Brasov, Romania

Our May, 2011 Exchange to Brasov, Romania

Jeanne Minorini, ED

What a welcome!  After two days’ travel from the States and meeting up with another of our group from Britain in Istanbul, this was our intro to Brasov, Romania:

And the well-fed “happy campers” after our ample lunch, as we began our week together with Friendship Force of Brasov:

We, Friendship Force Northern Illinois, had hosted the Romanian club in 2009.  We liked them and apparently they liked us because they invited us to visit them in their homes in May, 2011.

And what a beautiful country they have!  They had so much to show us….


Romania has a very rich historical heritage.  They showed us one of Count Vlad the Impaler’s castles (above).  Of course he is better known as Dracula.

And we visited the magnificent Peles Castle of the Romanian kings, most recently occupied by King Michael of the House of Hohenzollern until his abdication in 1947.  Breath-taking!!

And there were the museums:  the outdoor bicycle museum on the Brasov city walls and the Peasants’ Museum in Bucharest.






















And fortresses:










We also visited our host Azota  Popescu’s  School for the Visually Deficient.  We so admired their wonderful work to benefit the visually handicapped that we made a donation to that organization:




Our Joyce Schmitz of Friendship Force Northern  Illinois had hosted Azota Popescu when the Romanians came to visit us in 2009.  They became fast friends.  So when the exchange traveled to Romania, Joyce (pictured below on the left) brought 350 pairs of glasses that she had personally solicited from American Lions’ Clubs to present to Azota(right).  That duffle bag full of glasses was awfully heavy to schlep from America to Brasov, but you should have seen the look on Azota’s face!   That’s what good friends do…


We were awestruck by the churches by the beautiful churches and their histories:















And how well we ate!  The Romanians know how to cook….   MMMMmmmmmmm  (We really fought the Battle of the Bulge—and probably lost….)














We loved the Romanians.  They are such good-hearted folks, and they took such good care of us.  What treasured friends they have become!



Cedar Rapids/Iowa City, Iowa

Friendship Force Mystery Exchange
Cedar Rapids/Iowa City
By Bob Weissman, ED
June 22-25, 2012

Seven members of the Northern Illinois Friendship Force traveled in two cars about 250 miles to visit the members of the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Friendship Force Club.  We left our area at about 9:30 am and arrived at about 3:00 pm at Coe College in Cedar Rapids where we met our hosts and other members of the hosting club.

After becoming acquainted with our “mystery” hosts, we proceeded to the Coe College Library where we were given a tour of the art collection housed in that building.  We saw many photos by George T. Henry and the art of Marvin Cone along with some paintings by the famous Grant Wood.






Having had our introductions to our hosts’ homes, we were taken to the Ellis Park Overlook Pavillion on the Cedar River where many members of our host club treated us to a sumptuous pot luck dinner.  Our club president, Joan Harrington, introduced herself and thanked the hosting members for having us.  Yours truly, Bob Weissman, the ED for this exchange, was asked to say a few words, which I did.

Saturday was a very interesting and busy day!  We traveled to a nearby town called Anamosa where we visited the Anamosa Penitentiary.  In the penitentiary museum, we were given to “low down” on the history of the prison and its workings.  We also got to try on prison garb and get an idea of what a cell felt like.


We made a brief photo stop at a very old restaurant called The General Store in Stone City before going into downtown Anamosa to see the Grant Wood Museum where we were given a very informative talk about the artist and his art.  Grant Wood is best known for his painting called, American Gothic.  The woman was his sister and the man was a town dentist.  We went past the Stone City quarry, but did not stop there.

From there, we traveled the back roads to West Branch, the birthplace of Herbert Hoover.  Before viewing the grounds, buildings, museum and burial area of this area, we stopped in West Branch for lunch at a small restaurant called Reid’s Beans.

The Herbert Hoover Museum is a great place to find out about all of the good and useful things which Herbert Hoover accomplished.  We should not blame him for the Depression, although he didn’t do much to alleviate the suffering of American citizens during his presidency.

Having left West Branch, our hosts had complete control of where we went.  My hosts took me to Stringtown Grocery, a busy but small supermarket run by the Amish of the town of Kalona.  There were all kinds of fruits, vegetables and handmade and hand packaged items.  I got a photo of a fellow in his buggy!

After Kalona, we went back to Cedar Rapids where we were due to go on a trolley tour of that city.  Being somewhat early, we went to a pub in Czechtown called “The Red Frog” where we had a drink and hung out until it was time to find the trolley.

