An Opportunity to be Better - Postscript Page 2

Fèves Mayor Auguste Berne sent a New Year's greeting to Morganville in a January 3, 1950 letter. He closed by stating he had a "great desire that this beautiful friendship born in kindness and charity extends indefinitely." So how well was Berne's hope fulfilled? We do know that the pairing remained alive in the memories of some who were far removed from the two villages and over many years. In a July 9, 1993 letter to Haney, Todd wrote:

By the way, your letter arrived just when I was reading the obituary of Olive Beech [ head of Beech Aircraft ] in the N. Y. Times. She was the big wheel in the Wichita-Orléans (France) affiliation which I arranged with the help of dear Jean Falaize (mayor of Orléans), ... and a host of other dignitaries way back when. From Wichita, I went on to Morganville - which, for a few years, was the most exciting of all. Dear Velma et co.! The real thing, it was.

Olive Beech

Another who remembered was Richard Parker, who had finished his education at Kansas State College in the spring of 1948. While waiting for his first assignment in the foreign service, he worked for UNESCO on campus. He attended the pageant in Morganville that August 27 evening and collaborated with Robert Sonkin and others in helping spread the word about the events of that night. In 2004, after his retirement from a career that saw him rise to the top of the United States diplomatic corps, he was asked about his UNESCO experience.

But the most exciting thing I did was to witness a festival celebrating the adoption of a town in France by a little town named Morganville, not far from Manhattan, where the university was. That was a great event. Everyone came from miles around and people performed on a stage set up in a vacant lot. It was a very rewarding grass-roots experience.

Richard Parker

Still, the language barrier made it difficult to keep the connection between the villages alive. On the Morganville end, Roenigk's son's knowledge of French meant most of the communications with Fèves were through Roenigk. The narrowness of the connection on the American side can be seen by noting that, although Carson was the creative force as well as the head of the Morganville committee, she was all but unknown to the village's French friend. When the 2015 visitors from Fèves were asked if they knew who Carson was, not a single hand was raised.

In contrast, all three French committee members were known in Morganville. But Berne's death in 1951, followed soon after by Holveck's departure from Fèves, meant the connection between the two villages soon became little more than a personal friendship between Roenigk and Torlotting, symbolized by an exchange of cards at Christmas.

We know Henri and wife Mathilde never visited Morganville. Why is unknown. What became of the money raised to bring them is also unknown. So, with the deaths of the Torlottings and Roenigks, except for Haney, the connection between the villages just faded into the background of people's memories, both in Kansas and in Lorraine.

So will this latest resurrection of the story and the visits by people from both sides have a lasting effect in the form of a continuing connection between the villages? While there are more people today in Fèves who understand some English, as before, the language barrier remains, making true friendships difficult to establish and maintain.

Modern sister-city relationships are based largely on governmental and institutional ties that benefit each partner in a tangible way. For this to occur, the circumstances of both need to be fundamentally similar. But the paths of the two villages have diverged.

Fèves is now three times the size it was when Morganville reached out with help. Its growth and renewal is due in no small part to a successful commercial zone in the eastern edge of the community. The younger people who have moved to the area do find this story an interesting one, yet see it as a charming curiosity of the past, rather than something connected with the future.

In contrast to Fèves' expansion, Morganville has continued the slow decline begun more than a half century before the pageant. It now has less than 200 inhabitants. Ironically, this change is also due to success. The goods and services it once supplied to the surrounding farming community are now easily procured in greater abundance and variety just a few minutes down the road in Clay Center. Successful farmers continue to buy out their neighbors, leaving smaller and smaller numbers of people in rural areas. This means there is less demand for the necessities of daily life that Morganville merchants once supplied.

So it seems hard to imagine any real benefit the businesses or governments of either village might experience from maintaining a connection.

While Carson noted there "lingers here the afterglow of a splendid dream," there may be more that remains in other locations. We know that the story of the two villages was widely reported. Todd, who frequently used the Morganville-Fèves story as an example of what could be done, was crucial in connecting Wichita, Kansas with Orléans, France. At the end of 1948, Wichita newspaperman Peter Wyden traveled to Morganville to attend the first Noel Ball. So was it just a coincidence that a major component of the May 1949 weekend-long joining celebration in Wichita included an original play? And today, the twinning between these communities continues with both governmental connections and a university-student exchange program.

A case can also be made that an international institution can be traced back to the influence of the Morganville-Fèves pairing. The villages' relationship received much publicity. It brought national attention to the Kansas governor in the form of radio interviews and newspaper articles. The proximity to the university in Manhattan and the involvement of Parker and others meant university president Milton Eisenhower was well-educated in the details of the program and its political impact. He became a life-long vocal advocate for people-to-people programs as he moved on to other institutions. So it was not surprising that when his brother Dwight became president of the United States, Milton encouraged him to foster the Sister Cities program. In 2018, the "About us" page of the Sister Cities International website stated:

Founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956, Sister Cities International is a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) nonprofit which serves as the national membership organization for individual sister cities, counties, and states across the United States. This network unites tens of thousands of citizen diplomats and volunteers in nearly 500 member communities with over 2,000 partnerships in more than 140 countries.

Yet, perhaps looking for some on-going aspect to the connection between the two small villages is an attempt to make the story into something it was never intended to be. After all, an enduring connection was never the goal. Even the labels American Aid to France placed on packages suggests the connection was to be a temporary one: "... we, the American people, have worked together to bring this food to your doorsteps, hoping that it will tide you over until your own fields are again rich and abundant with crops."

Still, there is an important element in this story that can also be heard in the answer to a question Todd posed to the readers of his hometown newspaper. In his Christmas-Eve editorial for the Dunkirk Observer eight months before the Morganville pageant, he began with the question:

One question has puzzled me for over a year now – and I'm sure it has bothered a great many other Dunkirkers. The question is this: Just what is it about our town that makes people say the things they do about it? Why do ambassadors, foreign consuls, columnists, radio announcers, and all kinds of people from every walk of life get that blissful, far-away look on their faces whenever the name Dunkirk is mentioned? What gets into tough journalists and newspapermen like Quentin Reynolds and Meyer Berger when they get up here in Dunkirk? And why does that word "miracle" keep coming up?

Reynolds and Berger were two of America's top journalists in the 1940s. The former was a long-time and well-known editor for the very popular Collier's magazine and the latter was a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist for the New York Times. Certainly, the rediscovery of the Morganville-Fèves story has not generated that kind of interest. Yet it has experienced quite a bit of media coverage, and many people have told us they just love this story.

Todd suggested an answer to his own question. During World War II, while serving as the public relations officer at the port of New York, he had watched Berger talking to the soldiers getting on a ship bound for the European front. He noted that Berger wrote little and asked even fewer questions as the story didn't need them. Todd concluded:

The common denominator of both of these stories – Dunkirk and the embarkation – was people. That's why Meyer Berger did so well with them. They don’t have to be famous or exceptional people – and I’m sure no Dunkirker would claim either of those. But in both cases, they were people enlisted in a cause that was bigger than any one, or all of them. And they were behaving as people sometimes do, simply, but with dignity and a certain greatness. That, I am sure, is the "miracle" which Meyer Berger and all the rest have found in Dunkirk.

It was 1990 when curator Haney overheard one of the school children who had just finished touring the museum in Clay Center say, "Nothing ever happened around here." That was not so. In a small village 10 miles away, a small miracle had occurred. Ordinary Americans embraced an opportunity to be better and, with dignity and a certain greatness, got involved in a cause greater than any one of them. And in so doing, they made the world a better place. This is why the Morganville-Fèves story is important.