Robert Kulp started the American Club of Lille in 1990 when, by chance, he met other Americans and felt that it was in the American spirit to create an American Club.

Early on the Club had a newsletter, and an Association 1901 was formed in 1991 when it started collecting dues. Randi Dourdin and Olivia Wambergue were charter members.

From the beginning American Club of Lille members had to accept as a fact of life a fluctuating membership: Lille is a city where expatriate Americans tend to come and go. Nearly all the original members moved away including Gregory Bennett, who was President for a while, and who now lives in Florida. He lived alone in a huge house in Templeuve where club members sometimes had picnics and dinners. Gregory also had a country house in the Pas de Calais where club members once scheduled an event but Robert Kulp was the only one to attend because everyone else got lost trying to find his place.

In the beginning American Club of Lille members used to have evening coffee klatches at someone’s house, usually in La Madeleine where Olivia Wambergue lived at the time. For a while they held monthly meetings at the Buffalo Grill in Lomme, starting with 10-12 people, winding up with two. Club members had discussions on citizenship and voting matters with guest experts. They had 3 film debate evenings at the Ecole Bilingue and one at the IEP (Sciences Po) in Lille. Club members also had some swell picnics and buffet dinners at members’ houses. The Club always offered to reimburse expenses.

The American Club of Lille had 5 joint meetings with the American Club of Paris: very successful were the two visits to art exhibits at the Beaux-Arts in Lille; one at the American-French Museum in Blérancourt; a 4th of July boat ride in Paris; and a concert at the Sainte Chapelle in Paris. Club members also tried establishing closer contact with the Association of Americans Resident Overseas (AARO) in Paris.

Other events with varied success were excursions to the Cathedral in Amiens; the battlefields of the Somme combined with visiting the excellent WWI Museum in Peronne; the fortified town of Bergues combined with the organs of Herzeele; the Château de Belleoeil near Tournai; Courtrai; the Matisse Museum in Le Cateau-Cambresis; Bellewaerd amusement park near Ypres for the children combined with Ypres for the adults; and Dunkerque’s beaches.

From the start American Club of Lille members started celebrating Thanksgiving and come what may, they never missed a year in 15 years. It started small in a restaurant in Lambersart. By word of mouth it reached a peak of 200 people for the 3rd Thanksgiving. It was mayhem. Club members decided that only Americans and English-speaking friends could attend. One year the club held a joint Thanksgiving with the Franco-American Club of Lambersart and the British Community Association. Depending on how the members felt, Club members celebrated in restaurants – the best was chez Nory in Wicres – or self-catering which required enthusiam and coordination and whether a suitable hall could be found. The best was probably at the Ecole Dominique Saviaut in Lambersart which was arranged by our late, America-loving, faithful Secretary, Philippe Duchatelle.

-Robert Kulp, January 2007

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