In the hearts of many in Tulancingo, late Pleasanton resident Bob Athenour now truly has a permanent presence in the community of his hometown's sister city in Mexico.
City leaders in Tulancingo, along with members of Athenour's family and a local delegation from the Pleasanton-Tulancingo Sister City Association, last month debuted a new memorial honoring the former teacher and community leader affectionately known as "Señor Bob" -- a life-size bronze sculpture of Athenour sitting on a park bench.
"On the day of the unveiling, the outpouring of love for Bob and the appreciation for all he meant to the city was obvious and visible," said Dick Stafford, PTSCA committee member and Rotary wheelchair donation coordinator.
"City officials and services clubs including Rotary Clubs, Lions, Soroptomists and of course Sister City were all in attendance along with eight members of Bob's family," Stafford told the Weekly. "But what was most impactful to me was the number of Tulancingo families with kids that turned out. Sometimes going back three generations, they were all there with pride to cheer the unveiling of the statue to honor the man they lovingly called Señor Bob."
Jorge Victoria, president of the PTSCA, was also among the Pleasanton group to travel to Tulancingo from April 21-27 for the delegation visit that included the commemoration of Athenour, who died in 2020 at the age of 91.
Victoria told the Weekly the event represented "recognition of the sincere love and respect Bob had for the Mexican culture and his 'home away from home' Tulancingo. You could sense their appreciation and genuine love and respect for bringing our two cities together."
JJ Parra, PTSCA committee member who served as an interpreter for the delegation, noted, "On three occasions when I had the opportunity to escape and stroll around the plaza many locals were taking photos with our Señor Bob. In addition, they were all reading the plaque describing who he was what his life work entailed, and his love for the communities of Pleasanton and Tulancingo and their strong links."
"Señor Bob's legacy is strong as shown by the sizable participation of his family at the ceremony," Parra said. "His children, their spouses, and their children actively participated and added a touch of family continuity in support of Señor Bob's vision of multicultural exchange and understanding."
Athenour was a retired Spanish and French language teacher from his alma mater Amador Valley High School operating a successful travel agency in his second career when he helped form the sister city relationship between Pleasanton and Tulancingo, a city in the Mexican state of Hidalgo.
Athenour and real estate executive Steve Noble traveled to Tulancingo and met with city representatives in 1983, laying the groundwork that would lead to the agreement establishing the sister city relationship that thrives on to this day.
The most recognizable aspect of the program are the adult delegations and exchange students experiencing each other's cultures annually -- other than pauses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the impact of the relationship, and Athenour's influence, extended much deeper.
"Over the years Bob's philanthropic interests and his love for the people of Tulancingo have come together to provide much needed aid during difficult times," Stafford said.
"From raising funds to assist the city after a catastrophic flood in 1999 to providing over 1,500 wheelchairs to those not able to afford one, Bob ... was always there to help," Stafford added. "The Wheelchair Program was one of his special projects, and through his leadership in Sister City and The Rotary Club of Pleasanton, he was able to establish working relationships that brought the life changing gift of mobility to hundreds of individuals."
The tradition continued in Athenour's honor last month as the Pleasanton delegation, in coordination with local service groups and the Wheelchair Foundation, distributed another round of donated wheelchairs to those in need in Tulancingo, free-of-charge.
"This trip like all delegation visits I have attended was unique and special," Parra said. "The distribution of wheelchairs, the visit to the girls home (asilo), visiting the university and medical school and seeing another plaque dedicated to Señor Bob in a different area of town reserved for noted Tulancingo citizens. This showed how the city Tulancingo embraces one of its own."
Victoria added, "Bob's sister city legacy is one of caring, understanding and acceptance of cultural differences worldwide and community service at home and internationally."
Tulancingo, Mexico is located in the state of Hidalgo, in a valley similar to Pleasanton, 75 miles northeast of Mexico City.
There are numerous Toltec/Aztec and pre-Columbian buildings as well as a cathedral built in 1528. It is a modern city, but not a tourist town, according to the Pleasanton-Tulancingo Sister City Association.
The major industries include textiles including premier woolen thread and yarn, cashmeres, embroidered clothing, household items and general commerce. Cheese is another product that is a highly valued export for Tulancingo.
To learn more about the cities' relationship, as well as the annual youth ambassador exchange program and the association's fundraisers in Pleasanton, visit ptsca.org.