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Bill Kirby Jr.: ‘Merci beaucoup,’ Saint-Avold; mayor is grateful to this city


We have special guests in our community.

We are proud to have them, and they are proud to be here.

“Because of the language barrier, I was a little nervous,” says Mayor René Steiner of Saint-Avold, France, who is here this week along with Deputy Mayor Ramonde Schweitzer and Saint-Avold historian Pascal Flaus in celebration of the 30th anniversary of its Sister City relationship with Fayetteville.  “Even though I felt nervous, I received such a warm welcome from Kris Johnson and Tony Coleman.”

Steiner’s nerves were put at ease once the mayor, the deputy mayor and Flaus arrived at 5:45 p.m. Monday on American Airlines flight 5910 from Charlotte at Fayetteville Regional Airport, where they were greeted by Johnson, president of the Fayetteville-Saint-Avold Friendship Alliance, and Coleman, director of the airport off U.S. 301.

The nine-hour flight covering 9,700 miles from Saint-Avold was long, and Steiner and his delegation barely had the chance to get their feet on the ground before being whisked to Monday’s  7 p.m. Fayetteville City Council meeting. where Mayor Mitch Colvin presented Steiner with a key to the city and a city coin.

“It is the highest award we can present,” Colvin told Steiner.

The Saint-Avold mayor apparently was touched wth the city treasure.

“Thank you so much for the key to the city,” Steiner, 62 and in his third year as Saint-Avold mayor,  told Colvin through translator Maj. Matt Visser of the 18th Airborne Corps public affairs office.  “It is very symbolic and very important for us in recognition of our relationship with Fayetteville. It means a lot to me. I’m very grateful to you and the council for making this relationship possible in commemoration of our Sister City relationship and very, very proud of the bond between Saint-Avold and the city of Fayetteville.”

Steiner also noted relations between the United States and his country, reminding us that Saint-Avold is home to Lorraine American Cemetery with more than 10,000 World War II American soldiers buried there, with 22 North Carolinians among them, Kris Johnson told the council. Pvt. William Shaw, who is from Fayetteville, and his family were still here when Pvt. Shaw was killed in 1944. His father was the postmaster in Fayetteville and his younger sister, Gillie Shaw Revelle, still resides here at 92 years young.”

While the cemetery is on “American soil,” Johnson, 58, told the council, “the people of Saint-Avold continue to honor our dead and they appreciate the sacrifices that those service members made on behalf of their freedom and ours.”

Steiner, Schweitzer and Flaus later would be escorted down Hay Street by the Fayetteville Independent Light Infantry color guard for a private reception at the FILI Armory and Museum on Burgess Street, where the delegation toured the museum and saw the carriage that French Gen. Marquis de Lafayette rode in during his Fayetteville visit on March 4, 1825. The city was named for the Revolutionary War hero in 1783.

The reception included members of the Saint-Avold Week planning committee of Ron Schooler, Christiane Wickline, Sylvia James, Lorene McBryde, Ginette Moreau, Matt Visser, Sylvaine MacDonald, Bruce Daws, Stacie Ferry, Ann McRae and Karen Canady. Board members attending were Daphne Mellott and Jason Canady along with Daws, Ferry, McRae and Johnson.

“I felt the emotion,” Steiner later said in translation through Cape Fear High School French teacher Karen Canady of Fayetteville about the presentation at City Hall. “We are here and wearing my country’s colors. It’s such an honor.”

Unveiling of Saint-Avold Avenue

This will be a busy week for the Saint-Avold delegation highlighted Wednesday with the 10 a.m. renaming of Saint-Avold Avenue at Walter and Hillsboro street near N.C. Veterans Park.

“I’m excited,” said Steiner, the first Saint-Avold mayor to visit this city. “I’m looking forward to seeing it.”

Schweitzer equally is excited.

“It’s hugh for us,” she said. “We are so proud Fayetteville will rename a street and give it the name of Saint-Avold.”

The late Martha Duell of Fayetteville attended a similar ceremony in Saint-Avold, when in 1994 a roadway  in front of Lorraine American Cemetery was renamed Avenue de Fayetteville.

Other activities for the Saint-Avold delegation include a tour of downtown Fayetteville; a Southern style barbecue cookout at the home of Fayetteville-Saint-Avold Friendship Alliance board members Jason and Karen Canady; a tour of Fort Liberty; and a meeting with Lt. Gen. Christopher Donahue and Col. John Wilcox, garrison commander of the military base that is home to the 82nd Airborne Division; a visit to the Airborne & Special Operations Museum on Hay Street; stop at the Fayetteville-Cumberland Economic Development Corp. office; a visit to First Presbyterian Church; a dinner with the Fayetteville-Saint-avold Friendship Alliance board of directors at Chris’s Steakhouse & Seafood Restaurant; a “traditional Thanksgiving” dinner at the Sanford House at Heritage Square; a Saturday tour of the Battleship North Carolina and historic downtown Wilmington; and attendance at Sunday Mass at St. Patrick Catholic Church before the delegation departs for Saint-Avold.  

And, Flaus said, the delegation will at some time during the week visit St. John’s Episcopal Church to pay respects at the Memorial Garden columbarium to Martha Duell, a native of Bruebach, France, and founder in 1993 of the Fayetteville-Saint-Avold Sister City initiative.

“Because I had a close relationship with her,” Flaus said about Duell, who died at age 90 on July 24, 2015.


Parlez-vous français?

Not to worry.

Mayor René Steiner doesn’t speak English, either, although Ramonde Schweitzer and Pascal Flaus do have a command of the English language. All are special guests in our community –- a part, if you will, of our community because of this Sister City bond that we owe to the late Martha Jund Duell.
Bienvenus, from our community to our special guests from Saint-Avold. Bonne visite.

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.

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sister city, France, Lafayette, keys to the city, friendship alliance, citizen diplomacy