A Look Into the History of People to People

President Dwight D. Eisenhower understood the power behind people making connections with other people. He saw that in doing so, one was given the opportunity to recognize differences and discover a peace within finding those differences. Standing out from socially normal tendencies, Eisenhower hoped to inspire the passion of building positive relationships among the hearts of individuals as opposed to enforcing it governmentally. His mission to launch such a dynamic program was developed in 1956. Following the mission, People to People International moved its operations to Missouri in 1961 as a non-profit organization, and it only continued to grow. From traveling to Europe, China, and Russia, to witnessing the fall of the Berlin Wall, the participating students of People to People International became the first student group to travel to all seven continents by 2005. And this was only the beginning.

Frankenmuth from the Lens of Its Heritage

Pastor of the Neuendettelsau country church, Wilhelm Loehe, also recognized the power of growing personal relationships. To act on this, he thought of an experimental idea to send a mission congregation from Germany to the United States after hearing about German missionary, Frederick Wyneken’s appeal for help in the United States. Loehe then wrote the pastor of a Swabian settlement in Michigan to authorize his mission colony site, which was approved and named Frankenmuth. “Franken” meaning the Province of Franconia in Bavaria, and “Muth” meaning courage; hence, Frankenmuth’s naming definition, “Courage of the Franconians.” The fifteen emigrants’ journey commenced in April of 1845. After facing torrential storms, violent seasickness, collisions, winds, icebergs, fog, illness, forests, thickets, and swamps, the colonists made it to Frankenmuth. Another group of about 90 emigrants voyaged to Frankenmuth in 1846, many of which led in the development of Saint Lorenz Church. Again, the mere start of something beautiful. What was it that inspired the original 15 settlers to leave what they knew and head off into the unknown? Was it to find independence? A fresh perspective? A business idea? It was a passion within their noble hearts to serve God, their community, and everyone they were to encounter. True sacrifice was leaving the familiar town they knew of as home, the people they called family, friends, the culture they had grown to live with–all to break routine, venture to a foreign land, establish new relationships, and grow a community in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Amidst the unfamiliarity of the unknown, Frankenmuth’s founders had faith in Christ, and hope for something they had never before experienced or foreseen. They realized that through the struggle of the storm shines the light of ‘The Son.’

The Seed of Friendship

Fast forward a century to 1962, the same motivation that inspired Frankenmuth’s founders, has driven the modern day efforts of Frankenmuth. Understanding its aligned ancestral and Christian heritage, Frankenmuth invited, encouraged, and welcomed Gunzenhausen into a partnership through the People to People International Program. First Mayor Friedrich Wust of Gunzenhausen said they “would be most happy to join with Frankenmuth in the ‘People to People’ program to promote long lasting friendly relations between his city in Germany and the city of Frankenmuth with its rich Bavarian heritage.” And that is exactly what happened, Frankenmuth and Gunzenhausen have nurtured a bond brought together by the connection and love of Christ.

From Seeds to Roots

The first sister city exchange took place in September of 1962, when 82 Frankenmuth-area residents flew to Bavaria for a pilgrimage trip to Gunzenhausen, Neuendettelsau, and Rosstal. Along with area tours, they shared in worshiping at a service together and heard Pastor Rev. Philip Janz’s sermon on Galatians 5:16-25–which describes how one should be led by the fruit of the Spirit–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. How beautiful it is to think that a century prior to this initial visit, Frankenmuth’s founders were hoping to instill the power behind this very sentiment.

Then, in June of 1964, Gunzenhausen made its first visit to Frankenmuth with 25 visitors. Gunzenhausen’s Erster Bürgermeister Friedrich Wust was appointed as Honorary Mayor of Frankenmuth during their visit. In commemoration of the sister cities growing roots, Frankenmuth and Gunzenhausen planted a Linden tree in the Gunzenhausen Platz near the historical marker. The Linden tree was not the only thing planted, shaped, cared for, and nurtured that day.

From Roots to Tree

After the first few visits over the course of several years, the partnership between Frankenmuth and Gunzenhausen flourished stronger than ever through friendships, gifts, and fellowship. It is actually one of the longest continued and most active People to People partnerships in the world, as it works on programs through three different experiential outlets, professional work exchanges, high school student exchanges, and the annual Germany trip taken by students in the high school German program. The Frankenmuth community makes a personal effort to take this partnership, or more appropriately defined, lifelong friendship to a connective level that reaches others by setting an example of morals and a standard for work ethic. This mindset was and continues to be instilled throughout the many years of visits, commemorations, dedications, gifts, and most importantly, relationships. The most notable dedications include the following: a Linden tree, hand-carved wooden crests, Frankenmuther Street, Gunzenhausen Street, Gunzenhausen Fountain, Memorial Park’s Rose Garden, a Frankenmuth News building sketch, and a stained glass log cabin scene. All of these gifts represent more than their physical appearances, for they symbolize the beautiful intricacies of the Frankenmuth-Gunzenhausen relationship through history, heritage, harmony, love, and balance.

The Tree: Thriving in the Beauty and Goodness of Living with Hearts of Humility in Jesus

Frankenmuth and Gunzenhausen are not only living in the light of the Lord, but also sharing that light with each other and those that might not yet know it. As the Linden tree, Gunzenhausen’s first gift to Frankenmuth, represents a gentle force anchored by roots with grit at its core, so does this friendship represent a gentle force anchored in faith with hope at its core. With humble hearts, we grow in symmetry, paralleling from courageous beginnings, and vibrant development. Together, we celebrate and thrive in the beauty and goodness of living with hearts of humility in Jesus.

Looking Forward: The 60th Anniversary of Frankenmuth-Gunzenhausen

The celebration continues this 2022 year as Frankenmuth and Gunzenhausen come together once again to commemorate their 60th year of partnership. 20 Gunzenhausen guests will arrive on June 9th. They will be welcomed by their host families and invited to participate in a number of evening events including princess announcements and opening ceremonies for Bavarian Fest. The following day, June 10th, the public is to attend a ‘Meet the Mayors’ Morning Mingle hosted by the Frankenmuth Chamber & CVB. Tickets are available for purchase. Many of the guests intend to visit Michigan’s capital in Lansing, take photos by the Gunzenhausen Fountain and Linden tree, witness the Sister City chair dedication, and experience an evening filled with Bavarian Fest fun. On Saturday, June 11th, guests will have many options to tour local attractions, visit with friends, or explore the area with host families. There will also be a tree dedication on Saturday at 4:30PM at the Rose Garden and Indian Memorial of 5 fruit trees as a gift from Gunzenhausen, and a Maple tree in memory of Greg Rummel. Sunday, June 12th, will begin with a German worship service at St.Lorenz, the Bavarian Fest parade, and conclude with a Bavarian Inn Lodge banquet. Tickets to the banquet are available to the public at City Hall, Visitor Center, and Frankenmuth Credit Union. And to wrap up the celebrations, there will be a farewell on Monday, June 13th, again at Bavarian Inn Lodge.

We look forward to celebrating with you!
About the Author

Olivia Schmitt

Olivia Schmitt is the Communications & Website Manager for the Frankenmuth Convention & Visitors Bureau.