Exchange program leads to 30-year friendship

At a kitchen table on Saturday, June 1, Carole Entinger of New Prague and Frederic Thomas of France reminisce how a friendship between their families began more than 30 years ago.

"He was here to work out on the farm," said Entinger, adding Thomas did several jobs, including working out in the fields.

That was in 1982, when Entinger and her family worked with an FFA exchange program. Over the years they have hosted 29 students from various countries. Thomas had a similar sponsor that placed 1,000 French farmers in the United States.

"One day I received a letter with a picture of a farm," said Thomas. The photo was of Entinger’s farm. "I hadn’t heard of New Prague. I hadn’t really heard of Minnesota."

He described how he took out a map to find the state and the town in 1982. Today, he knows quite a bit about New Prague.

"It’s a little bit like a second home," he said with a smile. "It’s like he never left," said Entinger with a little laugh.

Thomas came back in 1984 and visited. "We saw each other again in ’89," said Thomas. Carole visited him in France in 1998.

Thomas farms in central France. He also has a farming magazine with the website agriculture-deconservation. com and does tours with farmers from France to the United States. "I stop in about every other year."

Thomas’ wife, Mireille, and their two children have also visited with Entinger.

"Carole is part of our family," said Thomas.

Entinger and her children feel the same about his family.

The two went over how things have changed. When Entinger’s husband Paul died, her son Greg took over operating the farm, although he does it more as a side business. "He has his own business," said Entinger. Greg is a mechanical engineer who has worked for such companies as General Mills and Ocean Spray.

Thomas noted about New Prague, "It’s really changed. It was a country town and now it’s a little city with big stores."

Entinger said they have talked about some of the changes, including the roundabouts, prevalent in France, but relatively new in the United States. "It’s like a little bit of France is here," she said.

Thomas has visited 41 states in the U.S., most of them west of the Mississippi. The tours he organizes through the magazine are professional and allow farmers to exchange ideas.

"It’s also an excuse to come here," he said. "It allows him to come back to his American home," said Entinger.

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