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'Fran really loved Story City': Kinne bequeaths $800K to community

Ronna Faaborg
Story City Herald
Eric Nelson, co-executor of Fran Kinne's estate, presents Mayor Mike Jensen with a check for $200,000 to be used to benefit the city of Story City. Also present were, from the left, Mary Constantine-Nelson, Councilwoman Connie Phillips, City Administrator Mark Jackson, Councilwoman Rhonda Ostrem and Councilman Dave Sporleder.

When community leaders in Story City learned that Dr. Frances Bartlett Kinne gifted the $800,000 in her will, they all expressed gratitude. But none of them were surprised.

“Fran was such a supporter of Story City,” Mayor Mike Jensen said during a check presentation at City Hall. “All over the world, wherever she went, she told people about her hometown. Fran really loved Story City.

“She was truly a world ambassador for our community.”

The four $200,000 checks were presented Sept. 1 to the city, historical society, school district and the Bertha Bartlett Public Library, which was named after Kinne’s mother who served as the community’s first full-time librarian.

Eric Nelson and his wife Mary Constantine-Nelson present a $200,000 check to Library Director Kolleen Taylor, left, and Dave Morris, treasurer of the Library Foundation Board. The funds were bequeathed by Dr. Frances Bartlett Kinne, whose portrait can be seen behind the group as they stand in the Dr. Frances Bartlett Kinne Wing of the Bertha Bartlett Public Library, which is named for Kinne's mother. Taylor and Constantine-Nelson each hold one of Kinne's memoirs.

Kinne grew up in Story City and then went out in the world to have an interesting path of successes and adventures, some of which she details in her 2000 book “Iowa Girl: The President Wears a Skirt.”

She broke glass ceilings throughout her career, including being the first woman to earn a doctorate from the University of Frankfurt and the first female dean of a fine arts college in the United States, and the first female president of a Florida university (she served as president of Jacksonville university from 1979 to 1989). She later served as chancellor there. 

Al Holm, Mary Constantine-Nelson, Eric Nelson, Museum Director Kate Feil, Dan Webster and Leslie Satre pose for a photo as Nelson presents a check for $200,000 to the Story City Historical Society. Kinne was instrumental in the organization's purchase of the Bartlett Museum and Carriage House Museum, and the funds will be used to maintain those properties and their historical collections.

“Fran thought it was important to know the students,” Jensen said. “She told me she tried to know each students’ first name so if she saw them on campus, she could greet them personally.”

Keeping a fit brain was important to Kinne, who died just weeks shy of her 103rd birthday in May.

“She would sometimes call me and start the conversation by asking me what I had done to improve my brain today,” said Eric Nelson, a relative of Kinne and co-executor of her estate. Nelson is a 1972 graduate of Roland-Story, now living in Fort Collins, Colorado. He was accompanied by his wife, Mary Constantine-Nelson, a graduate of Ames High.

Kinne adopted strategies such as having multiple routes to get to work, and alternating them to keep her memory fresh, Nelson said. She was also known to use her non-dominant hand to do things like brush her hair and teeth.

Kinne hadn’t lived in Story City for several decades, but she remained engaged with the people in the community, a fact that was mentioned at all four check presentations earlier this month.

Kate Feil, the director of the Museums of Story City, said she communicated with Kinne on a regular basis.

“Fran is the reason we have the Bartlett House and the Carriage House museums,” Feil said. “She was instrumental in acquiring the buildings.”

Kinne’s donations to help fund the acquisitions were just the beginning of her support, which also included donating collections of items to display in the museums.

And Kinne offered something that money can’t buy — encouragement.

“I would often get messages of support and encouragement from Fran,” Feil said.

Mary Constantine-Nelson and Eric Nelson present a check for $200,000 to Rick Schreier, president of Reliance State Bank, and Roland-Story Superintendent Matt Patton. The funds were bequeathed by Dr. Frances Bartlett Kinne, who was a long-time supporter of the school district and had provided many scholarships for graduates throughout the years.

Kolleen Taylor, the director of the Bertha Bartlett Public Library, agreed that Kinne’s support ran deeper than monetary contributions, although those donations were generous. Funds from Kinne helped build the current library on Broad Street, where an entire wing is named for her.

For Kinne and Taylor, there was a close bond, a relationship built on many conversations that offered advice and encouragement and praise.

“I still can’t quite believe Fran is gone,” Taylor said during the check presentation. “She was such an important, vibrant part of my life. She had such a knack for sending me an email just when I needed one.”

Roland-Story Superintendent Matt Patton echoed the sentiment of Kinne’s importance to the community.

“We are grateful for her generosity, but we are not surprised by it,” Patton said. “Fran was engaged with our school district and our students.”

For many years, Kinne had provided a scholarship for graduating Norsemen. And she often attended the award ceremonies in person, making time to talk to students when she was in town, Patton said.

“Frannie had a lot of stories and they were always fun to listen to,” Jensen said. “She’d been so many places in her lifetime. But people were always first to her. That’s one thing you never forget about Frannie: You were the important one in the conversation.

“We should all try to be more like Fran.”

Youth Services coordinator Ema Dubois, BBPL Director Kolleen Taylor and Assistant Director Denise Froehlich pose with Dr. Fran Kinne (seated) during her visit to Story City in June 2018.