Our trolley tour of Cedar Rapids lasted two hours.  Mostly we were told about various buildings in the area which had been saved, raised, or rebuilt due to the flood of the Cedar River in 2008.  That was some flood!!

With the trolley ride behind us, we went with our hosts for dinner.  I had chosen to go to a restaurant called, “The Longbranch” since I was hungry for a steak.  Dinner was very good as was the company of Jerry and Phillis Seidl.  Phillis was the incoming ED.







It was a wonderful experience all around!  We arrived home in the late afternoon.

Jean Wilson:

We always think:  It can’t be better than this!

Every Exchange seems to be even more fun than the last, but we know it’s just because we enjoy each new friend we meet through FFNI, and the more the merrier.

This was a domestic Exchange, meaning within the USA—it’s a great way to get know members in other states and find out more about their lives.

We had super hosts—who could ask for anything more?  Their lovely home was surrounded by a garden just as beautiful as our hosts were. We soon learned that they had traveled all over the world, but when Dianne brought out a few of her many albums, we were astonished!

Each one was a gorgeous, wonderfully detailed work of art.   We exclaimed as we marveled at each page:  “Everybody should see these albums. We think FFI and the whole world should know about them.”

The Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Friendship Force treated us to a busy, happy Exchange.  We can’t wait to plan their visit to The Friendship Force of Northern Illinois soon.

Bob Weissman:

This exchange was my first as an ED.  I think everything went very well.  It appeared that everyone had a great time.

I had a super time.  One of the reasons I had such a great time is that I got to stay with two different hosts.  When I arrived at the Seidl’s residence, I was given the opportunity to be with them all day Friday, Friday night, all day Saturday and Saturday night.  I was told that there was another member of the club who had thought he would have an Ambassador.  However, that did not work out as planned.  The Seidls ask me if I would like to spend Sunday and Sunday night with John Geigerich.  John has a friend named Trish, also a member of the club, who accompanied us all day Sunday.

Not only were both my hosts super people, but I got to see Dubuque on Sunday!  This was a wonderful addition to my experience on the Mystery Exchange.  The Dubuque Arboretum was special in that it has wonderful gardens and also had a band which played oldies for at least 1000 folks sitting on the lawn.

Being hosted by two different members has got to be the best!!

Sheila Liao:

It is my first exchange; I am very excited and looking forward for the experience.

Mr. Bob Weissman is very kind to offer the ride for us to drive to Cedar Rapids.

We left 9:30 in the morning and got there right before 2:30pm. The Cedar Rapids club members were there to welcome us. I felt so honored to be treated as VIP.

Coe College has great assets of many local artists’ art collections. Finally, I am at the home town of Grant Wood.

I was holding my breath when I got into my host family’s house. It is a nice, private, wooded area with many custom built houses. Mr. Michael and Dianne Karal have a beautiful big house which has artistic detailed decoration.  They provided me a room with a 4-pole queen size bed.  I had always wished to sleep on a 4-pole bed.

While staying with the Karal family, Dianne shared her recipes, taught me to play “progression” card game, showed us many of their trips photos and scrap books. They had done all photos, placed with great theme and art design. I encouraged Dianne to publish her travel scrap books to promote the Friendship Force organization.

To visit the local art gallery, Anamosa Penitentiary Museum, President Hoover Library, Amanas German town, and trolley tour of their downtown; this trip taught me their hard work attitude and big warm hearts of Midwestern Americans. It also taught me some of American histories.

The trip set a high standard for my future exchanges and it will be the role model to follow to be a great home host.


Blue Mountains, Australia

June 15-22, 2008

On Sunday, June 15, 2008, fourteen members of the Blue Mountain Australia FF Club arrived at O’Hare Airport.  We greeted them with welcome signs and open arms.  After previous exchanges in Wichita KS and Birmingham, AL, our guests were ready for a day to get acquainted and relax in their new surroundings.

On Monday, we assembled the group and toured the Chicago Botanic Garden in Highland Park.  Our guests were delighted with the beautiful landscapes, flowers and fountains.  The Rose Garden, English Garden and miniature railroad garden were photographed over and over.

Lunch was provided in the Garden Café and then on to the Baha’i Temple in Wilmette.  Our docent conducted a tour of the temple and pointed out many of the architectural highlights to our guests.  Before heading home for a rest, a brief stop was made at Gillson Park, directly across from the Temple.  Our Australian guests were impressed with the beauty and size of Lake Michigan.  Several walked along the shore and marveled at the panoramic views of the city.

