The road to Santa Maria de Fe, Paraguay, reddish dirt under a pale blue sky, is “as plain as Kansas,” Max Maximov, Hays Sister Cities Committee member, told Hays city commissioners at a December commission work session.

“The beginning of the partnership was really at the beginning of this road,” he said.

Pointing to the video image of a dirt road projected on the wall of City Hall, Maximov highlighted discoveries he made regarding Hays’ Paraguayan Sister City relationship during his trip there last summer. Maximov appeared before commissioners to update them regarding progress the Sister Cities Committee has made toward re-establishing connections with Santa Maria.

The Sister Cities International relationship between Hays and Santa Maria was established in 1975, primarily through the efforts of Marianna and Ross Beach. During the last 12 years, communication between Hays and Santa Maria had become non-existent. However, through Maximov and the current Sister Cities Committee’s efforts, future collaborations are in the works.

Maximov’s trip to Santa Maria was the result of months of researching potential contacts online. That research led him to Doña Cayetana Maidana, who helped him discover details about the history of the Sister City partnership. He met with Cayetana when he arrived in Santa Maria and found she had traveled to Hays in 2002, and was presented a Golden Key to the city of Hays along with a proclamation of partnership. A large Kansas flag was displayed in her home.

“The second I met her, I knew everything was going to be OK and my visit would have a purpose,” Maximov said. “I would get information, and I would meet some people.”

Santa Maria de Fe, population approximately 4,000, is located in the southern part of Paraguay, some 160 miles from the country’s capital Asuncion. Santa Maria was established as a Jesuit mission in the 1600s. Just eight of the original 30 missions remain in today’s Paraguay. During his visit to the plaza in Santa Maria, Maximov discovered visible traces of the Hays-Santa Maria partnership, including: a plaque which had been created with funds from the city of Hays in celebration of 25 years of the Sister Cities partnership, and a street named “Hays City Street.”

Santa Maria’s unique wooden statues were instrumental in sparking Marianna Beach’s involvement with the Paraguayan community in the 1970s. Statutes depicting saints, carved by indigenous people of Santa Maria in the 1600s, are housed in a museum funded largely by the Beaches.

“The Jesuits brought the art of carving to the natives there,” Maximov said. “But they would carve the saints with the faces, with appearances of the indigenous people there in Paraguay, which is quite unique and fascinating.”

The original church of Santa Maria, which burned down about 100 years ago, had housed the art prior to the creation of the museum. Residents of the mission preserved the statues by hiding them in their homes. The Sister Cities Committee hopes to assist the museum in the future by sending a local artist to Santa Maria to create a website or catalog for the museum to increase its visibility and promote tourism.

The museum was dedicated Oct. 25, 1979, and a document on display, signed by former Hays Mayor Dan Rupp, was read by Maximov.

“On the glorious occasion of the dedication of the museum of Santa Maria, the citizens of Hays send their heartfelt congratulations to the people of Santa Maria for the success of our joint efforts to preserve the priceless religious artifacts of Santa Maria.”

While in Santa Maria, Maximov was received by the mayor and had a presentation in front of the city commission meeting and, later, joined a brainstorming session with town leaders where they discussed collaborative opportunities, some of which included agriculture and education initiatives. During the time of his visit, the commissioners of Santa Maria voted to reinstate its Sister Cities relationship with Hays.

Although the residents of Santa Maria are not accustomed to tourists, Maximov said they were “extremely welcoming and friendly.” He was introduced to a cooperative of impoverished women who produce hand-stitched fabric artwork, which is marketed online.

After Maximov concluded his presentation for Hays city commissioners, Mayor Eber Phelps said he appreciated Maximov’s efforts in working to re-establish relationships with Santa Maria.

“The main thing that I’m interested in is that we revive that (partnership),” Phelps said.

Rekindling collaboration with Santa Maria is one of several initiatives currently being undertaken by the Sister Cities Committee. Other projects by the committee include an upcoming Chinese delegation visit to Hays from Xinzheng, Hays’ Sister City in China, and planning for events that work toward making Hays a more inclusive community.

“I’m so excited to see the progress that the committee has made over the past year,” said Sister Cities President Ann Leiker. “We are progressing, not just in building our Sister Cities relationships internationally, but also in celebrating diversity in the Hays community.”

More information regarding Hays Sister Cities partnerships and photos of Santa Maria, Paraguay, are available on Facebook by searching Sister Cities of Hays.