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Pawhuska honors French visitors

The Occitan flag is on display at Pawhuska City Hall Thursday night during a special reception honoring nine delegates from Montauban, France. The flag can be seen directly behind City Manager Paul McAlexander.
The Occitan flag is on display at Pawhuska City Hall Thursday night during a special reception honoring nine delegates from Montauban, France. The flag can be seen directly behind City Manager Paul McAlexander.
The flag plaza east of City Hall honored Pawhuska’s recent French visitors by flying the Occitan flag which is right of the American flag.
The flag plaza east of City Hall honored Pawhuska’s recent French visitors by flying the Occitan flag which is right of the American flag.

Sister city compacts are not unique to America, but the majority of these twinning compacts are for cities much larger than rural Pawhuska, Okla.

This distinction sets Pawhuska apart from all the others since Pawhuska’s sister city, Montauban, France, boosts a population of just under 60,000 residents.

Pawhuskan Jack Shoemate was mayor when the Osage County town entered into its sister city agreement with Montauban more than 14 years ago. He has lost count of the number of visitors Pawhuska has hosted since the two cities forged an alliance in 1989.

“Talk about economic opportunities,” said Shoemate. “The State of Oklahoma has been involved in our relationship as well.”

During their weeklong visit, the French delegates were honored with a luncheon by the Pawhuska French Ambassadors. The French Ambassadors were formed following their travels to France in 1999 when the Sister City compact was officially signed by then Mayor Jack Shoemate and Montauban Mayor Roland Garrigues. Garrigues is a former congressman of the National Assembly in Paris. He is currently with the General Council of the Department of Tarn-et-Garonne in Montauban.

Using interpreter Marie-Claude Strigler (Doctor of Economy and retired University of Paris Professor), Garrigues thanked everyone at the luncheon and jokingly said, “I am speaking the diplomatic language of the 18th century. I am very happy to see Jack (Shoemate) again and spending a wonderful week with you. The friendship we share between our two cities is very strong, very solid.” In closing, Garrigues said, “OK-OC” which is the acronym for the sister city compact.

Gerard Massip, President of OK-OC and Senior Manager of Montauban’s Administration Facilities, expressed his appreciation for the nice reception.

“Our presents are very small in comparison to the ones we have received from you; but, they are in (host) Archie Mason’s car and he left!”

Massip’s remarks conjured a round of laughter. Massip then announced they were going to sing. This group of French people loves to sing at any given opportunity and they know a lot of great songs.

Jean-Claude Drouilhet, former president and founder of OK-OC and retired high school teacher, talked about his special relationship to Pawhuska, especially the honor that was bestowed upon him during his visit in 2002 where he was made an “Honorary Pawhuska Citizen.”

“Ladies and Gentlemen, this honorary citizen of Pawhuska appreciates speaking to you, I paid honorary taxes, and when you have elections, I vote honorary vote,” said Drouilhet. “That is a good experience we have together. My buddy, Jack Shoemate, had the idea of forming a sister city alliance.”

Drouilhet applauded Shoemate’s idea but said he needed to run it by then Mayor Roland Garrigues. Garrigues gave his blessing and the rest is history. Jean Claude has been providing daily updates to his countrymen of their visit to Pawhuska.

“I feel myself at home except the people here don’t speak the language that I can understand well. That is the only problem you have.” His closing remarks evoked another round of laughter.

In 1999, David Keathly was Executive Director of the Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce. Keathly shared this story about his first meeting with Jack Shoemate.

“The first day I was in the office as being the Chamber Director, Jack walked in. He asked me if I knew where Montauban, France, was? I responded, ‘Afraid not.’ Then, Jack asked me if I knew Jean-Claude Drouilhet. I said, ‘Should I?’ He said, ‘Do you know Roland Garrigues.” I said, ‘I’m stumped!’ Then Jack said, ‘You are going to know them.’ Four hours later I figured out what this was all about and where we were going. It was one of the neatest things Marsha and I have ever been involved in. All of you from Pawhuska are our dear friends and all of you from Montauban became our dear friends — even eleven years later. Thank you for inviting us back today. It’s great to rekindle our friendships.”

Keathly is now director of the Marland Mansion in Ponca City.

Mike McCartney was recognized as the current Pawhuska Chamber director and applauded for his work. Following the luncheon, McCartney hosted the delegation at the Catholic Church where he gave a history of the church and influences and contributions by the Osage people.

Also in attendance were Mayor Roger Taylor and City Manager Paul McAlexander. They, along with the Pawhuska City Council, hosted a special reception for the delegation that evening at City Hall. In addition, the flag plaza east of City Hall honored the French with the presence of the Occitan flag. The Occitan flag was also on display in City Hall during the reception. According to Shoemate, Pawhuska is the only American city to fly a foreign flag.

The remainder of the afternoon included a visit to the historic Constantine Theater where CAC President Garrett Hartness showed KOTV Channel 6’s “Destiny Shared” series which chronicled the 1999 Sister City twinning agreement. Newsman Scott Thompson and KOTV news crew accompanied the 25 delegates who traveled to Montauban for this historic event.

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