“I could have been an American citizen living in Aurora.”
Given the robust, multi-cultured society that helps define the City of Lights, those aren’t exactly words that get accompanied by parades and noisemakers.
But when they’re spoken by the Ambassador of Luxembourg to the United States of America, well, two city blocks filled with people fall silent.
Such was the case last week inside the Early Streets Museum at Blackberry Farm, where assembled guests and dignitaries welcomed Dr. Gaston Stronck, the Luxembourg Ambassador to the U.S. since 2019, to the Fox Valley.
Hosted by “local Luxembourgers” Jim Michels and Jeff Reuland, Stronck greeted around 50 invited guests inside Blackberry’s Early Streets Museum, near the “intersection” of Main Street and Stolp Avenue. It’s right there at Blackberry Farm, where the bronze bust and replica office of Dr. Bernard Cigrand honors the Luxembourger dentist, who maintained a prominent practice here in the early 20th century.
Stronck told assembled guests that his great-grandfather emigrated from Luxembourg in the 19th century to Aurora, where he found good work and a home, before returning to his homeland 20 years later when his youngest sister died, never to return. As such, Stronck was eventually born in 1957 in the canton of Echternach – in eastern Luxembourg – not the second-largest city in Illinois.
“We Luxembourgers, we’re very proud to have a relationship with the United States for a number of reasons,” Stronk said. “We were very poor as a country and looking for different perspectives in the 19th century – and the United States offered us a future. We’re very grateful for that.”
Dr. Cigrand – universally known as the founder of Flag Day, which has been celebrated annually on June 14 ever since President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed it so in 1916 – was memorialized with a bronze bust, which was donated to the Fox Valley Park District in 2002. It represents just one of three Cigrand busts in the world, one residing in the good doctor’s birthplace in Waubeka, Wisconsin, the other in Luxembourg, from which Cigrand’s grandparents emigrated. For context, Luxembourg (pop. 613,000) is just a touch smaller than Kane and Kendall counties combined.
“Cigrand was a genius,” Stronck said. “Not only was he an excellent dentist, but he had wonderful ideas, and creating this Flag Day showed his American patriotism.”
Along with Aurora residents of Luxembourger descent, of “which there are a ton,” said Reuland, the list of dignitaries to welcome Stronck included: Ethan Hastert, Honorary Consul General of Luxembourg in Illinois; Donald Hansen, Honorary Consul General of Luxembourg in Florida; Kevin Wester, the consul’s Attache for Cultural Affairs, representing Honorary Consul Mike Ansay of Wisconsin; George Jones, Grand Vice-President of the Luxembourg Brotherhood of America; and Serena Stuettgen, curator of the Luxembourg American Cultural Society.
Fox Valley Park District Executive Director Jim Pilmer and Aurora Mayor Richard C. Irvin each presented gifts to Strock to commemorate his visit to the Fox Valley, while Irvin bestowed upon Stronck the Mayor’s Award for Excellence.
“Aurora has a rich Luxembourg history that’s helped build the foundation that Aurora is today,” Irvin told the Ambasador. “When you told the story that your great-grandfather actually lived here in Aurora for all those years before returning to Luxembourg, and that you could have been a resident of Aurora, well, we look at you as family now.
“So, I want to say to you, sir: ‘Welcome home.’”