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Published December 08, 2010, 12:00 AM

Halgrimson: Francophiles gather for some Francofun

The invitation arrived by both snail mail from David Gilchrist and by e-mail from Gary Gilder. The e-mail read, in French: “Le dîner de Noël aura lieu 6pm, Mardi, 14 Décembre au VIP.”

By: Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, INFORUM

The invitation arrived by both snail mail from David Gilchrist and by e-mail from Gary Gilder.

The e-mail read, in French: “Le dîner de Noël aura lieu 6pm, Mardi, 14 Décembre au VIP.”

Translated it means, “Christmas dinner will take place 6 p.m., Tuesday, December 14, VIP.” It was an invitation to the Francofun group’s latest Christmas party.

More than 25 years ago, Gilchrist, who was teaching French at Moorhead High School, contacted French teachers from schools in Fargo, West Fargo, the two universities and Concordia College to initiate an evening of speaking French with each other.

They call their organization Francofun, and Gilchrist took the responsibility of coordinator. The group has grown to include people interested not only in learning the French language but in learning about French culture. How my high school French teacher, T. J. Vavrina, would have loved such a gathering.

Gilder, who works as a master gardener with Cass County Extension, sends out an announcement of the monthly dinner meetings, which rotate among area restaurants. The meals are usually followed by the sharing of experiences such as stories and photos from foreign travel, presentations on the life and culture in a participant’s native country, and French films.

The organization is truly international, with participants coming from more than a dozen countries, including France, Belgium, Burundi, Canada, Congo, Lebanon, Niger, Russia, Switzerland and Tahiti.

A smaller group meets every Saturday morning at First & Deli in Fargo.

Gilder says, “Every spring we dramatize a French play in reader’s theater format.” He adds that while the plays are amusing to watch, the real pleasure comes from getting to know the Francofun members. Every cast member may come from a different country.

Each December Francofun holds a Christmas party at the VIP Room in the lower level of the old O.J. de Lendrecie building, 624 Main Ave., Fargo. Executive chef Patricia Hanson Vetter prepares the meal after she and owner Gordy Richardson work out the menu.

This year guests will have a beef Dijon, chicken with mushrooms or vegetarian dinner all served with pasta and green beans.

The pièce de résistance is a yule log, or bûche de Noël, prepared by Nichole’s Fine Pastry, after which the diners sing French Christmas carols and exchange gifts.

The cost of the meal is $24, and reservations may be made with Gilder by calling (701) 234-9942. The deadline to register is Thursday.

I have few regrets in my life, but one of them is not learning to speak French in spite of Mr. Vavrina’s classes and a year of French in college. However, I’ve gone to the Francofun Christmas party for the last five years. I go because I love hearing people speaking French, so I go there to get my fill. And, of course, I go for the lovely meal that Chef Hanson Vetter prepares.

One year I sat next to the late Claude Schmidt, an entomologist at the Bioscience Research Lab in Fargo. Dr. Schmidt was born in Switzerland, as was my paternal grandmother, and he was a delightful companion. I shall miss his presence.

Now I get the opportunity to visit with Laetitia Mizero, who is from Burundi, and Kathy Neugebauer, from West Fargo. And, of course, I get to renew my acquaintance with Gilder and Gilchrist, who got me into this Francofun experience in the first place.

Readers can reach Andrea Hunter Halgrimson at ahalgrimson@forumcomm.com