three-term Hagerstown mayor, died in 1990. Since then, his widow has kept up his memory as well as the reality of the bonds with Wesel - both here and in Germany.


"The thing I'm proudest of is the exhibit we set up in Wesel in 1955," Jane Burhans said.

She also recalls the mention by then-President Dwight Eisenhower, who said the Hagerstown-Wesel sister city program was the spark for his People to People program.

"You know, that program is still going on," Jane Burhans said. "It seems that people can get along, but governments can't."

Buoyed by that good feeling, she has continued her travels around the world and is amazed at all the wonderful people she has met.

"There was the woman who took the time in Amsterdam to escort me to the Anne Frank house," she said. "And I remember a man who helped me with my luggage on one of my trips to Wesel."

Those feelings, coupled with the positive results of the sister city experience, prompted Jane Burhans in 1991 to establish the Winslow Burhans Memorial Room at Hagerstown's City Hall.

Within its mahogany cabinets are stored the famous scrapbooks Jane Burhans kept over the years of the Wesel connection.

"This room is my pride and joy," she said. "I even do the housecleaning."

It is open for groups and tours interested in Hagerstown's history and the sister city memorabilia.

Now 85 but very fit, Jane Burhans journeyed back to Wesel with current Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II and others for the Sept. 22 festivities marking the 45th year. She stayed behind to visit other sites in Europe.

While in Wesel, Jane Burhans made a speech - in English - about her years cementing the ties between the cities.

Not confident of her speechmaking abilities, she said she was going to get through it, tears and all, because it was a labor of love.

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