TESTIMONIES

The event was one of classiest dinners I have ever attended. You folks do a great service for our community and the world at large. Keep up the good work. We need more like you.

Warner Saunders
Anchor, NBC5 News


I thought the event was absolutely grand. The format and presentation was extremely well done and the atmosphere was elegant. You should be very proud of what the Niagara Foundation has achieved, and the annual dinner is an excellent way to celebrate. Once again, on behalf of Frank Clark and the entire ComEd family, we greatly appreciate the Niagara Foundation’s selection of Frank as an honoree for his work with the Legacy Fund, and we wish you much success in the future.

George W. Lofton III
Vice President, Economic Development


It was a wonderful event! Thank you. It was all first class, and the award trophy is spectacular. My only criticism is time. It ran almost an hour late… I think some of the intro speeches were a bit long. It did put some pressure on Allison, and I was late to speak at another event. Beyond that, I was most impressed. Again, I thank you.

Larry Wert
President and General Manager, NBC5


Your event on Thursday was magnificent. My only comment was the check in table. I believe if the name badges indicated the table number for each guest, it may have eliminated some confusion. The program was beautiful. Kemal, I was very proud to be able to say that I know you, and look forward to a continued successful relationship with you and the Niagara Foundation.

Kitty Weiner
District Representative
Congressman Peter J. Roskam


I sincerely appreciate being your guest and thoroughly enjoyed my tablemates who sang your praises on a variety of levels. The event and program were very well done, and I must admit I was quite impressed with the finest details of the background music, quality of invitations and program book, ambience and video. I don’t believe you overlooked or cut corners anywhere!

Diana Palomar
Vice President, Community Services
ABC 7 Chicago

Summary of my impressions of the intercultural trip organized by the Niagara Foundation, November 16 to November 25, 2012

My experience with Niagara Foundation-sponsored trip to Turkey was extraordinary at many levels. Turkey itself is a fascinating mix of antiquity and modernization at the crossroads of Europe and Asia and learning more about the historic influences helped explain the nature of both its architectural richness but also the welcoming nature of the Turkish people. Throughout the trip we had many opportunities to engage in intercultural discussions, which demonstrated the desire of many in Turkey to pursue a future focused on human rights, education, tolerance and peace.

The trip itself was well organized, with much of the credit to Mustafa Igdelioglu, who was a great guide, culture interpreter and engaging and knowledgeable leader. The cuisine was wonderful and the trip was a great balance of exposure to the highlights of Turkey and many opportunities to exchange ideas with Turkish leaders in many fields. Our group of American participants was cohesive, supportive and engaging as well. All in all, this was a fantastic and memorable journey that I will long cherish and remember.

Phil Riveness
Former State Senator


I have spent my entire life in the Midwestern section of the United States and I had no contact with Turkish people and little contact with Muslims prior to taking a week-long cultural trip sponsored by the Niagara Foundation (Turkish American Society of Minnesota) in November 2012. I still have a great deal to learn, but during this enlightening trip I did gain wonderful insights about Turkey’s warm and friendly people, ancient history, Muslim religion, interesting cultural traditions, its democratic government, and its amazing historic structures and geographic features.
I also learned there is a growing group of dedicated people from around the world who are working to improve people’s lives by following the principles of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish scholar who currently resides in the United States. These people have established hospitals, schools, television stations, and newspapers which they operate according to the humanitarian principles of Gulen.

Along with a small group of Minnesota leaders, I had the opportunity to visit some of these sites and speak with a doctor, teacher, and journalist who work for the various organizations. They all appear to be doing exemplary work within their professions. The hospital we visited was modern and uses skilled doctors and advanced technology to serve anyone who needs services and they are continuously adding beds and planning to add a medical school. We toured a private school and had dinner with one of the teachers and some students where we learned about the high caliber of education provided to both wealthy and economically disadvantaged students while they also teach their 1,000 Turkish students about the importance of service. We visited one of the major newspapers and a television station in Turkey where high standards have been set so they can educate, entertain in a family-friendly style, and deliver factual information to people around the world. We spent several evenings sharing dinners with Turkish families as we learned about their dreams for themselves, their families, their country, and the world. The hospitality we experienced during all of our meetings was wonderful, and the conversations we had reassured me that even though we live in different lands and have different religions, we share a love for God, our families, and our neighbors both near and far.

