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Last-Minute Preparations For Soviet Students’ Visit To Vermont

May 30, 1987

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) _ David Kelley was on the phone most of last week, getting a little frantic while he made preparations for 43 guests flying in Sunday from Leningrad.

One call went like this: ″Dennis, listen, I just want to make sure everything’s all set for the U.N. with the bass violin and the piano and everything. They have to have it 3/8 It’s their first concert. Rent one. I’ll pay for it.″

Kelley is one of three central Vermont residents who spearheaded an effort to raise funds and send the Harwood Union High School Choir for a tour of the Soviet Union in 1985. They called it Project Harmony.

Since then, he, teacher Kathy Cadwell and architect Charles Hosford of Waitsfield have been working toward a more difficult goal: getting the Soviet government to let some of its teen-agers come to Vermont and, a first in such rare international exchanges, stay in families’ homes.

The 33 members of the Leningrad Teen-Age Choir, accompanied by 10 adult chaperones, are scheduled to land Sunday at New York’s Kennedy International Airport.

The group will perform at the United Nations and sightsee in New York before coming to Vermont for a week of high school concerts, canoeing on the Winooski River and getting to know their hosts. They’ll round out the trip with a visit to Washington and an Orioles’ baseball game in Baltimore.

They’ll also meet in Vermont with Jane Smith of Manchester, Maine, whose late daughter, Samantha, wrote to Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov and later visited him in a 10-year-old girl’s quest for peace. Samantha and her father Arthur were killed in a 1985 airplane crash.

Kelley, 36, a small-town lawyer who says he’s bored with lawyering, was a little overwhelmed with his preparations. ″I’m very busy and I’m dropping the ball on a lot of details,″ he said.

″Charlie, I thought we had the arrangements made for supper Sunday night at the Vanderbilt ...″ he said in another call. ″Charlie, it’s closed, the Vanderbilt restaurant is closed ... Charlie, I don’t want to feed ’em McDonald’s their first night in the country.″

Kelley believes there shouldn’t be anything remarkable about getting a group of Soviet teen-agers to come for a concert and sight-seeing tour.

He said one objection came from people who argued: ‴You have no background in diplomacy, you should leave it to the experts.′ I say, look at what the experts have done for us over the last 20 years.″

As for arguments that such exchanges won’t change anything, Kelley said he’s seen a new openness among the Harwood students who went to the Soviet Union 18 months ago, a sense of good will among them and their families. He says that might make a difference someday in international relations.

And while some say the organizers are allowing themselves to be used as tools of Soviet propaganda, Kelley said he sees nothing wrong with opening up an exchange of ideas and information.

″I’ve been having lots of fun,″ he said. ″It’s amazing to me that a couple of small-town folks from central Vermont could go to Moscow and convince the Soviets to do something like this.″

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