'A grand lady': Fran Kinne estate gives $4.4 million to her Iowa hometown of Story City

Ronna Faaborg
Ames Tribune
Story City officials and Mayor Mike Jensen react to the check presentation Friday, June 4, 2021 by Eric Nelson on behalf of the Fran Kinne estate.

Fran Kinne loved Story City, and even after her death in May of 2020, she still manages to show it. On Friday, the estate of Dr. Frances Bartlett Kinne bequeathed a total of $4.4 million to three Story City entities: the city, the museum and the library.

Eric Nelson, a relative of Kinne and co-executor of her estate, presented the three $1,468,000 checks, which were scheduled events but the amounts were kept secret until the time of the presentation.

Reactions to the amounts were literally jaw-dropping.

This was the second donation from Kinne’s estate after a total of $800,000 was distributed evenly among the city, museum, library and school district in the fall.

“Back in September, when I was here the first time with the original bequests, I knew there was another one coming. I knew that I'd be back with a big number,” Nelson said. “In addition to all of her other qualities, Fran was an astute investor.”

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 detailed 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.

Kinne died a few weeks shy of her 103rd birthday, and even in her final years was still working, serving as chancellor emeritus at JU and serving on about 40 boards, including Drake University and Mayo Clinic boards, Story City Mayor Mike Jensen said.

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Eric Nelson speaks with city, library and museum officials in Story City after presenting $4.4 million in checks from the Fran Kinne estate on Friday, June 4, 2021.

'Possibilities are open' for donation's potential

The $4.4 million influx of funds will make a big difference to Story City, Jensen said.

“No matter where you walk in Story City, there’s a plaque somewhere with Fran’s name on it," he said. "The Swinging Bridge has a plaque, the terrace at the Prairie Park has a plaque. Matter of fact, there’s two plaques on the Swinging Bridge. It just goes on and on.

“Fran is a part of this community a long time ago, now and probably forever.”

The city is planning on using some of the bequeathment for recreational purposes for the kids, Jensen said.

“We’ve got $600,000 worth of new recreational equipment going in at North Park starting Monday. So we're well on the way to put in some of her money to good use ... It's really exciting.

“She was quite a gal, I’ll tell you — a grand lady.”

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Story City museum board members and director Kate Feil react to the check presentation Friday, June 4, 2021 by Eric Nelson on behalf of the Fran Kinne estate.

Museums of Story City Director Kate Feil said her board has created a fund for the bequeathment.

“Fran had every year for a number of years given $10,000 to $15,000 a year,  which helped us out immensely. I mean, I would not be here without Fran,” Feil said. It’s rare for a community the size of Story City to have a museum director position.

Dr. Frances Bartlett Kinne

Library Director Kolleen Taylor manages the Bertha Bartlett Public Library, which was named for Kinne’s mother, who was the first paid librarian in Story City.

The library has a Kinne Wing, which holds Kinne’s beloved piano, which was also bequeathed to the library.

“We actually had our first piano recital here recently after hours,” Taylor said.

“With an additional infusion of capital like this, the possibilities are open that if you wanted to create something larger (such) as a recital hall in the space next door,” Nelson said.

Library board members and director Kolleen Taylor react to the check presentation Friday, June 4, 2021 by Eric Nelson on behalf of the Fran Kinne estate in Story City.

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Taylor said that when the community holds a memorial for Kinne on Aug. 21, the library could host an event in conjunction with that.  

“Thank you to all of you for keeping the vision and the vibrancy and the life of Story City alive,” Nelson said. “Fran loved Story City because she grew up here, and she kept coming back here, but really, it's all of you and everyone else in Story City who kept it true to being Story City.

“So really well done, as a community to keep something alive and to keep these institutions — the library, the museum and the city itself — with such enthusiasm and fervor that it's something that Fran wanted to support in a really big way.”