Exchange Matters / July 5, 2022

Congratulations and Thank You, Al Durtka

This summer, Alexander (Al) Durtka, Jr., retires from the International Institute of Wisconsin (IIW) after almost 40 years of service dedicated to the Global Ties Network, International Visitor Leadership Program, refugees, and citizen diplomacy. Al has worn many hats during his life of service. He served as Executive Vice President of the Friends of the International Institute of Wisconsin, State Coordinator of Wisconsin Sister Cities International, and Advisory Committee Member of the United Way of Greater Milwaukee. In 2019, he received the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette, which is one of the most prestigious awards given to foreign nationals by the government of Japan.

Al receives the Lifetime Service Award from Global Ties U.S. President & CEO Katherine Brown at the March 2022 National Meeting. Photos by Kristoffer Tripplaar

Al also has served as a member of the Global Ties U.S. board for a decade, including roles as Board Chair and Advisory Council member. With his wife Sharon, he helped found the Emerging Leaders Program, which invests in the future of foreign affairs leadership. For all this amazing work, Al was awarded the Global Ties Network Lifetime Service Award in March at the 2022 Global Ties U.S. National Meeting. Al will be missed for his dedication, leadership, and ability to inspire others. Below, the Global Ties Network sends warm wishes to Al as one chapter closes and another one opens.  

Al in Bozeman, Montana at a Global Ties U.S. Regional Meeting on August 5, 2010. Photo provided by Alan Kumamoto.

Al – Thank you for being such a longtime champion of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP)! While at the helm of the International Institute of Wisconsin, you welcomed thousands of international visitors to your community and made lasting connections through your hospitality, kindness, and dedication to peace and prosperity throughout the world. From Election-themed projects to the Impact of Climate Change on Agriculture; from U.S. Trade Policy to Museum Management; and the countless other topics that you have programmed for IVLP, we have appreciated your continued adaptability and ingenuity. 

We are grateful for your many, many contributions and especially for inspiring the next generation of citizen diplomats to follow in your footsteps. Thank you for being a valued partner and friend to the International Visitor Leadership Program and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs all these years. We will miss you!
– The Office of International Visitors 


Al and Sharon Durtka with Colleen Fleming (center) at a Global Ties U.S. National Meeting. Photo provided by Colleen Fleming.

From internship to leadership – Thanks Al for your mentorship!! Enjoy your trips to visit all those international visitors you have met over your many years of service. The Network won’t be the same without you.
– Colleen Fleming, IVLP Division NEA Branch Chief, Office of International Visitors 


You have touched so many lives, Al, throughout the Global Ties Network and across the world. It’s clear your enthusiasm for this work comes from a deeply held conviction that international exchanges are one of the best ways to build those bridges we so love and so desperately need. I remember experiencing countless National Meetings, Board meetings, and other events with you. I remember brainstorming with you about ideas for the Global Ties U.S.’ 50th anniversary, sparking OIV’s initial commitment to create the Gold Stars Alumni Program. I remember my only visit to Milwaukee, when you introduced those of us from Washington, DC to cheeseheads and cheese curds, along with some delicious sausages and beer. Mostly, Al, I remember you as a passionate advocate of international exchanges. I hope you’ll continue this role in retirement. Your voice is too important to retire completely. That said, you have absolutely earned this retirement – and so has Sharon. As one who has transitioned before you, let me give you both a very warm welcome to the other side!  

– Carol Grabauskas (Ret.), former Deputy Director, Office of International Visitors 


Al (left) with Sherry Mueller in 2011 at the 50th anniversary of Global Ties U.S. (then NCIV). Photo provided by Sherry Mueller

It was my privilege to serve as President of Global Ties U.S. (then the National Council for International Visitors (NCIV)) when Al Durtka served as Board Chair for the National Board. I worked with him for many of his 40 years of accomplishments. His contributions are legendary. We would have to write a book if it all were properly documented. Consequently, I will limit my tribute to three specific comments.

First of all, this is also a tribute to Sharon Durtka. Throughout Al’s impressive career, Sharon and Al have operated as a wonderful team, insatiably curious about the world and always identifying ways to make this fragile planet we share a better place. 

Second, they are always sharing their knowledge and expertise with young colleagues literally from around the world. Whether it is individuals they have personally mentored, the young people fortunate to be part of their extended global family, or the students participating in the Emerging Leaders Program they helped invent during NCIV’s 50th anniversary Year (2011), they consistently nurture and encourage the next generation of professionals committed to international exchange and cooperation. 

Third, they understand the power of their example. Across from the Indian Embassy here in Washington, DC is a statue of Gandhi. The caption is: “My life is my message.” That is what comes to mind as I think of how best to describe Al and Sharon. Their shared life IS their message — one that embraces the values of hard work, voluntarism, and service to others. They have my admiration and great appreciation for the stellar values they embody and for their many and varied contributions that have touched so many around the globe.   

– Sherry Mueller, former President, Global Ties U.S. 

Group of people smiling at a photo in front of Roman artwork, and a picture frame along the edges of the photo with a sticker that says NCIV on it.

Al (second to left) with (left to right) Larry Chastang, Alan Kumamoto, Sherry Mueller, Bruce Buckland, and Jim Stockton, each of whom would serve as Board Chair during Sherry’s leadership, pictured in 2011 at a Global Ties U.S. 50th anniversary celebration at the U.S. Department of State. Photo provided by Sherry Mueller.


Sending you best wishes on your retirement, Al. I am sure that you will continue with your international interests, but wishing you lots of joy, fun, and relaxation! Your calm, studied, and friendly guidance at the National Council for International Visitors (NCIV) — now Global Ties U.S. — throughout the years has inspired us all. One of my highlights when attending the National Meetings was being able to chat with you and your wife. And, of course, having those chats at one of the dinners at Sherry’s home was extra special! I can only imagine how much your leadership at the International Institute of Wisconsin will be missed, but you have left a legacy you can be so proud of, not only in Wisconsin but throughout the Global Ties Network. 

– Janet Elliott, President and CEO, International Visitors Council of Los Angeles 

Al and Sharon Durtka (front center) with the 2020 cohort of Emerging Leaders, and Emerging Leader Program Manager Judy Donner (far left), at the January 2020 National Meeting. Photo by A.E. Landes


What can I say about Alexander Durtka Jr., the now former President and CEO of the International Institute of Wisconsin (IIW), retiring after almost four decades of service on behalf of refugee and immigrant resettlement? 

I found Al to be tireless in connecting the world and making the local community an inclusive one. He truly was a man who worked with and for others. Al has received many well-deserved recognitions and awards for his years of service and has been an outspoken advocate for connecting the world. His work with several organizations, including Global Ties U.S., Sister Cities, and Japan America Society come to mind. 

After serving together on the Board of the National Council for International Visitors (NCIV), now Global Ties U.S., I had the pleasure of meeting him officially in Washington, DC, and visiting him locally at IIW in Milwaukee. I also connected with Al at a regional meeting in Boseman, Montana, and spent time with him and his wife Sharon during an NCIV visit to Paris, France.  

Flowers at a street market with people shopping

Al and Sharon Durtka check out flowers at a street fair after an NCIV visit to Paris, France in September 2011. Photo provided by Alan Kumamoto.

Al and Sharon’s domestic and global journey of thousands of miles began with many single steps. Those times were precious to talk strategy and succession planning. Thanks, Al and Sharon, for spending time and creating space for dialogue

 – Alan Kumamoto, former Board Chair and Advisory Council Member, Global Ties U.S.