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Milestone birthday for Frances O'Connor Kranz McAlpin

She has always met life's challenges and continued onward. Her first husband had a devastating stroke, her second had Alzheimer's, and for years, she worked seven days a week. As life happened, the family changed their plans and continued to live full lives.

Today, after 100 years, Frances O'Connor Kranz McAlpin continues to look forward.

Fran's 100th birthday was actually March 31 - but the party for all her Hastings friends is later this month.

She was born in Red Wing, the first-born daughter of William and Mary (Schickling) O'Connor. She had one sister, Florence, and two brothers, Marcus and Thomas.

The family lived in Red Wing initially, and then moved to Plainview. In 1917, the family moved to Hastings, where William O'Connor owned and operated a plumbing business for many years.

The family lived in the 400 block of East Fifth Street. The railroad tracks and Lake Isabel were close. Fran remembers "ducking under the railroad box cars to reach Lake Isabel to fish."

Another favorite pastime - Fran would direct her sister and brothers in plays they staged in the small barn behind their house. She attended Guardian Angels School.

Living close to the train station, it was probably a natural fit when Fran began delivering telegrams for the railroad station master. She earned 10 cents for each delivery. She still remembers the grief-filled reaction of a family when they received a telegram informing them of their son's death in World War I.

While in high school, she earned money by "marcelling" ladies' hair, a popular hair style characterized by deep waves made with a heated curling iron. She earned 25 cents for each customer.

She graduated from Hastings High School in 1928. As far as the family knows, she is the last surviving member of her class. She then attended, and graduated from, Globe Business School.

Her first job after graduation was with the Warner Brothers Studio Film Distribution Office in Minneapolis. There, she earned $17.50 a week.

Back to Hastings

She returned to Hastings in the early 1930s and worked as a secretary to Harold Hoffman, president of Smead Manufacturing Co.

She met A.T. "Butch" Kranz when they were both involved in a community play in Hastings. They were married Sept. 13, 1934, in Guardian Angels Church.

Fran and Butch bought and remodeled the Kranz family home at 401 Ramsey St., which continues to be used as apartments today. They created four large apartments on the first two floors and a fifth apartment on the third floor. They lived in the house until 1950. They had two daughters, Mary and Gretch-en.

In the 1940s, Fran again worked as a secretary at Smead's.

Butch was working in the Dakota County Engineer's office, serving as acting county engineer in the 1940s. He later became an owner/ partner in the plumbing and heating firm, O'Connor-Kranz.

Fran became active in the community, serving as president of the Hastings Women's Club in 1948. She also taught painting in a program predating community education programs.

In the late 1940s, Butch, at 41, suffered his first stroke. Abandoning their plans to build a home on a bluff overlooking West Second Street, the couple sold their Second Street lot and their house on Ramsey Street, and remodeled Fran's grandmother's 90-year-old house in south Hastings.

A short time later, Butch suffered a second massive stroke, which left him confined to a wheelchair for the next 16 years.

To support the family, Fran took a position at Hastings High School, where she was secretary to Superintendent B.J. Polga for about 20 years.

The gift shop

In 1956, the St. Paul Pioneer Press published a Sunday edition feature story about the courage and spirit of Fran and Butch Kranz, who despite the unplanned obstacles and adversity in their lives, never surrendered to self pity. They adjusted their dreams and plans, and forged ahead with living.

To provide Butch with something to fill his long hours of confinement, Fran said, and literally on a financial "shoestring," the couple established Gretchen's Gifts in the late 1950s, in the sunroom of their south Hastings home.

With Fran's natural artistic ability, interior decorating expertise and antique collecting, along with the couple's gracious and hospitable personalities, the shop became immediately successful. Soon an addition was added to the house to accompany the expanding business.

Offering a wide variety of beautiful gifts, lamps and home accessories, Gretchen's Gifts was a delightfully unique and extremely popular shop that for 20 years drew customers from Hastings and from throughout the metropolitan area.

Operating the gift shop while working a full-time secretarial job at the high school required that Fran work seven days a week, but it was work she loved. Butch handled the shop finances, and on weekdays while Fran was at work at school, friends Lucille Fitzpatrick and Florence Kleis Caturia assisted customers. Fran handled the weekend shifts.

After Butch's death in 1964 at the age of 57, Fran continued working at the high school and operating the gift shop.

In 1968, Fran married Homer McAlpin, a widower who sold commercial food to the high school and was a mutual friend of both Fran and Butch.

After their marriage, Fran retired from her high school position but continued operating the gift shop. A third addition was added to the house and the gift shop expanded into the former living area.

In 1975, Fran sold the house and the gift shop, and the couple moved to Bloomington. Two years later, the shop, under the new ownership, closed.

In their retirement, Fran and Homer enjoyed spending winters in Florida and took a number of European trips.

In the last five years of his life, Homer suffered from Alzheimer's disease. He died in 1989.

Fran's resiliency

After Homer's death, Fran spent a few months each winter in Arizona, enjoying the company of her brother and sister-in-law, Tom and Florence O'Connor. Fran, out of necessity, had to be very self-sufficient much of her life, even driving to Arizona by herself when she was 85 years old.

Fran has always loved to travel. She celebrated her 90th birthday touring Ireland with her daughter. She has continued traveling in this country throughout her 90's.

She now has five grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren.

Still living in her own condo, Fran spends her time reading, playing her keyboard, practicing her shorthand (at which she is very proficient!) and working crossword puzzles. She goes out several times a week. She enjoys all kinds of shopping, attends weekly Mass, and loves traveling to the North Shore.

Fran continues to be a warm, gracious, friendly, "upbeat" woman who is grateful for her long life and good health.

Her daughters have lasting, wonderful memories of times with their mother, and they continue to make new ones.

"To us, the most impressive aspect of Mom's life is the way she met life's challenges, especially my father's devastating stroke at age 42," says daughter Mary Schmit. "Mom and Dad never complained; they just adjusted their plans and forged ahead with life.

"Also, the fact, that for 20 years, she worked seven days a week - at the high school and on the weekends at the gift shop," Schmit added. "She took care of my dad, even taking him on vacations long before everything was handicapped-accessible.

The family is excited by her birthday and have planned a party in Hastings.