By Laura Phelps
For more than a year, our ability to hold tightly to hope has been challenged at every turn. Tremendous loss, isolation, and heartbreaking injustice threatened to stamp out the dimming light of a better tomorrow.
What better time then, to remember the remarkable life and spirit of a woman whose unquenchable optimism and persistence left an indelible mark on everyone she knew and on the Jacksonville community.
This May Jacksonville University (JU) is honoring the late Dr. Frances (Fran) Bartlett Kinne with a memorial service, bronze statue unveiling, and historical exhibit dedicated to the life of the university’s beloved former president and chancellor emerita. Dr. Kinne passed away in May of 2020, just two weeks shy of her 103rd birthday.
“Fran Kinne was truly an original, a visionary,” says JU President Tim Cost, who was a student at the university when Kinne served as president. “Her optimism was impenetrable and tenacious; nothing could break her will from creating a positive approach to every opportunity. And she had the rare ability to impart that relentlessly positive spirit in everyone she met.”
Her extraordinary life began on May 23, 1917 in Story City, Iowa. Kinne showed a passion for learning and a talent for music from an early age. She was sharp, clever, and an exceptional pianist, helping to teach piano lessons as early as age 11 and working as a public school music teacher after graduating from high school. Even as she breezed past her 100th birthday, Kinne delighted friends and visitors at her home by playing songs on her grand piano.
When World War II began, Kinne was eager to put her wit and talent to good use for her country. She signed up as a United States Army hostess at Camp Crowder in Missouri where she was in charge of providing entertainment for as many as 70,000 soldiers. She met Colonel Harry L. Kinne, and they were married in 1948.
After the war, she lived abroad with her husband who was assigned to posts in China, Japan, and Germany. The experience helped shape her outlook and deepened her determination for decades to come. She learned to fit in with post-war communities and cultures that rejected the privileged American officers and diplomats who lived among them. In 1957 she graduated from the University of Frankfurt in West Germany with a Ph.D. in music, English literature, and philosophy after successfully completing an oral defense of her dissertation entirely in German.
Kinne came to JU as assistant professor of humanities for a one-month teaching assignment in 1958 and found her home. She invested her time, talent, and treasure to enrich the university and the local community for the next 62 years.
Her leadership, persistence, and optimism shaped JU into what it is today. She founded what is now the Linda Berry Stein College of Fine Arts in 1961, and in 1969 she was appointed as its dean. She went on to serve as president of JU from 1979 to 1989 and established what is now the Davis College of Business, the Keigwin School of Nursing, and the aviation program.
Her focus was always on the students. “The only reason we are here is because of the students,” Kinne remarked during her 96th birthday celebration.