Two love stories actually, one with a Frenchman and his American wife, and another with this wonderful couple and the French House itself.
Alain and Jill Peyrot met at the French House exactly fifty years ago. Originally from Manitowoc, WI, Jill obtained her MA in French from UW-Madison. She worked as a cancer nurse in the UW hospital and the Carbone Cancer Clinic. Alain was born in Niort, France, and spent much of his youth in then French colony of Madagascar. Currently retired, Alain was Professor of Engineering at UW- Madison for 27 years before founding a software company, Power Line Systems, now widely used by electric utilities, tower/pole manufacturers, and line design consultants throughout the world.
Alain feels fortunate to have had five wonderful lives: one as a carefree child on the tropical island of Madagascar; one in the old world of France; one in the American academic world; one in the international business community; and his current one as an active retiree sharing time between Madison and southern France. The couple has two sons, Eric and Guy.
FH: Please tell me when and how you first got involved with the French House.
Alain: When I first came to Madison I did not know any students and did not speak much English. It was therefore natural that I would come to the French House to meet students with whom I could interact, both American and French.
Jill: I first came to the old French House on University Avenue to prepare for my junior year in Aix-en-Provence. The House was then a small wooden home on University Avenue, now the site of the chemistry building. The meals were not French but tasty. When I returned from Aix two years later, the House had moved to its new current location next to Lake Mendota. I ate there to socialize with my friends returning from Aix and other students. This is where I met Alain who ate there with other French graduate students.
FH: Alain, what role did the French House play in your feeling more “at home” in Madison when you first arrived?
Alain: I was close to the Director, Mademoiselle Verdun, some French Dept. faculty members and several graduate students with whom I socialized: going to the Union, watching movies, taking trips, etc. Most of my friends while a grad student in Madison were somehow connected to the French House.
FH: What were your first impressions, and how has the French House evolved since then?
Alain: It was and still is an ideal place for a French student to meet people in Madison.
Jill: Over the years the French House evolved with more emphasis on French food and more participation from outsiders to the meals.
FH: Have you remained active with the French House throughout the fifty years since you first became involved?
Alain and Jill: We have remained connected to the French House over the years. We’ve attended 4th of July parties, galas, dinners and some lectures. We became friends with many visitors and several directors. For quite a while now we have eaten there every Wednesday and Jill has shared ideas and French recipes with the chef.
FH: Tell us about some of the people you’ve met during your long association with the French House.
Alain and Jill: Many faculty and staff of the French/Italian Dept: Alfred Glauser, Maurice Gras, Bill Berg, Francois Rigolot, Gilles Bousquet, Marjon Orstein, visiting faculty, etc. Also many Madison professionals with French roots or interests: scientists, engineers, lawyers,musicians, cooks, etc. And many visiting French students.
FH: We at the French House are grateful for your patronage and your financial support throughout the years. What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming a donor?
Alain and Jill: We make a point of making a gift to the French House every year. It’s an ideal place for a student to live, or for outsiders to come for meals, to experience a different culture and meet people with international interests. A great place for Francophiles to meet. This is where we met a long time ago and obviously it changed our lives.
FH: What do you wish other people knew about the French House?
Alain and Jill: The best place, actually a jewel, in Madison to eat and enjoy lively French discussions. This has been especially true under the direction of the current director Andrew Irving. Past chef Betsy and current chef Karen have been outstanding.
Merci Alain et Jill !