Two bright green plants were placed next to a podium draped with a MU banner. Seats were marked with reserve signs in the front row, and refreshments were prepared and strategically placed in the center of a fold-out table.
The first guest arrived and took his seat 15 minutes early. Next, three women who were engaged in a conversation in Romanian entered. With each new spectator came a sense of anxiousness and excitement. Guards dressed in dark suits came through a door at the back of the room and, in a matter of seconds, everyone was on their feet. Royalty was in the room.
His Serene Highness Radu, prince of Hohenzollern-Veringen, a member of the Romanian royal family by marriage, visited the MU campus Wednesday. The prince spoke to a room of about 30 people as part of a friendship tour through five U.S. states.
The friendship tour is his attempt to bring the communities of Romania to the same level of European countries by encouraging economic, educational and cultural partnerships with the U.S.
“I started to build a connection between Romanian regions, going every week to different towns, countries and villages, talking to people in different segments of the Romanian society,” Radu said.
These people include governors, mayors, state congressmen, professors, students, businessmen, journalists and American citizens of Romanian origin.
Nearly 80 years ago, Queen Maria of Romania visited St. Louis with the same ambition in mind. Following the queen’s footsteps, the prince resurrected the tour last year, visiting Massachusetts, Indiana and Illinois.
He recalled a tight U.S., Romania connection dating back to the U.S. intervention in Europe during World War I and World War II.
“When I was a child, I remember very well how much America was seen, not necessarily as a country or system, but as a model,” he said.
The two countries are similar in their composition of people. Romania has more than 14 minorities in the country including Jews, Muslims, Germans, Italians and many others that also inhabit the U.S. His Serene Highness referred to this similarity as the first “bridge” that created a bond between the two nations and a natural recommendation for future development.
John Gardner, vice president for research and economic development for MU, and Darwin Hindman, mayor of Columbia, attended the event and joined Radu for lunch.
“Of all the things that I get to do with my job, this has got to be one of the better ones,” Gardner said.
“I visited with the Serene Highness during lunch, and he said just exactly the right things,” Hindman said. “He said he had only been in Columbia for a short time but that he thought it was a warm and welcoming city and that it was clean and beautiful. The same was said about MU. I think that is just the sort of think that makes me proud of our city.”
Columbia has had a sister city relationship with Sibiu, Romania, since 1994, which is one reason that Radu visited.
“We like to think of ourselves as the cultural capital of Missouri, at the very least, and so we have a lot in common with Sibiu, and it makes me kind of itch to go visit that sister city and to strengthen that sister city relationship,” Hindman said.
The prince is trying to visit smaller towns that are often overlooked as opposed to the larger capital cities.
“Missouri is one of the best qualified states to play this kind of role as a connection between the U.S. and southeast Europe, because everything here fits the European standards,” he said. He noted that Missouri’s economic horizon, industries, climate, vegetation and experiences are similar to those of Romania.
Shehzad Kahn, former president of the National Education Association of St. Louis Teachers Association, also attended the speech. “I came to hear (his) views on health, security and education,” Kahn said.
Monday evening Radu visited with Gov. Matt Blunt. He praised Blunt for having visited Eastern Europe.
“This is a really good example,” he said, “You can’t really create a bridge with another space if you don’t at least visit it and if you don’t know what this place means.”
The prince left Columbia for Kansas City where he planned to visit the Liberty Memorial Museum.