John Snider

One thing that all the people we have profiled in our series of articles on the “Special People of the Gemellaggio” have in common is that they were all dear friends of the late John Snider, the mayor of Medford who brought Medford and Alba together.

Dr. Luciano Degiacomi Presents Friends of Alba Award
to John Snider, 1964

On the Medford side of the sister city connection with Alba, Italy there is one person whose vision, passion and commitment were indispensable ingredients of the wonderful gemellaggio we enjoy today. Medford Mayor John Snider was the one who selected Alba as Medford’s sister city and spent the last thirty-four years of his life bringing Medford and Alba closer together. Until his death in 1994, John Snider was Medford’s strongest link with Alba and the person most responsible for uniting the two cities in enduring and ever growing friendship. 

John was born in 1918 on a dairy farm on the Jacksonville Highway west of Medford. He spent his early years helping his parents and sister manage the family enterprise that eventually became Snider’s Dairy. His world growing up was very small and his only connection to Europe was the Italian-American families that lived near the dairy farm and the Swiss milkmaids who hand milked the 250 cows. He spent two years at the University of San Francisco before he had to return to run the family business that then included the dairy and a soft drink distributorship. World War II took him no farther from home than Camp Carson in Colorado where he served with the U.S. Army finance corps.

His success in business and his way with people prompted his friends and colleagues to encourage him to enter city government. In 1950 he was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Medford City Council, the first of three terms in that office. In 1956 he was elected Mayor of Medford, a position he held for three two year terms. As mayor, he had many significant accomplishments that helped make Medford what it is today. During his terms as mayor, Medford adopted its first land use plan and park plan. It took its first steps at urban renewal and planned the new city hall that stands today. Snider’s administration proposed Medford’s first planning department a decade before Oregon’s sweeping land use law was adopted. None of those achievements gave him greater pride and satisfaction than his involvement in the sister city program with Alba.

While attending a national mayors conference, he first learned of President Eisenhower’s People-to-People program. President Eisenhower realized that Americans were not always acting as good global citizens. The term “Ugly American” was heard all too often and Eisenhower saw the need for Americans to engage the citizens of other countries on a personal level. Mayor Snider took Eisenhower’s vision to heart and proposed that Medford would have a sister city that would be linked with Medford on the basis of personal friendships. A number of Oregon cities were looking for global partners but, because many of them sought commercial gain through trade, they paired with cities in other Pacific Rim countries. Some selected their sister cities because they had similar names. Not all of these original pairings succeeded. The link between Medford and Alba has succeeded like few others and continues to grow today.

John Snider considered the cities that were available for Medford  to partner with and decided that Alba was the perfect match. He based the decision on many similarities the two cities shared. He was determined that the relationship was going to be about people. There is no way he could have known at that time the profound impact that decision was to have on his life, his family and his community.

John Snider looked for ways to build the link between the two cities. He encouraged and promoted the first visits to Alba and got his many friends involved in the program. The historic July 1962 Telstar telephone call between Mayor Snider and Alba Mayor Osvaldo Cagnasso was a very fortuitous opportunity that only twenty-three U.S. cities were able to take part in. The fact that Medford was the lone northwest city to be invited to participate likely had much to do with the influential friendships that John Snider had cultivated as Medford’s first citizen. Telstar showed both cities that their connection was unique and filled with promise. It was the beginning of a revolution in global communications that has by now made the distance between the two cities seem insignificant. Looking back on that first historic connection is much like looking back on the birth of the dream of the two Mayors that has grown to what it is today. The friendships that John Snider made enriched his life and are part of his legacy to his family and his community.

Just days after the historic satellite phone link up, John Snider met Alba’s first ambassador to Medford, Giuseppe “Pino” Dutto. Pino and John Snider became immediate friends and their relationship was almost like father and son. John’s first trip to Alba the following year was to take part in Pino’s wedding in the place of the father Pino had lost at an early age. Pino spent several years with the International Monetary Fund which required him to travel frequently throughout the Americas. Because of his special friendship with John Snider, Pino often arranged his travel itinerary to include a stop in Medford to spend time with his American family. Pino has visited Medford nineteen times and only on his last visit in 2010 was John Snider not there to welcome him home.

John Snider’s friendships with people in Alba set the tone for the gemellaggio. He connected his family with the families of his friends in Alba. All of his three children and most of his grandchildren have spent time in Alba getting acquainted with John’s friends and making new friends. His great grandsons Zack and Josh are already learning Italian. John made new friends on every trip to Alba and stayed in touch with all of them even before the Internet made staying in contact so easy. He delighted in sharing his Italian friends with his American friends. Visitors from Alba were frequently greeted by the governor of Oregon as they visited the state capital. On one trip north, John drove well out his way to Newport so he could introduce Pino Dutto to his friend Joe Ditto.

That was typical of his legendary sense of humor. John was a frequent contributor to Herb Caen's column in the San Francisco Chronicle and was paid by Phyllis Diller for jokes he sent her.  It was humor that brought John Snider and Alba’s Enzo Agnelli together. Even though they had no common language they greatly enjoyed each other’s humor. Enzo invited John to join the prestigious Knights of Wine and Truffles, a culinary society found in Alba. Given the number of trips he made to Alba, his attendance was better than could be expected of a foreigner.

After leaving city government, John Snider worked tirelessly to bring other Oregon cities together with cities in other countries. He wrote to all of Oregon’s Mayors and traveled to their cities promoting the program that has meant so much to his city. Many of the successful sister city programs in Oregon would never have happened without the passion that John brought from his marvelous experience with Alba. In 1962 he received an award from the American Municipal Association for his works in establishing and nurturing the sister city program. His efforts promoting international understanding and goodwill earned him the highest civilian honor awarded by the Republic of Italy, the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, conferred on him by President Aldo Moro in 1975.

Pino Dutto and Sean Snider on Via John Snider
When John died in 1994 he was planning what would have been his tenth trip to Alba. In Medford, his passing was noted without much press coverage or ceremony. In Alba, public notices of his death were posted all over the city and a Mass was said in his memory at the cathedral. On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of Medford and Alba joining as sister cities, Alba paid John Snider an unprecedented honor by naming a very prominent street, Via John Snider. That dedication is indicative of Alba’s great appreciation of all that John Snider did in the name of friendship and understanding.