September 16, 2016 | By Chuck Carlson
The relationship is now in its 20th year, but, as is often the case between longtime friends and trusted colleagues, time flies when you’re having fun.
“We’re forging a collaboration,” said Albion College professor of French Dianne Guenin-Lelle. “And we have a genuine affection for each other.”
It began in 1997 when the late Sue Marcos in the Albion Chamber of Commerce was exploring the cultural and educational opportunities of the international Sister City program.
What developed was a relationship between the city of Albion and Noisy-le-Roi, a similarly sized community 15 miles west of Paris (the adjacent community of Bailly joined the program in 2010).
Over the first 10 years, more than 500 Albion residents and students participated in youth and adult cultural exchanges and internships while students and adults from Noisy came to Albion.
It was a program that worked well and it would move to another level in 2007 when Noisy invited Albion College to become part of the Sister City program.
The relationship continues to flourish thanks to a group of approximately 15 local Sister City Committee members, including Guenin-Lelle, Mae Ola Dunklin, Mary Slater, Dick Lewin, Rick and Barbara Lange, and Margo Heiden.
And this weekend, to help celebrate 20 years of the collaboration, a nine-person delegation from Noisy-le-Roi and Bailly is being hosted by the Albion group, continuing a program that seems to get better with time.
The delegation features Noisy-le-Roi Mayor Marc Tourelle and Bailly Mayor Claude Jamati; three adjuncts Gwanaelle de Cibeins, Patrick Boykin and Roland Villeval; Francois Amet, Stephanie Dufour-Villeval and Annick Theis-Viemont of the French Sister City Committee; and Rosa Estelles of the Spanish Sister City Committee.
They arrived in Chicago on Wednesday and arrived Thursday night in Albion, where they are staying with local Sister City committee members.
Next is a four-day whirlwind of events for the group that starts Friday with a trip to the Detroit Institute of Art and Detroit Historical Museum. Saturday will be highlighted by the group leading the Festival of the Forks morning parade, while Sunday features a Sister City reunion barbecue at Victory Park followed by a reception at the home of Albion College President Mauri Ditzler.
On Monday, half of the French delegation will gather at the College to meet with one of Guenin-Lelle’s French classes, while the remainder will go to Marshall to meet with school district Superintendent Randy Davis. Later the group will meet with representatives from several College departments. An official reception caps the trip that evening; on Tuesday, the group heads to Chicago and then back to France.
It’s the first time the French delegation has been in Albion since Ditzler’s presidential inauguration two years ago.
“[In 2014] they wanted to see an American coronation,” Guenin-Lelle said with a laugh.
In turn, a group of students from the College hopes to visit France next spring with the men’s basketball team, which is planning a series of exhibition games in May.
The trips continue a history of intercultural experiences in which the hosts learn as much as those visiting from across the Atlantic.
“We live in a global community,” said Slater, who runs the Albion Heritage Bed & Breakfast and has visited Noisy-le-Roi four times. “Our whole lives are interdependent on the whole world. These aren’t abstract Frenchmen; they’re people.”
For Dunklin, who was born in Covington, La., (across Lake Pontchatrain from New Orleans) but has lived in Albion for 42 years, learning French culture has helped her understand a little about where she came from.
“Being from a state where I didn’t take the [French] language seriously, I feel I’m catching up on things I missed out on,” she said.
And the friendships? “And once you make that connection, it’s always there,” she said.
Indeed, 20 years later, that connection endures.
“This relationship runs through every part of Albion, Michigan, and Albion College,” Guenin-Lelle said. “It has brought us more international students who integrate into the community.”