Aspen adds Abetone, Italy as seventh Sister City
Francesca MacPherson’s legacy
Thursday night’s sister city signing was dedicated to Francesca MacPherson, who passed away on Oct. 6.
“We called her Miss Sister Cities,” program exchange coordinator Betsy Ann Anastas said.
“That’s a literal thing,” said Georgina Levy, another one of MacPherson’s sister cities exchange coordinators. “It was all that she cared about in the end.”
John Armstrong, who also chaired the sister city program with MacPherson, said sister cities was more than merely a passion for her.
“It was her life and her family,” Armstrong said. “She didn’t have any living family left. We were family.”
Born in 1947 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, MacPherson lived in Paris and studied in Mexico and Ecuador before moving to Aspen with a girlfriend in the mid 1970s.
Her first job was as a chambermaid at the Molly Gibson lodge, according to her sister cities co-worker Jill Sheeley.
Sheeley said MacPherson also worked as a concierge at Aspen Square, and got involved with sister cities shortly after settling in Aspen.
“It was so right up her alley,” Sheeley said.
“Francesca spoke fluent French, Spanish, and could really pick up bits and pieces of any language anywhere she was,” Sheeley said, adding that she quickly became an instrumental figure within the sister cities program.
“She loved the international aspect of traveling anywhere around the world and meeting new people,” Armstrong said. “Francesca made friends anywhere she went.”
Aspen added Abetone, Italy, as a sister city during an official signing at the City Council chambers Thursday evening.
Aspen and Abetone have worked together and sent students back and forth “in a courting stage” for the past three years “to make sure a relationship would work,” Aspen-in-Abetone Sister City head Jill Sheeley said.
Thursday’s signing took place following a delegation that traveled to Abetone this past May, where Mayor Steve Skadron signed an official treaty.
Abetone is Aspen’s seventh sister city as part of Sister Cities International, a nonprofit citizens’ diplomacy network that creates and strengthens partnerships between the U.S. and international communities.
Through Aspen’s Sister Cities program, Aspen Middle and High schools, the Aspen Community School and the Aspen Country Day School have exchanged students with schools in Shimukappu, Japan; Bariloche, Argentina; Chamonix, France; Queenstown, New Zealand; and Abetone, Italy.
Davos, Switzerland, and Garmisch, Germany, also are sister cities of Aspen, though they are not involved with the student-exchange program, Sheeley said.
“Our town is so unique in having seven sister cities for such a small town and having such a small volunteer organization,” Sheeley said. “It’s a big deal.”
Aside from Aspen Sister Cities’ annual student exchanges, the program also has done ski, employee and teacher exchanges throughout its 30-year history, she said.
“But the youth is our main focus,” Sheeley said. “We’re mostly a volunteer committee, and it’s a ton of work, but we are so rewarded when the kids come to present.”
Two students who traveled to Abetone through Aspen’s Sister Cities program spoke before a crowded room at Thursday’s ceremony.
“Everyone was so welcoming; every single person was your family, and it was touching to be welcomed so much into that community,” one Aspen High School student said.
Another student spoke of how amazing it was “to travel out of the country and be immersed into a different culture,” and said Abetone will always have a place in her heart.
Skadron also spoke of his appreciation for travel and the town of Abetone during the ceremony.
“What I love about Abetone is their authenticity and appreciation for history,” Skadron said, drawing a connection to Aspen’s core values. “What we can learn from Abetone is how to value this authenticity and hold on to those historic roots.”
Abetone-in-Aspen Sister Cities President Rolando Galli, whose daughter traveled to Aspen via the exchange program, said, “For us to be here signing this is a dream that came true.”
In an emotional speech, Galli attributed Francesca MacPherson to allowing this dream to happen.
“Francesca was someone that really made us proud to be from Abetone and that bonded our community together. Thank you, Francesca. Thank you to the community. Thank you, Aspen.”
Aspen High School students will travel to Abetone around spring break and the Abetone students will come to Aspen near the end of January or early February, Sister Cities Exchange Coordinator Georgina Levy said.
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State department of transportation crews are well on their way to clearing Highway 82 to Independence Pass, which should open on schedule May 27 at noon.