An ongoing series of reports, articles, and news items about the Arlington
Sister City Association's programs and activities, plus news from its Sister Cities

                 February 28, 2018
Karl Liewer: A Personal Reminiscence

by Jose Pineda

Editor's Note: Karl Liewer, a long-time ASCA officer and board member, died in January 2018, aged 93. Mr. Liewer visited four of Arlington's five sister cities and was actively involved with all of them - but he had a special fondness for San Miguel. In this article a member of ASCA's San Miguel Committee explains how that happened and recounts a unique friendship that grew from it. For more about Karl Liewer himself see his interview in ASCA's Oral History Project, available HERE.

The first time I met Karl Liewer was back in 1985. At that time I was living in Arlington, just barely out of my teens and looking to make extra money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood. One of my customers was an older gentleman named Mr. Liewer, who hired me to do things like raking leaves and shoveling snow. I did not get to know him well at this time, but I do remember Karl's wife Ellen being especially nice whenever I worked at their house.

Karl Liewer in 1985 shortly after his retirement

I moved to Florida in 1988 and did not move back to northern Virginia until 2000. At that time I was working in one of the Salvadoran restaurants on Columbia Pike. Sometime in 2001, a gentleman came in for dinner, and I recognized him as Mr. Liewer, the same man for whom I had worked 15 years before. He told me that Ellen had died the year before and that he would often go out for dinner because he did not like eating alone at home.

For the next two years, Karl would come to that restaurant for dinner two or three times a week, and we would talk whenever his visits coincided with my work schedule. At this time Karl was already involved with ASCA through his visits to Aachen and Reims. Although he did not have any special knowledge of El Salvador, he had a curious mind and always wanted to learn new things. This was a special quality that Karl retained for the rest of his life.

I was actively involved in the San Miguel Committee even before it joined ASCA. So when the San Miguel Committee joined ASCA in 2004 I found myself in yet another new relationship with Karl Liewer: I was no longer the young kid raking his leaves but a fellow member of the ASCA board. Despite the 40-year difference in our ages and vast differences in our backgrounds, Karl treated me as a fully equal board member and colleague. We began to meet regularly for lunch, and our discussions often centered on the history and culture of El Salvador, the lives of Salvadoran immigrants in America, and the vital partnership between ASCA's San Miguel Committee and our friends in San Miguel itself.

Karl Liewer, center, receives a certificate of recognition for supporting English-language instruction in San Miguel. Also present at this July 2015 ceremony were Jose Pineda, far left, and Kim Chi Crittenden, who directs and teaches in this program,  at far right.

After months of discussions I finally convinced Karl to accompany our delegation to San Miguel for the annual Carnival. He was received so warmly and had such a wonderful time that we subsequently made many return trips to El Salvador. At an age when most people would think of slowing down, Karl's travel bug was just warming up. But Ellen was gone, and he did not want to travel alone. So he asked me to go with him, and I agreed.

Our first big trip was to Athens, where we also took a cruise exploring the Greek islands. We also did at least two cruises along the coast of Maine, and even a cruise to Alaska. Closer to home, I drove Karl for his annual visits to Ohio Dominican University in Columbus, his wife's alma mater. The Liewers made generous donations to the university and Karl liked to go see how things were going. And in 2015 I drove Karl to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to attend his 70th college reunion, one of the most moving things I 
have ever done.

Karl Liewer in 2015 attending the 70th anniversary of his graduation from West Point

Getting to Know Karl Liewer the Man

When you travel with someone, especially over great distances, you get to see inside the person. You see the qualities that shape his character. The Karl Liewer I saw was one of the kindest persons I have ever known. He always wanted to help others. He took a special interest in the San Miguel community and made regular contributions, especially to the orphanage in San Miguel.

Karl loved to read. He always had books around his house. He loved learning about different countries, and he was always trying to connect with people of different backgrounds, beliefs, and cultures. He was a military man who graduated from West Point, a retired colonel in the U.S. Army, and I was just a kid from El Salvador. Yet he accepted me for who I was and treated me as an equal.

Even as his body grew frail, Karl's mind was bright. His brain was working until the day he died. He died on January 12, 2018 at Arlington Hospital Center, age 93. I was there in the room when he died, and I can say he did not suffer or die in pain. He was unique, special, and he will be missed greatly.
Jose Pineda is a founding member of the San Miguel Committee and a long-time member of ASCA's board of directors.
The Arlington Sister City Association (ASCA) is a nonprofit organization established in 1993. ASCA works to enhance and promote Arlington's international profile and foster productive exchanges in education, commerce, culture, and the arts.