I would suspect that just a handful of people in Rome and Floyd County realize how much of an international city Rome is. Yes, Rome and Floyd County is home to at least 16 companies headquartered overseas — and many of those companies are staffed at the management level by folks who have made Rome their home away from home.
I am out on the trails in Rome daily and it’s fun to pick up on conversations as folks pass by in the opposite direction and try to figure out what language it is and where they’re from.
Most of them will offer a friendly “Hey” as they pass by, then return to whatever they were talking about.
This past Tuesday I was out behind State Mutual Stadium on a route that is about 2.25 miles long and Gunther Frank, an engineer at Pirelli, passed by me on his bike. He actually slowed down, said hello and told me that he would be leaving Rome soon.
I have had a number of opportunities through the years to speak to Gunther while covering a story at the Pirelli plant.
My job for the last 42 years has afforded me a lot of opportunities to meet people from all around the world and I like to consider myself a people person. That’s a big part of why I am not so thrilled with this impersonal “send me an email” or “why don’t you text me” communications world that we now live in.
I could tell that Gunther was a pretty serious bike rider. He had a nice bike with those really fat tires and he stayed out in the grass alongside the paved trail that I was walking along.
Gunther and I visited for almost three-quarters of a mile. He pedaled very slowly, just enough to keep his bike upright, while I walked at a much faster clip than normal. He undoubtedly could have used a slowdown in what was an 18-mile ride, and the quicker pace didn’t hurt me either.
What was really fun though, was engaging in a face to face personal conversation with Gunther that lasted between 10 and 15 minutes. We talked about families, friends, the environment — and what a really wonderful community Rome is.
Gunther has been with Pirelli for 33 years and is retiring soon, to return to his native Germany. He admitted that he was sad to be leaving Rome and that he had really enjoyed his time here. He said the rolling hills were a lot like his hometown near Frankfurt.
Rome’s international community is full of incredibly interesting and kind people once you get to know them.
At the risk of leaving someone out, there are a few folks I want to make sure you know about.
I’ve mentioned Karl Waechtler in this column before. He is also a German who has worked all around the world. When I cover a meeting at the Rome Rotary Club, I generally find myself at a table with Karl.
Tom Kislat is a German native who has integrated into community life in Rome almost from the first day he arrived with his wife, Shannon. Kislat worked with the Convention and Visitors Bureau and Forum for several years and was virtually single-handedly responsible for bringing in the Forum in Ice portable ice rink. Let’s hope Rome can hang on to that new tradition even though Kislat has moved over to the Rome Floyd Chamber as director of membership and entrepreneurship.
Paul and Nelly Luthi hail from Switzerland. It’s almost hard to refer to them as international since they have lived in the States for 51 years. Paul is another gentleman I come across out on the trails occasionally since he retired. Nelly is a master gardener and if you ever need advice on gardening, she is for sure a go-to gal.
I also want to mention one of my newest international friends. Cristina Reagan is a teller at the main branch of SunTrust Bank. She hails from Comarnic, Romania, and met her husband, Logan Reagan, when they both worked for Carnival Cruise Lines. Logan is now a production and technical manager in the theater department at Berry.
Ricky Singh, a native of India, is one of my favorite convenience store operators. He has several of them, along with a liquor store. I’m convinced Ricky would give me the shirt off his back if I needed it.
Haroon Bajwa, from Pakistan, owns The Market on Second Avenue and has been in the U.S. for four years. He gained his U.S. citizenship last year and is proud to be called an American today. Personally, that said a lot to me. I can’t even imagine renouncing citizenship in my birth nation.
Darlington School has a large number of international students each year and Rome’s burgeoning medical community is full of international specialists who are all well-respected in their specialties.
While not from Rome, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the former Japanese Consul General to the Southeast, Takashi Shinozuka. He served in Atlanta from 2016 to 2019 and made countless trips to Rome. While I doubt he actually remembered my name, he knew my face and always greeted me personally during any event I was fortunate enough to cover.
Space prohibits me from mentioning any others, but to be clear, there are a lot of them.
We don’t call our Rome “The Eternal City” like that other Rome, but it certainly is an international city and all of us are much better off for the diverse nature of folks who call our Rome home.