Later that evening, Ludwina and Bill Homer hosted a welcome dinner at their home in Waukegan.  We all got better acquainted over food and drinks and shared many tales of our FF experiences.

Tuesday and Thursday were free days to be spent with host families.  Several  club members provided tours of their local communities, accommodated guests with special interest events, such as quilting shows, antique shops and live theatre.  Others hosted dinner parties with members unable to home host, but anxious to meet our Australian Ambassadors.

Of course, an exchange to FFNI would not be complete without a visit to downtown Chicago.  We had a beautiful day to tour the Cultural Center, stroll through Millennium Park to view Cloud Gate, Crown Fountain and listen to the Chicago Symphony rehearsal.

Cloud Gate Sculpture, fondly called the “Bean”

The Crown Fountain portrays faces of Chicagoans.  Children play in cooling fountain.

Lunch was served on the 95th floor of the John Hancock building.  We were blessed with clear skies and the city and lake views were magnificent.

Looking north from the 95th floor of the John Hancock Building

Each Ambassador chose how to spend their afternoon in Chicago.  Some strolled along Navy Pier; some experienced the art and sculptures of the Chicago Art Institute and others, shopped for unique remembrances and souvenirs for family and friends.  It was a perfect way to spend the day in Chicago.

Geoff and Harry enjoying beautiful Navy Pier

On Friday, we traveled to Oak Park, a western suburb of Chicago, to tour the Frank Lloyd Wright House & Studio.  After lunch at La Majada restaurant, we strolled with our Australian friends through the neighborhood to identify and admire more of Wright’s homes.

Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture

The week passed quickly and on Saturday, it was time for our Farewell lunch at Bertucci’s Restaurant in Highwood.  Italian food was enjoyed by all.

Our guests entertained us with a humorous Australian song and dance.

A few words of appreciation were expressed by both ED’s, Geoff Whitwell, Mary Lou Balazs as well as Pat Meyer, our FFNI President.  Many friendships began this week and invitations to visit again were made by both clubs.   Our new friends departed early Sunday.  We will miss them and hope to renew our friendships on a future outgoing exchange.

Arts and Architecture

August 13-18, 2014
Marcia Weissman, ED

The Arts and Architecture exchange was a great success, due in part to perfect weather throughout the five days.  The twenty ambassadors consisted of Americans from four states, Canadians from four cities, and a Brazilian couple.  Several of the Canadians were from clubs we had visited last year, so we were able to renew former acquaintances as we also established new ones.


Many thanks to the home hosts: John and Mary Lou Balazs, Pam Bridges, Dean and Marlene DiBrito, Brian and Joan Harrington, Bill and Ludwina Homer, Dave and Pat Meyer, Jeanne Minorini, Marilyn Parsons, Dora Turula, Jean Wilson, and Kat York.  Also thanks to the day hosts: Scott and Christine Oliver, Barb Dillard, Lorrie Gasewind, Karen Li, and Paula Addington, and to Bob Weissman for his photographs.

We began with a Welcome dinner at the beautiful Lake Forest beach.  Hosts contributed salads and desserts, and the exchange supplied delicious fried and roasted chicken.  Each ambassador had an opportunity to give a brief introduction and tell about his or her own personal interests in the arts.

Our first full day was a very eventful one.  We arrived in Chicago by train and assembled at the dock for our Architecture River Cruise.  Everyone agreed that the docent was excellent, and the account of the buildings along the river was very interesting.  After the cruise, we walked to an El station to travel to the River North art gallery area.  We visited two galleries that specialize in contemporary glass and ceramic works; both gallery owners graciously gave explanations about the artwork that was displayed.  Another walk took us to a bus stop for our ride to the Ignite Glass Studio, where we ate our lunches and the ambassadors were able to participate in hands-on glassblowing under the direction of skilled artists.  We then rode both a bus and another El train to the Logan Square apartment of a lady who collects Outsider art – a very interesting and unusual collection.  She generously provided us with wine, appetizers, and dinner – a wonderful end to a very busy day.











The next day was spent in Oak Park and Elmhurst.  We had a docent-led tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright home and studio, as well as a self-guided walking tour of the surrounding area.  We then proceeded to Ernest Hemingway’s birthplace to see an example of a typical home of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, as well as some insights into the life and upbringing of a great American writer.  Following lunch at a local deli, we drove to the Lizzadro Lapidary Museum in Elmhurst to see beautiful examples of carved stonework, mostly from the Orient.





















