NOIRMOUTIER, France — On an island that traces its roots to Romans, Vikings and an early Christian saint, one would be hard pressed to find a community younger than Crestview, which marked its centennial in 2016.
But during his stay on Noirmoutier, off the coast of western France, Crestview Mayor JB Whitten found himself unexpectedly helping the village of l'Epine mark its 100th birthday. Though it has been a community for centuries, like Crestview it became its own political entity comparatively recently.
At the invitation of l'Epine Mayor Dominique Chantoin, Whitten stood on the steps of the community's city hall — an 18th-century former château — for the centennial ceremonies. He threw the first shovelful of soil as dignitaries planted a tree commemorating l'Epine's independence from the island’s capital, Noirmoutier-en-l'Île.
Later in the week, acting on a suggestion by Crestview Area Sister City Program member Rick Goff, Brian Hughes, the organization’s president, presented Chantoin with a plaque for another tree to be planted in the same garden. It will represent the Crestview program's appreciation for the hospitality received from the people of l'Epine.
"Just as we have members from throughout the tri-county area, people from all over Noirmoutier participate in their Sister City program," Hughes said. "This tree is a way to acknowledge the hospitality we receive everywhere on the island."
To finance the tree's acquisition and planting, members of the Crestview delegation raised nearly the entire 300-Euro ($350) cost through a voluntary collection on their last day on Noirmoutier.
"This is the least we could do," Crestview member Hugo Hérnandez said, pulling a 20-Euro note from his wallet. "It's really hard to repay them for everything they do for us when we're here."
Continuing a friendship formed when he had visited Crestview in October 2018, Noirmoutier Mayor Dr. Noël Faucher presented Whitten with a handsome zinc plaque in honor of the first visit to Noirmoutier by a Crestview mayor.
Later, during Faucher's luncheon for visiting dignitaries, Whitten presented his counterpart with an American flag that had flown over Crestview City Hall. At the visit’s farewell Gala, Whitten read — in French — a proclamation making retired Noirmoutier Sister City President René Relandeau an honorary Crestview citizen in recognition of his 30 years as the program’s leader.
Further cementing the two communities’ strong friendship, Hughes, with Whitten in attendance, met with the Noirmoutier Sister City committee's new co-presidents, Ghislaine Corbrejaud and Stéphanie Gallais, to discuss future plans. Afterward, at the farewell gala, he shared exciting news.
"Did we have fun or what?" Hughes first asked. Then, to the ensuing cheers and applause from the 27-member Crestview delegation, he announced, "Good, because we're coming back in May 2021!"
Crestview has enjoyed a cultural, educational, social and economic friendship with the French island community of Noirmoutier since the first visit by a local delegation in 1995. It is the only Florida Panhandle community between Pensacola and Tallahassee to have a sister city relationship.