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A tale of two cities: A true story of friendship

WORTHINGTON -- The play by Jessica Zuehlke and Jim Stowell, "A Wagon Load of Shoes," is based on the true story of the partnership between Worthington and Crailsheim, Germany.

In the aftermath of World War II, 11-year-old Martha "Marnie" Cashel began a pen-pal relationship with a young girl from Finland named Kerttu. In one of her letters, Kerttu asked, "I know it is considered shameful to beg, but since I have only paper shoes, I wonder if you might have an extra pair to send me?"

The question inspired Marnie, accompanied by her brother and a friend, to go door-to-door in their neighborhood, pulling a rusty red wagon, collecting 22 pairs of shoes to send overseas. Her parents, Charlie and Theodora Cashel, were impressed by the youngsters' efforts and started to consider about what could be accomplished on a larger scale.

"My parents began talking about this idea to others in Worthington, and during the following year, I remember growing excitement in our house as the wheels of government (here and in Germany) began rolling toward the realization of those imaginings," recalled Marnie in a 2007 account of the partnership.

Worthington was matched with the community of Crailsheim, which had been ravished by bombing during the war. Worthington residents began to send food, clothes, seeds and other goods to help the community and also began to exchange letters with the Crailsheimers.

"I remember going to the depot when those boxes were crated in overseas shipping cartons and loaded in cavernous railroad cars, and I remember the joy in my mother's face when the first letters from Crailsheim came to Worthington," continued Marnie.

Eventually, the relationship grew to include an exchange student program and visits by delegations from each city to the other.