Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Jan. 10, 2014
"What hath Todd wrought?"
Next to the road sign announcing a driver has arrived in Manhattan, Kan. is another saying the community is the sister city of Dobrichovice in the Czech Republic. The idea behind the sister-city program is that similar-sized communities often face similar problems and the differences in cultures sometimes make a solution apparent to one that is not easily seen by the other.
But that wasn't how the program started. Its origin can be traced to the aftermath of World War II when much of the world lay in ruins while the United States was comparatively unscathed. An organization called American Aid to France was formed to encourage Americans to help rebuild war-ravaged France. Charles "Lafe" Todd, freshly discharged from the service, was the man in charge. His hometown of Dunkirk, New York had for years maintained a loose relationship with its namesake Dunkerque, France. He suggested to Dunkirk's city fathers that rather than ask for help for all of war-torn France, perhaps they should instead focus on aid for their "sister city."
It was one of those seemingly simple variations on an idea that resonated in a way no one could predict. On Thanksgiving Day, 1947, a city-wide event - complete with the French ambassador and French movie star Charles Boyer - raised money and collected clothing for Dunkerque. Not long after, Locust Valley, New York took the cue from Dunkirk and adopted Sainte-Mère-Église, the first village in France liberated during the D-Day invasion. It spawned another organization called "Operation Democracy," and Todd was asked to guide it as well.
As the idea took off, Todd commented in amazement, "What hath Todd wrought?"
Within a couple of years, something on the order of 200 such affiliations had formed. But by the time Allied Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower had become President Eisenhower, he saw these relationships as holding greater promise than just war recovery. He believed they were a way of spreading democracy by allowing far-away places to learn more about how the United States operated, unfiltered by the bureaucracy of either our government or that of the foreign partner. The idea was to make it person-to-person as much as possible. The program was renamed Sister Cities.
Of all those initial city pairings, perhaps none was of more national interest than the one between Morganville, Kan. and Fèves, France. A unique aspect of the partnership was that both were by far the smallest communities involved with only about 300 citizens apiece. This made the relationship even more personal than many others. One of Morganville's citizens was reported to have said, "I think you could dump most any [one of us] on the main street of Fèves and he could find his way to familiar houses and friends."
In my Nov. 8, 2013 column, I told of the partnership between the two villages and how, as the need dissipated, so too did the connection. But some recent events caused the partners to breathe new life into their relationship. And on Dec. 29, Gèrard Torlotting and his wife Solange, both recipients of Morganville's help in 1948, arrived in the little Kansas village as a first step in reviving the relationship. They were accompanied by their son Hervè, daughter-in-law Christine and grandchildren Paul and Emma.
The people of Morganville responded in a most generous way. About 120 people attended the reception held in the Torlottings' honor. But it took weeks of behind-the-scenes preparation to ensure the success of the event. Husband Art worked for hours on a DVD presentation explaining the history behind the partnership. Nancy Johnson of Morganville was the "point person" who organized the reception. She enlisted the help of many others in Morganville to work on the myriad details. The old Morganville school gym was chosen as the site. U.S. and French flags were procured. Centerpieces were created. Refreshments were selected and publicity was arranged.
As an event planner myself, I know how much work is involved and I appreciated the special touches. One of those was using Pat Gilbert's mother's silver tea service - the same service used when Morganville hosted a fund-raising pageant for Fèves in 1948. Another was Nancy's husband Neill's idea of using milo, soybeans, wheat and corn - some of the seeds Morganville sent to Fèves after the war - as "anchors" to hold the miniature flags in the clear vases used as centerpieces. Neill mentioned that when he went to the grain elevator to get the seeds, the man told him it would have been easier to give him 1,000 bushels than to fill the coffee cans Neill had provided.
The program began with a welcome by Morganville mayor Brent Rundell. This was followed by two presentations relating the history of the relationship and what Fèves is like today. People who had been involved in the original pageant introduced themselves and talked about their roles in it. Gèrard gave a short speech, complete with jokes, in English, despite not speaking the language. He had written what he wanted to say and then his son translated it to phonetic English. The day concluded with much reminiscing.
The proposed ending time for the reception was 4 p.m., but many of us were still there at 6.
But as evening arrived, the tables and chairs were stored away. Once again, the gym became quiet. In most regards, things had returned to normal. But efforts to reconnect these sister cities continue. Art, daughter Katie and I will visit Fèves in the spring. Others have also indicated an interest in visiting the French sister.
And in an email from Gèrard two days after the event, he said, "As our work for a real match with Morganville continues, we will not fail to inform you of the progress of our efforts."
So, 65 years later, a connection remains. Indeed, what hath Todd wrought!
Left: before the reception, we gave the Torlottings a short tour of Manhattan. Here they are with Art at a point where most of the city can be seen from above; l-r:Emma, Christine, Paul, Hervè, Art, Gèrard and Solange. Right: Gèrard delivering his speech.
Left: Barbara Hart, in red sweater, and Lois Eggerman, far right, both active in 1948 in raising funds to help Fèves, watch a presentation with their husbands; right: inspecting materials from the Morganville-Fèves affiliation.