“I still think the challenge to each of us is to become kind and compassionate to those around us.”
Richard M. Franz, “Dick” died on Feb. 12, 2017 at the age of 101, well on his way to 102. Dick was an ordinary man who, despite great personal loss, through force of his will, an incredible intelligence and a generous spirit, lived an extraordinary life that continues to positively impact the lives of others. Our beautiful planet, so deeply revered by Dick, feels like a smaller, colder place already. However, Dick’s losses didn’t deter him-- Dick Franz modeled persistence. We must also persist.
Richard M. Franz was born in Milwaukee to Ella and Richard Franz on July 10, 1915.
He graduated from North Division High School in 1933, and in 1941, graduated from Milwaukee State Teachers College majoring in Art and English. Dick was a proud veteran of the United States Army Corps of Engineers and Army Corps Mapping Unit during World War II. At age 100, he boarded an Honor Flight to the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C.
He married Maxine Hipkoe in 1944 and had two children, Erich and Emily. All three preceded him in death, as well as his parents and his only sibling, Edwin. His daughter-in-law, Nola Franz, of Everett, Washington, survives him.
Dick and Maxine helped start the New Berlin Ecology Association that was an early promoter of household recycling. In 1978, he co-founded the Waukesha County Environmental Action League (WEAL) a grassroots organization dedicated to the protection of Waukesha County’s natural resources that is still going strong at nearly 40 years of age.
After their daughter Emily died in a tragic car accident in her early 20s, Dick and Maxine helped found three local chapters of the Compassionate Friends to help bereaved parents cope with the loss of a child. They also established the Emily Franz Memorial Scholarship Fund that awards scholarships to graduating seniors in Shullsburg, where Emily taught fourth grade. The first scholarships were awarded to two of the students from the class of 4th graders that Emily was teaching at the time of her death. The community is now seeing second-generation recipients of the prestigious award. Emily’s fund became a catalyst for community building in the small town of Shullsburg. A board of directors was formed to oversee the fund, select the recipients and hold an annual fundraiser to increase the principle. Since 1980, the Emily Franz Memorial Scholarship Fund has provided awards to 327 Shullsburg students totaling $863,000. Many student recipients and their families have remained in touch with Dick and corresponded over the years.
Dick was a lifelong avid reader of non-fiction. He shared his love of books on diverse subjects with friends and any young people who visited with him. He always had a stack of books in his home and was ready to engage in energetic discussions about the books’ subjects or other topics of interest to him.
Dick’s interests were wide-ranging; his involvements deep, his engagements with the community and fellow earth travelers were amazingly diverse and overwhelmingly positive. A man of great principle, he lived his principles through advocacy, action and financial support.
Dick frequently wrote “Letters to the Editor” published in both the Waukesha Freeman and the Milwaukee Journal advocating for innovative ideas to create a better community and world.
Throughout his life, Dick demonstrated against war and nuclear testing, and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). He marched for peace, for civil and women’s rights, for social justice.
Dick was an active member of the United Nations Association. With wife Maxine, they were given the YWCA’s Peacemaker Award in 1997. In 2015, Dick was honored with a second peace award, Plowshare Center’s Peacebuilder award, for his lifelong commitment to social justice, peace and environmental sustainability.
An avid bicyclist, Dick regularly biked 60 - 80 miles several times a week in retirement, including from his home in New Berlin to Retzer Nature Center in western Waukesha and eastward to downtown Milwaukee Art Museum.
Although he outlived nearly his entire family, he was greatly loved and will be missed by the many people whose lives he touched in the most profound ways.
From a toast made on his 100th birthday: Happy Birthday, Dick! Sharp as ever and still living life to the fullest, every day. Environmentalist. Conservationist. Artist. Reader. Leader. Inspirationist.
Donations in memory of Dick can be made to the Emily Franz Memorial Scholarship Fund.
A brief service will be held for his family of friends on April 29 at 12noon, Blessed Savior Lutheran Church, 15250 W. Cleveland Avenue, New Berlin, Wisconsin. A lunch will follow.