L'Alliance Française d'Aiken was created at Christmas 1967, and therefore celebrated its 50th year at the end of 2017.
It was started by three French-speaking ladies. One was French: Madeleine Combier. The other two were American: Josette Niesemann, brought up in France and married to a German engineer; Sister Marcella Zwingman, a religious Sister of Mercy who taught French at St. Angela High School, (since closed quite a few years ago). Both spoke perfect French and were passionate about French culture.
In fact, Sister Marcella offered the school library as the place to hold the formal meetings of the new group. And there they remained until the closure and demolition of the school in 1988.
Quickly, the idea of a monthly meeting to be held on the last Tuesday of the month took shape. Whenever possible, there was a program that lasted from 15 minutes up to an hour and a half for a film (French films were a rarity in those days). A small reception would follow—at the beginning just coffee and cookies...
The group quickly numbered a dozen. A minimum of French-speaking ability was required to join; in the case of a couple at least one has to speak French. However, after the departure of the only two French members, the Alliance was reduced to seven.
Happily it began attracting more French-speaking people and extended its reach beyond Aiken to Augusta. For several years the Alliance participated in the "Art in the Heart of Augusta" event, which celebrates a different country each year. In 1991, France was the highlighted country. The Alliance represented France, and its members marched at the front of the parade of Nations and mounted in what was then Port Royal—a major project driven by the Servy family—an exhibit called FRANCEEXPO91. Far beyond the 3Fs (Food, Fashion, Fragrance), this exhibit displayed some spectacular technological advances: the TGV, the Concorde, Spot satellite imagery, etc. It is a resounding success!
More recently, the selection of the Aiken-Augusta site for the MOX project brought numerous French engineers and specialists of the AREVA Co. Many of them are now welcome and active participants of the Alliance.
Today, the mission of the Alliance continues. The membership of our Alliance has broadened to encompass members from many different francophone countries, highlighting and nurturing the breadth and richness of French culture around the world