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Geneva pays tribute to French woman who sparked cultural exchange

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013 4:58 p.m. CDT

GENEVA – Geneva's flags are flying half-staff after the death of a woman from France who began a trans-Atlantic sister city relationship between Geneva and Croissy-sur-Seine.

Karin DeMarco, who died of a heart attack Friday, was president of Croissy-sans-Frontieres, the cultural exchange counterpart to the Geneva International Cultural Exchange Committee. The translation means Croissy Without Borders, past exchange committee chairman Ernie Mahaffey said.

DeMarco approached Geneva seven years ago to foster a partnership, Mahaffey said. Three delegations from each community visited on alternating years, expanding cultural exchanges and building friendships, he said.

Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns began Tuesday's city council meeting with a moment of silence and remembrance of DeMarco.

"I share the sadness of countless Geneva citizens and our friends from Croissy who were touched by her in so many ways," Burns said in a condolence message.

Mahaffey said the ongoing cultural exchange with Croissy began with an out-of-the-blue letter from DeMarco.

"Because I had done my career in international business, I was asked to look into it and make a recommendation," Mahaffey said. "It did not take much to for us to recognize the … unbelievable opportunity."

The parallels between the two cities, Mahaffy said, were unmistakable. Croissy-sur-Seine is a small town on the Seine River, 15 minutes outside of Paris. Geneva is a little town on the Fox River not far from Chicago.

"They pride themselves on speaking English," Mahaffey said. "We would fly down and stay in homes and engage in community activities – go to city hall, the high school, shop in the stores ... they would come to Geneva and do the same."

"It's the most incredible thing to be able to really be a part of a small part of a small community for four or five days," Mahaffey said.

"Karin's memory will bring joy to our community for years to come," Burns wrote in a condolence letter.

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