By Ashley Lodato
If you were a foreign exchange student coming for fall semester in the Methow, what would be the worst possible day for you to arrive? Perhaps Aug. 18? Well, that’s precisely when 15-year-old Johanna Vollmer, an exchange student from Hildescheim, Germany, landed in Winthrop last summer. She and her parents spent a jet-lagged night at a Pine Forest cabin and were just returning from a refreshing swim in Patterson Lake the following morning when a neighbor knocked on their door and told them that they needed to pack their bags now; there was a wildfire approaching.
Johanna’s parents quickly got the family’s belongings together and took Johanna down the hill to her host family, the Scholz-Spitzmillers in the Twin Lakes area. Highway 20 was already closed at Newhalem and there were closures on Snoqualmie Pass due to rockfall, so Johanna’s parents and sister, who had a flight back to Germany on Aug. 21, decided that they should cut their visit short and hightail it to the SeaTac area while they still could. Good-byes were said hurriedly, and Johanna was left to start her temporary new life.
You know the story — Twin Lakes was evacuated next, followed by all of Winthrop and Twisp, and Johanna found herself in a new country, with a new host family, heading to a new place (Wenatchee) to wait out the fire. (Along with — and I love this detail — the host family’s 12 baby chicks that had arrived in the mail just that day.) When Johanna eventually returned to Winthrop with her host family six days after her arrival, she finally spent her first night in her new home, in a community reeling from the deaths of three local firefighters.
Johanna took this all in stride; she seemed to accept it as part of the experience of being an exchange student. She possessed this same calm when she, having never before participated before in school athletics, joined the cross-country running team, ran in meets, and made it to the state championships. When running season was over she gamely strapped on Nordic skis, despite having not really skied before, and skied courses from Echo Ridge in Chelan to Sovereign Lakes in Silver Star, B.C.
Anyway, after a semester of keeping her mind open to new experiences, Johanna is going home on Friday; if you see her you might want to wish her “So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good-bye.” She has become a bright star in our community and we’ll miss her.
OK, this is the last you’ll hear about shoes from me, but over the weekend I attended a Nordic event at the high school with about 250 other people and we were asked to remove our shoes before entering the Liberty Bell gym. More than one person gave me a sideways glance as they stowed their shoes carefully in a place that they would be sure to remember.