Marion County families host internationalstudents from KU during Thanksgiving



In 1954, Betty Grimwood of Burns, and her friend Bonnie Lohrentz, invited international students from the University of Kansas to their home for a Thanksgiving dinner.

Little did anyone know at the time that this small act of kindness would mushroom into a program that has gained national attention and continues to this day, said Galo Salcedo, program coordinator with Internation Student Services.

?We average about 33 international students a year visiting families in Kansas City, Topeka, Emporia and other small towns around those cities,?he said. ?The program families are usually within a 40-mile radius of Lawrence.?

When Betty Grimwood died May 5, 1999, of cancer, Salcedo said, the Homestay Program, as it became known and named in honor of her, didn?t stop in Burns either.

Her son, Tom Grimwood, of Burns, who said he remembered Thanksgiving as a child and sharing it with KU students, decided to carry on the tradition.

?My wife and I lived in Bolivia, South America, for about 20 years until 2004,? he said. ?When we came back, we kept it going.?

Grimwood said it took a lot of courage for his mother and the other organizers to do this back in the 1950s.

?It is also the longest continuos homestay program in the United States,? he said.

This year, Grimwood said they will have a Chinese student at their home for the holiday break, which started Tuesday and will continue through Sunday, Nov. 27.

?It?s a great program for students who just came to the U.S. to experience Thanksgiving and learn more about the American culture,? he said. ?They also don?t feel so alone with other students leaving for the holiday break.?

The international students visiting families this year, Salcedo said, are from Europe, Asia, Middle Eastern countries, Italy, Spain, Saudi Arabia, China and other places around the world.

While none of the original organizers in Burns are still living, said Mary Jane Dunlap, KU news service and public affairs officer, a few Burns families continue to participate.

Some of those include Andrew and Ann Selley and Jim and Sue Hoffman. Also Esta Hall, and her late husband, Calvin.

?Esta has been very active in helping to organize the Thanksgiving homestay every year,? Grimwood said, ?and Cindy Jackson (her daughter) and her family have had students in the past.

?Ann Selley is Esta’s granddaughter, and she and her family have had students in recent Thanksgivings.?

Dunlap also said Tom and his brother, Charles, of Salina, are among a generation of Burns children who recalled forming friendships around the world with international student guests each Thanksgiving.

A tradition begins

The Homestay Program at KU started with a request from women, including Betty Grimwood, at the United Methodist Church in Burns, Dunlap said.

These women encouraged the Burns community, she said, with fewer than 300 residents, to share the holidays with international students, and by 1959, the practice had become a KU tradition, spreading to other Kansas communities.

Host families from nearly 50 communities in Kansas and Missouri have participated within the past 15 to 20 years, Dunlap said, to include Burns, Marion and Peabody in Marion County and Herington and Newton in neighboring counties.

National attention

Five years after the program started, Ed and Betty Grimwood were presented a distinguished service award from the Institute of International Education.

?Then Vice-President Richard Nixon presented the Grimwoods with the award and the program was featured in the Sept. 5, 1959 Saturday Evening Post magazine,? Dunlap said.

The alumna of the first Burns Thanksgiving in 1954 was Carmen Libertino of Houston, who was a postgraduate student in bacteriology from Colombia. She returned to Burns in May 1999 to attend funeral services for Betty Grimwood, according to information provided by Dunlap.

Libertino said at that time she regarded Betty Grimwood and Bonnie Lorentz as adopted mothers and kept in touch with both women.

The Grimwoods sponsored Libertino when she wanted to immigrate to the United States, she said.

Dunlap also stated that Libertino said the success of the Burns Thanksgiving was that all foreign students are lonely.

?These people didn’t ask anything of you. They just showed you the heart of America. Betty was the heart of the program,” Libertino stated back in 1999.

Sharing the holiday weekend

As part of the holiday weekend over the years, students would be treated to a Thanksgiving dinner at private homes in Burns and on Friday night the Burns United Methodist Women would sponsor a supper for them, Salcedo said.

On Saturdays, he said it would be typical for host families in Burns to take their international guests to Peabody, El Dorado or Wichita for sightseeing and maybe even shopping.

After Sunday church services, the international students and their hosts were invited to a luncheon at the Methodist church, before the three-hour drive back to Lawrence to return the students to campus.

This year, Grimwood said he and his wife will go to Lawrence and pick up their student, but more than likely, they will not be doing some of the long-established traditions of meeting at the church for dinner.

?The main idea is to give the student a chance to live with an America family and not have to stay on campus over the holiday,? he said.

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