Hamilton resident celebrates long journey to U.S. citizenship

Fitton Center director to become U.S. citizen on Friday.

UPDATE @ 5:15 p.m.: Ian MacKenzie-Thurley had this to say after being sworn in as a citizen: "It was quite a moving experience to become a U.S. citizen at today's ceremony in Cincinnati. With over 70 people from 30 countries represented at the ceremony and with my family, friends and neighbors in attendance, it was a wonderful event for us all."

INITIAL REPORT:

A Hamilton man will become a U.S. citizen today — marking the end of an intense process of paperwork and exams.

Many know Ian MacKenzie-Thurley as the executive director of the Fitton Center for Creative Arts. Many people are not aware that the Australian has been working for three years to become a U.S. citizen.

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Born in Sydney, Australia, MacKenzie-Thurley, 42, grew up and was educated in Brisbane, Australia. He received a fellowship to further his pursuit of the arts in the Czech Republic, where his life outside of dramatic studies took a change.

“I met a girl from Hamilton,” he said. “She was singing in the same opera house after they brought her in to replace an Australian girl.”

That was in early 2000, and that summer, at the age of 26, MacKenzie-Thurley followed his eventual wife, Kelly, to the City of Sculpture.

“I grew up with American TV… the ‘Odd Couple,’ seeing commercials about McDonald’s and Levi’s,” MacKenzie-Thurley said. “When we got here I realized that I didn’t have a clue about American culture. It was culture shock.”

But quickly, he said, he fell in love with America and Hamilton.

“I fell in love with the people and how friendly, generous and welcoming they were,” MacKenzie-Thurley said. “The culture and diversity was amazing. It was like Europe in so many ways with all of the different voices and people represented. America does not get enough credit for its diversity and culture.”

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After marrying and again living in Australia and later Europe, the couple decided to return to Hamilton to start a family.

There was a “strong sense of something special happening around the city,” he said of his move back. “It was a very exciting energy.”

MacKenzie-Thurley, who has been the Fitton Center’s executive director since 2015, worked to get legal residency and has been working with an attorney for the past three years to obtain U.S. citizenship.

“There is so much paperwork and interviews, plus an exam that covers everything from civics, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence — who wrote them where and why,” he said. “There is also a reading and writing exam in English. There are like 100 questions and it is all pass/fail.”

How did he do?

“I scored 100 percent,” MacKenzie-Thurley said. “I am glad that I studied. But I grew up having a great appreciation for American history.”

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Mayor Patrick Moeller said the city has benefited from Mackenzie-Thurley’s presence and he is happy for the citizenship label that will be attached to him Friday.

“He mentioned to me once that he wanted to see paint on the walls and floor of the Fitton Center … even if not intentionally meant to be there,” Moeller said. “If the young person benefited from that art experience, it was a good thing. His view speaks loudly of his wish for Hamilton and those experiencing the arts. Glad he will be an American as well as a Hamiltonian.”

“My family, friends and staff here at the Fitton are all excited,” MacKenzie-Thurley said. “I have received congratulations from friend around the world,” he said. “My wife has dual citizenship in Australia and she is proud of that. I am proud to know that I am going to be a citizen in a country where you can work hard and achieve great things. I feel grateful that I have been afforded that opportunity.”

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