The Greatest Gran

Welcome to another Women in History Crush Wednesday! This week is particularly special to and emotional for me, and is more of a personal history – today’s WCW is my great-grandmother, Frances Schaefer, because a) she was an amazing lady who I love with all my heart and from whom I learned lots and b) her birthday is this Saturday. I’ve always called her Granny Franny, so instead of referring to her in the following biography by her last name as per usual, I’ll be calling her Fran.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Frances Schaefer

Frances Evelyn Bradley was born on September 12th, 1915 in Newhall, Iowa. She graduated from Newhall Township High School in 1932, and was planning on attending Northwestern University. However, her family had their life savings invested in banks, and were struck hard by the Great Depression, so instead Fran attended the more affordable Iowa State Teacher’s College (which is now the University of Northern Iowa). Initially studying elementary education, Fran switched to a major in music in order to follow her passion, and graduated in 1936. Following graduation, she was the vocal instructor in several Iowa schools, where she met her husband, Eugene V. Schaefer, the instrumental teacher. Because teachers weren’t permitted to be married to each other at the time in Iowa, the couple moved to Toledo, Ohio in 1941 to marry and continue teaching. They honeymooned in Colorado, and loved the area so much that they soon decided to move to east Denver. Fran taught at Horace Mann Junior High School until May of 1946 when my grandma Cyndy was born, and in 1950, Fran’s second daughter, Susie was born. In 1947, Fran and her family moved to a house in south Denver that she lived in until February of this year (a whopping sixty eight years!). Fran began directing the adults, children’s, and youth choirs at the Kirk of Bonnie Brae, their neighborhood church, and directed there for over thirty years. One of her many honors included when Fran was chosen to direct the Denver Children’s Choir Festival. Granny Franny died on February 21st this year, living to be ninety nine and a half years old. She was able to be present in lives of her eleven great-grandchildren, and even got to see my oldest cousin graduate from the Colorado School of Mines.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Frances Schaefer

Granny Franny is one of best people I’ve known in my life. Growing up, she would play board and lawn games and make music with us, and nearly every visit ended with a catching-up session at the Bonnie Brae Tavern (her favorite pizza joint, as pictured above). She loved telling us stories about her life. There are two of her stories that have stuck with me the most. The first was about a boy that she had taught probably fifty years ago that yelled at her during class. The boy cussed at her and was exceedingly unpleasant; instead of getting angry, she had him calm down in the principal’s office, then talked to him about his life to try to understand where his aggression was originating. Her handling of the situation taught me to be patient and understanding regardless of the circumstances, as you never know what others are experiencing in their lives. Her second story was about how she had shattered her wrist while roller skating with her friends in high school, and how that event strengthened her friendships. After her memorial service this summer, my mom and I had the opportunity to help sort out her house. We went through a hundred years of scrapbooks – there wasn’t a single picture of Granny Franny where she wasn’t smiling, laughing, or goofing off with her friends. My great-grandmother was a genuinely optimistic person; a true ray of sunshine. Growing up in the wake of the Depression and the beginning of World War II, there was a lot she could have been bitter about, but that just wasn’t her nature. One of my favorite finds in her house was a home-recorded vinyl record from the late 40’s/early 50’s, which plays a track of Granny Franny and my Grandma Cyndy as a toddler singing nursery rhymes. After her passing, it fills my heart to hear her talking and singing.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Frances Schaefer

There are so many wonderful stories I could tell about Granny Franny, but it would take several posts and at a little after midnight, I’m not emotionally stable enough to do so. I’ll end with how Granny Franny has inspired me, beyond the lessons I learned through her stories. My great-grandma was fiercely independent – she lived by herself until three days before she passed. She would do whatever it took to make the ones she loved happy, even if it meant bending the rules a little bit. And she was the best empathizer; you could sit on her back porch, snacking on mini Dove ice cream bars and talking to her for hours.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays!

Be heard!


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