The trip also included tours of astounding historical structures and museums such as the enormous Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, the extensive archeology site and historic Christian sites in Ephesus, the Museum of Ancient Civilization and the nation’s Capitol building in Ankara, and the Urgup and Goreme Open Air Museum (ancient ruins) and the underground cities in Cappadocia, to name some of the highlights. We also had the opportunity to meet with the Governor of Izmir and we had lunch with a Congresswoman at the Capitol in Ankara. These meetings were especially interesting for our group — which included three state senators — as we found out about the commonalities and differences in our governments.

In between all of these visits, we ate fabulous food, shopped at many colorful open markets, and stayed at modern and comfortable hotels. We covered a lot of ground, formed great friendships with our fellow travelers and tour guide from the Turkish American Society of Minnesota, and learned to sleep on buses and planes so we could get to as many places as possible.
I returned home with a great deal of information and a new appreciation for this country which I knew so little about before my trip. It turned out to be so much more than any regular tourist would have experienced, and I hope the principles of Gulen will continue to be shared and lived for the improvement of the world we share.

Claire Robling
Minnesota State Senator 1997-2012


In a time of conflict between people, countries, and religions, it is uplifting to see a group promoting mutual understanding and identifying common ground through education, friendship and shared experiences. The Niagara Foundation’s trip opened our eyes to the rich culture and history of Turkey and to the warmth and friendliness of the Turkish people. Turkey is a fascinating country. We came away encouraged that building bridges with trips like this can bring about a more peaceful world.

Ron and Julia Latz


I set out on this trip to Turkey seeking adventure and an opportunity to learn first hand about the culture and history of a country I didn’t know much about.  All of that was accomplished and more - I can honestly say it has been an experience of a lifetime.  From the first day we arrived to the day we left, I encountered at least one new experience each day. 
 
I learned about the history of the region and saw dwellings and artifacts dating back to BC.  I tasted and enjoyed foods I’d never had before.  I experienced beautiful and diverse landscapes with my own eyes.  But the most memorable part of the trip was the people. 
 
We had an opportunity to learn about the country from business folks and diplomats and just as important, we were privileged to visit and share a meal or tea with kind-hearted citizens and families who so generously hosted us.  This trip reinforced the belief that people are people no matter what differences may lie between us.  We may differ in country of origin, religion, political leanings and many other areas, but in the end we’re all human beings with a disposition for kindness.  
 
I will always remember the hospitality of the Turkish people and the memorable and fun times with our travel companions.  Thank you to Mustafa for his humor, time and patience and to the Turkish American Society of Minnesota and the Niagara Foundation for allowing such a wonderful opportunity.  I am eternally grateful.
 
Jennifer Berquam
Committee Administrator, Agriculture and Rural Economies


I have been around the world twice and  can say that Turkey is  the most fascinating country that  I have had the opportunity to visit.  It is not only the geographical  bridge between the East and the West, it is also the center  of so many important early civilizations and religions. Most importantly, however,  is the welcoming warmth and graciousness of the Turkish people: they are the true Turkish Delight! ”
 
Jerry Newto
House of Representatives Former Representative (2009-2010)  


Turkey is an extremely important and special country on this earth at this time because it is an ancient crossroads of civilizations at a time when civilizations are deciding whether to clash or cooperate to solve the crises of our age.  The Gulen movement appears to be sincerely dedicated to promoting a moderate, tolerant, even loving, and highly educated version of Islam which we all should support as we do the enlightened elements of all global religions.
 
Michael M. Andregg
University of St Thomas, Adjunct Instructor


In general our understanding of Islam had been filtered almost entirely through the prism of 9-11 and the disciples of jihad. The Niagara Foundation trip offered many unique opportunities to discuss Islam, learn how Muslims personalize their faith and how their faith goes from prayer to action. Never were we forced to reach a conclusion we were uncomfortable in making.
 
Dan &  Hope Carlson  
Teacher & Nurse


Turkey is a phenomenal country! I am so very grateful that I had the opportunity to go. I have never felt so welcomed, so enchanted, so absolutely overwhelmed with a state of wonder and appreciation for a land, its culture, and its people. Istanbul was such a restless, picturesque, vibrant city, and the boat cruise and historic sites and palaces were amazing. Each city – distinctive and regimented in its own cultural topographies and idiosyncrasies – provided either a delicious meal, a warm group of school officials, or just a lovely seaside stroll. This trip has inspired me to become more involved in developing dialogue and community bridge building, and I am very excited to get started.
 
