The Alliance Française Pops the Cork



By Judy Carmack Bross




Lisa Bailey, left, Co-Chair Whitney Fershee, Woman’s Board President Kristina Schneider, and Co-Chair Margaret Fourness


“Dom Pérignon, a French Benedictine monk of the 17th century who made important contributions to the invention of champagne, is reputed to have said, ‘Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!” –Mary Ellen Connellan, Executive Director of the Alliance Française.


Etoile Scholars


The stars at the Alliance Française Woman’s Board Gala, “Sabrer le Champagne”, were the Étoile scholars, CPS students who for 26 years have received scholarship support through the Gala for after-school enrichment and an opportunity for a scholarship trip to France or an intensive immersion stay at the Concordia Language Villages


Following cocktails at the Ritz Carlton Chicago, the formal fizz to the “celebration of all things champagne,” began dramatically with a sabrage—the cutting off of the head of a bottle with a saber–and bubbly flowed throughout the night.  It is said that Napoleon started this dramatic tradition while another legend said that one of his cavalry members used a sword to do so while on horseback.


Kristina Schneider is the President of the Woman’s Board and Whitney Fershee and Margaret Fourness served as Gala co-chairs. The Woman’s Board, of over 75 members, advances the French educational and cultural programs of the Alliance through their fundraising and hands-on efforts, including serving as ambassadors for the organization.


William Adams with his wife Liz, in pink champagne, who is a Board and Woman’s Board member


Executive Director Mary Ellen Connellan with Board Chair David Horn and Vice President Betsey Pinkert


Conery Hoffman .Director of Special Programs, with  Aimée Laberge, Gail Hoffman


Betsey Pinkert, Stacy Lou Lorin, Myriam Bransfield, Julianne Migely, Dale Pinkert


Connellan, who many feel sparkles just like a fine champagne, told us afterwards:

“The evening was a glorious “tour de force” that raised critical funds to ensure the mission of the Alliance Française to promote the French language and Francophone culture to the Chicago community and beyond. Our Alliance Française de Chicago guests did just that in generously support our own stars, the Étoile Scholars. This year 20 of our current determined, bright young étoiles joined the festivities to help sell raffle tickets, represent their home schools, and act as ambassadors of the program. Our guests were introduced first hand to the participants of this life- changing program while our students enjoyed being invited to the party, as well as contributing to the success of the evening. 


Professionals Group


“It was full circle, for some, as members of our Alliance Française Professionals Group (AFPG), many of whom are former alums, supported the event as well with their own table. Fun was certainly had by all, especially the members of our AFPG as they danced the night away to the tunes of DJ Ryan @ Style Matters at the after party.”


Joseph Berton, Dale Pinkert, Mélina Blanc, Consul Général Yannick Tagand, Betsey Pinkert and Gloria Groom


Board President Richard Shepro with Honorees Anne and Paul Krauss


Richard Shepro, President of the Alliance board, presented the Prix de l’Alliance Française to W. Paul and Anne Krauss who also served as Honorary Chairs of the evening.  He told the guests of their many accomplishments.


“There are so many facets to the Alliance Française de Chicago that is hard to keep track. And there are so many activities I’ve noticed that most people only see a small part of what is going on—there is a constituency for each of our programs and often they don’t intersect. 


“So I’m especially pleased that our two honorees tonight are people who have been deeply as involved in our educational programs as our cultural programs, and have both served in significant leadership roles. 


“Paul, with his astonishing experience as a genius management consultant around the world, including years in France and Switzerland, has been our strategic planner and as such has been as responsible as anyone at keeping us on track. And I hope that continues for many years to come. 


“Anne has been a stalwart member of the Woman’s Board especially our outreach program, now renamed the Etoile Scholar program, and for our Annual Symposium for the Arts of France. Anne is a Cordon Bleu and Paul has had a long relationship with Napoleon and has recently donated his fantastic collection of Napoleon books and memorabilia.” 


“On top of that they are just wonderful people.”


Margaret Fourness, Anne and W. Paul Krauss and Whitney Fershee


Shepro also added:

“The pandemic forced the Alliance Française de Chicago to expand its horizons. Although in-person French classes and cultural programs are thriving again we now also have a terrifically broad geographical base of on-line students and attendees at cultural programs–and a bevvy of terrific on-line teachers based in France, which also solves some visa problems. 


“We’re also pursuing cultural initiatives in partnership with some of the great museums of Chicago, the Art Institute, of course, but also the Driehaus Museum, which is working with us and the City to try to save an important French historic monument. It is a 100-year old Art Nouveau Paris Metro entrance by Hector Guimard that Paris gave as a gift to Chicago. We are hoping it can be moved to an entrance close to our headquarters on Dearborn and Chicago Avenue. 


“And close partnership with the Chicago Public Schools continues to be priorities as does Francophonie:  The greatest concentration of French speakers is now in Africa.”


Stacy Lou and Marc Lorin


Photo Credit: Photos by Lisa Gottschalk Photography


For more information about the Alliance Française and its programs, visit