Untold MSV History - The Friendly Town Project

Cultural Exchange Program Brought Communities Together

Front entrance of the old Marillac House building with children and staff waving from the steps, circa 1970's.

Connecting Communities | February 2021

With over one hundred years of history, there are countless stories that have been lost over the generations of families, individuals, and staff who have been part of the Marillac St. Vincent story. One such piece of MSV history might have never been retold if it weren’t for a recent phone call from a Minot North Dakota number to our Development office a few weeks ago.

“I picked up the phone and never expected this flood of fascinating history to come over the line,” exclaimed MSV Development Director, Dan Summins. The call came from Lucille Loftesnes.

In 1969, Lucille and her family answered an ad in the church bulletin for households interested in welcoming a young person from Chicago into their home for a two-week stay. The program, known as “Friendly Town” began in 1960 by the Community Renewal Society, bused youth from Marillac Social Center to host families in rural upper-Midwest towns as part of a cultural exchange designed to be a formative experience for the Chicago kids and the host families alike.

“We were always looking to find ways to bring more children into our lives,” recounted Lucille, “we had four children of our own by that time, so having Johnny come was really special for us.”

Blast from the past! A preschool teacher is seen here reading to the children in her classroom at St. Vincent de Paul Center. To read more about MSV history, visit our history and heritage page.

Dr. John Southall comes from a big family on Chicago’s west side and was one of around 50 school age children from Marillac who participated in the Friendly Town project the summer of 1970. Lucille noted, “We thought he’d like to play ball, so we bought a right-handed glove but Johnny was left-handed and had no interest in baseball!” To Lucille’s surprise, John was more interested in the family piano, “I don’t think he’d ever had his hands on a piano before, but we found that he could pick out tunes by ear.”

The summer at the Lofesnes household had a lasting impact on John. He now serves as the Coordinator of Music Education and Director of Bands at Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, Florida.

The Friendly Town project, which Marillac participated in for over a decade, was not without it’s critics. But for Lucille’s family, getting to know John, and later during their own trip to Chicago, John’s family, had a profound affect, “we thought, entering into this, that it was an act of benevolence on our part, but as they say, the giver sometimes ends up being the one to receive something greater from an experience like this and I know at least for my kids, they’ve carried that open-mindedness to their own children, so it was pretty remarkable for our family.”

To learn more about the history of the Friendly Town initiative, visit the archive created to preserve the history of the initiative Here.

Want to take a deep dive into the history of Marillac St. Vincent and our centers? Check out the history and heritage section of our site!

History & Heritage

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  • Foglia Family & Youth Center
    2859 W. Jackson Blvd. Chicago, IL 60612
  • Marillac Social Center
    212 S. Francisco Ave. Chicago, IL 60612
  • St. Vincent de Paul Center
    2145 N. Halsted St. Chicago, IL 60614