An American couple who were a vital cog in the early days of an important Portadown-Delaware exchange project were back in town at the weekend to meet up with old friends.
Charles and Florence Zoeller were part of the Stateside team of Ulster Project Delaware, which began in 1976, sending young people across the Atlantic to spend an informative month in Wilmington, the state’s largest city.
The ethos of the project was that, of the 20 young people sent across each year to widen their horizons, 10 should be Protestant, 10 Catholic, 10 male and 10 female. “It was all very democratic,” said Charles, “and it seems to have worked admirably, as the project is still running and having a positive effect. We enjoyed every moment of the project, hosting so many young people from Northern Ireland. We’re delighted to be looking up local people who helped make it such a success.”
One of the prime movers at the start was Daphne Gilmour, head of RE studies at the Southern Education Board, who died a number of years ago. Others in at the start were Rev Herbert Cassidy of St Columba’s, Tommy Hamilton – both also sadly deceased – and Fr Bradley.
Fittingly, the Zoellers were hosted on Friday night by the late Daphne’s brother Mervyn Gilmour, and also attending were others with a stake in the scheme over the years – Margaret Campbell, Eileen Aiken, Rodney Moates, Marian Hagan, Josh Liggett and Ruth Lappin.
Said Mervyn, “Daphne, who was a great friend of Josh - and several others who helped in the project - is especially missed. She particularly enjoyed working with young people, widening their horizons.”
Charles recalls that Portadown monopolised the scheme until 1984, when the towns of Banbridge and Coleraine were added to the list and they participate in three-year cycles – Banbridge benefitted this year.
Rodney Moates was one of the young people in 1981 who went across and described it as “a great learning experience in a lively country – we travelled and interacted with people we would not otherwise have met and it’s an experience I’ll never forget.”
The four weeks included living cheek-by-jowl with diverse people and travelling throughout ‘The First State’, with Delaware being one of the original 13 American States and the first to ratify the US Constitution.
Said Mervyn Gilmour, “Charles and Florence were on a tour of Ireland and the UK and I’m delighted they found time to call with us in Portadown. The project has been very beneficial.”