CAIRO — When Theresia Friedrichs visited Cairo United Methodist Church on June 2, the congregation welcomed her back like an old friend, which she is.
Friedrichs, who lives in Germany, has been visiting Cairo regularly since 1979.
Over the course of her 12 visits, she has spent roughly two years of her life in the Central Nebraska community.
When she first arrived 40 years ago, she could speak only a little English.
“It sometimes took hours to finish a sentence,” Friedrichs said.
But now, her English is amazingly good, which is just one reason she blends in so well.
Some of her Cairo friends seem like family to her. Because she has been coming to Cairo for so long, she shares memories with the town’s residents. People like to talk about those shared experiences.
Friedrichs, 58, lives in Cologne. She is a retired educator.
Having friends in both Germany and Nebraska has made her life richer, she said.
She has a full life back in Germany. But when she’s home, she sometimes gets homesick for Cairo.
Friedrichs became good friends with Helen Larson, who died in 2017 at the age of 103. Even though Friedrichs was back in Germany, people at the Cairo Methodist Church kept her apprised of Larson’s funeral plans.
“They included me across the miles,” she said.
After her initial visit, Friedrichs returned in 1979, 1980, 1985, 1989, 1993, 1995, 2002, 2008, 2012, 2014, 2016 and now this year.
Friedrichs’ connection to Cairo began in 1978, when Carolyn Heupel and Elsie Hendrickson traveled to Germany as part of a teachers’ exchange program. Heupel and Hendrickson were sisters and the daughters of a woman who was born in Germany.
On their trip to Germany, they met Friedrichs’ uncle, who was also a teacher.
After Friedrichs graduated from high school, she came to Cairo for six months. During that visit, she turned 19.
Her host parents were Carolyn Heupel and her husband, Vernon.
In Nebraska, she had her first experience with a riding lawnmower. Partly because so many Europeans live in apartments, she wasn’t familiar with a riding mower. But she figured out how to use it in short order.
On this trip, Friedrichs spent five weeks in the U.S., four of them in Cairo. The trip began with a visit to relatives of Carolyn and Vernon Heupel in Arizona.
“I’m still very close to their family,” she said.
The last four trips, she has stayed with Kathy Ripp, who cut Friedrichs’ hair on her initial visit four decades ago.
Ripp said Friedrichs has a gift for bringing people together. When she’s in Nebraska, she also stays up to date with activities.
“She actually knows more about what’s going on in the area than I do,” Ripp said.
Friedrichs has a doctorate in educational science. She wrote her master’s thesis on Boys Town.
Her husband, Norbert, has been to Cairo three times.
Friedrichs is energetic as well as outgoing. When she was at the Swedish Festival in Stromsburg, she helped the ladies in the kitchen for three or four hours.
Friedrichs, who left town Thursday, will probably return to Cairo in three years.
Her departures can be sad. When she says goodbye to someone who’s not in the best of health, they know it could be the last time they will see each other.
Friedrichs will never live in Cairo. Still, there’s a cute little corner house that she’s had her eye on since 1979.