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Swiss in the US: Part 1 of 4 50 years of Swiss-American friendship in Denver

large group of hikers, all ages
(Courtesy of Swiss-American Friendship Society in Denver, Colorado)

That “mystical relationship between Swiss and mountains” is evident when you see photos of outings organized by the Swiss-American Friendship Society in Denver.

“Colorado fortunately offers many opportunities, regardless of season, to enjoy the mountain scenery and outdoor activities — hiking, boating, camping, skiing, skating and admiring the fall colors,” points out long-time member Fritz Bart, whose grandparents and Zurich-born father were Swiss. Having joined the club in 1991, today he’s a board member and event coordinator.

SWI on tour

How do Swiss citizens living abroad view the political debate in their home country? What is important to the expat Swiss community when they vote?

To tap into the mood of the expatriate Swiss community during this general election year, swissinfo.ch is visiting clubs in Europe as well as the Americas.

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Formed in 1969 — 50 years ago — the Swiss-American Friendship Society (SAFS)external link was a spin-off of the former Swiss Society of Denver; it’s dedicated to celebrating Swiss heritage and culture.

At least, that’s the short version. Here’s a copy of the Colorado state document certifying its status as a non-profit group:

document
(Courtesy of Swiss-American Friendship Society in Denver, Colorado)

“The purpose of this organization shall be to foster and advance friendship and goodwill between the citizens of the United States of American and Switzerland through social and cultural programs designed to analyze and describe all aspects of Swiss-American relations. The organization shall strive to serve all persons having a natural interest in the two nations,” according to the club’s articles of incorporation.

In addition to outdoor activities, SAFS members flock to annual events like the Jass tournament, children’s Christmas party, February fondue evening, and 1st of August picnic. The club has about 225 adult members, including about 35 children.

people with plane

A club tour of the Superior, Colorado, branch of Swiss plane manufacturer Pilatus 

(Courtesy of Swiss-American Friendship Society in Denver, Colorado)

Moving with the times

Whereas the society used to keep its members informed by post, today it maintains a websiteexternal link, an email newsletter and a Facebook pageexternal link. Board members take turns organizing club events.

“In the past few years new younger board members have increased the variety of events to appeal to different groups in the club. Many families with younger children have become active at events in an effort to keep ties with Switzerland and Swiss identity, and their presence signals a strong future for Denver’s Swiss-American Friendship Society,” says Bart, who himself joined because he’s proud of his Swiss heritage.

Stammtisch gatherings

There are also monthly Stammtisch meetings, a concept so popular that the society now offers them in two locations. Swiss politics are often a topic at these Stammtisch sessions, notes René Sonderegger, who came to the US in the 1980s and has served as club treasurer since 2016.

“For myself and many other Swiss citizens in Colorado, the basic access to Swiss elections remains a struggle and a topic of discussion. Places for passport renewal, travel restrictions, naturalization, military service, traditional family estates, banking, taxes as well as research and education, pensions, AHV [old age and survivors’ insurance scheme] and other social services are all affected by the elections,” says Sonderegger, who was named an honorary consul to Switzerland last year.

The society hosted a special Stammtisch to discuss the upcoming federal elections with swissinfo.ch. Here’s an excerpt; full talk coming soon.

Talk

people talking in a cafe

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