The third full day brought us back into downtown Chicago for a two-hour walking tour of the architecture and outdoor art of the Loop area.  We then went to the Art Institute for a docent-led tour of the Impressionist collection, with time available to wander in other areas of the museum as well.  We reconvened at the Weber Grill Restaurant for a wonderful dinner.  Afterwards, some ambassadors and guests attended the concert of classical music at Millennium Park.







Our final day was unscheduled in the morning and afternoon.  Many ambassadors visited the Botanic Garden, while others attended an opera performance at Ravinia, or a musical at the Lincolnshire Theater.  We met for the final time for the Farewell party at the Weissman’s home in Wildwood, with a catered dinner and a view of the hosts’ art and photography collection.  Our Brazilian ambassador provided a delicious tropical punch as well.  The glass creations that the ambassadors had made at Ignite Studio were brought to the party so everyone could take their artwork home with them.

The next day consisted of a leisurely morning, after which the ambassadors boarded an Amtrak train to Milwaukee to continue their Arts and Architecture adventure.


Ottawa, Canada

The Canadian Adventured, Continued

After a two-hour flight from Winnipeg, we arrived in Ottawa, the capital city of Canada.  The city is located on the river which separates the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, creating a metropolitan area that includes both English and French communities.  Our hosts were members of FF Canadian Capital Region, a French-speaking club.

The welcome banquet was a wonderful buffet dinner, highlighted by a music and dance group who performed traditional French Canadian songs.  After watching the performers, the dancing was opened to the audience, and members from both clubs joined on the dance floor.

For our next day, we explored some of the buildings of the Canadian government, including the Governor General’s Residence and the Parliament building.

The following day we visited Ottawa City Hall, where we were greeted by the Deputy Mayor and his protocol aide.  After lunch, we visited the stables where elite members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police train for their famous riding exhibitions.

For dinner that evening, we ate at a culinary school.  The meal was prepared and served by some of the student chefs.  Everything was delicious!

Our next excursion was to the fantastic Canadian Museum of Civilizations, where we saw exhibits about Canada’s history and aboriginal peoples.  Later we drove to Gatineau Park, Quebec.  The fall colors were beautiful and the scenery was breathtaking.

On the next day we boarded a bus to take us to Papineau Manoir, a home built in the 18th century, for a guided tour.  Nearby was the Chateau Montebello, a resort where many celebrities have stayed, and world leaders have held meetings.

After lunch, we continued to Omega Park, which has habitats for many animals native to Canada.  We were able to feed them with carrots, which was a lot of fun.

Our final day in Ottawa featured another ride in the country, this time to the Cumberland Heritage Village Museum, a re-created village of buildings from the 1920’s showing rural life at that time.  We enjoyed a pot-luck picnic provided by the host club.

Our last event was the farewell dinner.  We will remember this visit and the wonderful hospitality shown by all of our Friendship Force colleagues and hosts.

Jean Wilson Receives Our First Wayne Smith Award

Jean Wilson will be our club’s first recipient of the Wayne Smith Medal at the annual meeting on Nov. 13th. She sets a high example of respect, understanding and humanitarian service for our club. Jean Oller Wilson has been and still is the heart of the Friendship Force of Northern Illinois. She is a 1984 founding member and the second club president. Jean has been incoming and outgoing exchange director numerous times and participated in more exchanges than anyone can count. Jean has also been secretary, newsletter editor, program and social chairs. Her skills as a Spanish teacher and translator are frequently used. She was honored by the senior center of Libertyville several years ago.

Jean compiled the booklets celebrating our 20th and 25th anniversaries; she also compiled and printed the exchange booklets for incoming and outgoing exchanges for many years. Last year Jean traveled with our Mystery Exchange. This year Jean has home hosted San Antonio and Rio de Janeiro exchanges. She is on the committee forming a new member mentoring system. Jean still recruits new members and brought five guests to our International Food Festival in September.

Most important, Jean has a heart as big as her smile! At age 84, Jean is a vibrant, joy-filled member who listens, laughs, shares, cares, helps and is a dear friend to everyone in the Friendship Force of Northern Illinois. Jean truly is a force of friendship. We love Jean Wilson and are proud and honored to present her the Wayne Smith Medal.

The donation given to the Friendship Force Legacy Fund in Jean’s honor both supports the vision of club founder, Wayne Smith, and honors the achievements of Jean Wilson in furthering the mission of the Friendship Force.