Sara Miller 
Journalis


This was one of the best educational experiences of my life. I am most grateful for the generous hospitality that we experienced all through the trip, from our guides, our Turkish hosts, and the Turkish people. What stands out for me? The warmth and friendliness of the Turkish people, the beauty of the mosques and Hagia Sophia, the rich history of the country (going back over 9000 years), the stunning artistry and craftsmanship of the carpets and ceramics, and the natural beauty of the country, with its mountains, high plateaus, and seashores.
 
Terry Nichols, University of St Thomas
Chair of Theology Department


For me, the tour was a spiritual experience that was both challenging and inspiring. I connected with Muslim culture in a deeper way and am sure it will have a lasting effect on me. Thank you for making this trip possible.  It was a real cross-cultural dialogue in action.
 
Pamela Nice
University of St Thomas
Coordinator of the ACTC Middle Eastern Studies


A Fantastic Experience

I recently participated in a cultural exchange trip to Turkey sponsored by the Niagara Foundation.This was the most educational and interesting experience I have had the opportunity to take part in.  Seeing first hand the thousands of years of human history and meeting, often in their homes, many Turkish people was outstanding.The trip was very well organized and our guides extremely well informed. In today’s often confusing world, the opportunity to meet and exchange views with other nations is critical to avoiding conflicts.

Doug J. La Follette
Secretary of State of Wisconsin


At the invitation of the Niagara Foundation, we spent eight wonderful days in Turkey in June 2010.  We would spend another eighty!  What’s not to like?  The people, the architecture, the food were all remarkable.  Best of all, we had a chance to see people in their homes, offices, and schools–a much deeper experience than the typical tourist trip.  We learned so much and formed wonderful friendships with our guides.  For anybody who is invited to go on one of the Turkey trips, we say:  do it.  It is an experience you will never forget.

Maria Belodubrovskaya and Scott Gehlbach
Professor at Department of Political Science at UW-Madison


My wife and I went on a trip to Turkey in the early summer of 2010.  It was undoubtedly the best international trip we have taken, primarily because of the direct contact we had with the Turkish people and culture.  Some of its features were dinner and interfaith dialogue with five Turkish families in Istanbul and Urfa; attending early morning prayer at one of the famous mosques in Istanbul; interviews with newspaper editors, educational leaders, and business leaders; and visits to schools and student support centers.  We also saw many of the main tourist sites in Istanbul, Cappadocia, Konya, and Urfa.  The experience in Konya was especially meaningful where our guide was a Whirling Dervish and we witnessed a personal Sema ceremony.  A graduate student from UW Madison was our guide and with us throughout the trip with additional guides at specific sites.  We paid for our own air ticket but all expenses in Turkey were covered by the Niagara Foundation.  The food and accommodations were excellent and we loved the Turkish hospitality.

Jim and Siv Goulding
Professor at Department of Religious Studies at Edgewood College


The trip proved immensely valuable to me, and not just as Director of LISAR. First, I gained a greater appreciation just of modern Turkey’s economic and social landscape, which has changed much since I visited as a student forty years ago. I learned something about the dynamism and tension of a state that has both a lively Islamic culture and a secular government, which provides important points of comparison for understanding the political settlements of religion both there and in the United States. I also gained a better sense of Turkey’s historic pivot as a meeting ground of the Abrahamic traditions and its potential as a mediator of current conversations among Muslims, Christians and Jews. Our status as guests of Dialogue International and Bakiat gave us entrée to experiences we could not otherwise have imagined, such as the visits with Turkish families in their homes. These meetings became the loci for some very candid discussions about religion and politics, made possible by Mehmet’s translation. For me on a personal level, the highlight was our participation in the Jumuah prayers in the Halil Ibrahim Mosque. It is one thing to observe Muslims at prayer, quite another to be on one’s knees among them, and in a foreign land to boot. I can hardly conceive of a more powerful demonstration of Abrahamic comity than the depth of hospitality and spirituality grounding the invitation to join in the worship.

Charles Cohen
Professor at Department of Religious Studies at UW-Madison
Director of the Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions (LISAR)