What does York County have in common with Arles, France? This nonprofit wants you to know

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

Five-year-old Betty Stein met Mimi Geraud for the first time at her home in Arles, France, in 1962. And almost 60 years later, the pair are still friends.

Stein and Geraud's friendship is one that remained strong over the years thanks to the York Twinning Association — an international, cultural collaboration between York County and its European "sister city," Arles. 

Each year, a designated group  travels to the sister city. While abroad, members will live in the homes of association members. For example, in 2016, Stein and her group traveled to Arles, where she reconnected with Geraud.

In back from left, York Twinning Association co-presidents Betty and Doug Stein are shown with Arles Twinning Association member Mimi Geraud, front left, and her niece, right, and great niece at Giraud's home in France in 2016. Geraud first met Betty through the program when Betty was five years old. Courtesy photo

“We do cultural exchanges," Stein said. “We try to educate them about things historical in this area."

The nonprofit extended its reach in 1981 to establish a relationship with Leinfelden-Echterdingen, Germany. Last year, a group from Germany was organizing a trip to York County, but it was canceled because of COVID-19.

Stein's husband, Doug, joined the York Twinning Association on its 2016 trip to Arles. While learning about a unique culture is an invaluable experience, the lasting friendships made are even more worthwhile, Doug Stein said.

“It's not just traveling and seeing things or history,” Doug Stein added, “but it's also very unique in that you develop these personal relationships."

A photograph gifted to York Twinning Association co-presidents Betty and Doug Stein is displayed at their home in Jackson Township, Monday, July 12, 2021. The photo is that of Betty's father, Judge John F. Rauhauser Jr., second from right, presenting a poster to the mayor of Arles France, second from left, circa 1976. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The York Twinning Association's history with Arles, France, runs deep, beginning with Victoria Lyles, a York County resident and director of elementary education in York City, who had a passion for connecting different cultures.

Lyles, alongside York City school French teacher Marguerite Erickson and Gen. Jacob Devers, who held several different commands in Europe during World War II, were invited to Arles in 1951 to be part of Bastille Day, more commonly known as the national day of France, which is celebrated July 14.

From that, Arles sought an American city to establish a "twinning" relationship with, and York  fit the bill. And now, Arles and York County have the oldest “twinning city" relationship, according to Betty Stein.

A photo of Marguerite Eriksson who was a French teacher in elementary schools in the York City School District and was a part of the twinning program. Courtesy photo

“There’s been a lot of going back and forth since the '50s," said Betty Stein. “We're hoping in 2022 that we can possibly start some things again. Our organization was kind of on hold because of COVID, so we're at the point where we're restarting."

The association has about 100 total members, and Betty and Doug Stein hope to reach more individuals looking to travel and host international groups. Additionally, several travel spots are open to high school students.

Next year's trip is still in the works. Co-chairs of the York County, Arles and Leinfelden-Echterdingen twinning associations are discussing which country will host, Betty Stein said.

Individuals interested in joining can reach out to Betty Stein by emailing j1j2j31@comcast.net. Annual fees are $10 for students, $20 for a single adult, $30 for two adults and and $40 for a family of three or more.

To get back into the swing of things, the York Twinning Association is hosting a Bastille Day picnic celebration Saturday that is open to all members of the organization.

“This is the first opportunity in our organization for people who are comfortable to have a face-to-face meeting with each other" since the pandemic began, Betty Stein said.

In January 2022, the nonprofit aims to host its annual "Twelfth Night York" event — a holiday fundraiser in which local residents invite the community into their homes for house tours of their festive decorations. Due to COVID-19, last year's event was canceled.

In 2024, the York Twinning Association will be having its 70th anniversary of being a sister city with Arles. Though not all of the details are sorted out, Betty Stein shared that members of the French group will be traveling to York County to celebrate.

“For me, it was very special in 2016 to go back again and meet Mimi, someone who knew me when I was 5," Betty Stein said. “It's across the ocean, but it's so close."

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.