Richard M. ‘Dick’ Franz
"I still think the challenge to each of us is to become kind and compassionate to those around us."
Richard M. "Dick" Franz died February 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 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, we must keep moving forward. If Dick’s losses didn’t deter him, we must not allow life’s setbacks to impede our progress. Dick Franz personified persistence.
Dick 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, Wash., survives him.
Dick supported himself and family through a career in graphic arts, design and cartography. In 1955, Dick and Maxine moved to the Town of New Berlin, to a passive solar home designed for them by John Randall McDonald, a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright and the School of Prairie Architecture.
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 lifelong advocacy and generous financial support.
Dick and Maxine helped start the New Berlin Ecology Association that was an early promoter of household recycling before Waukesha County developed its recycling program. 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. Through his ongoing involvement with WEAL, he helped guide the organization to many environmental successes through the years.
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 Scholarship Foundation that awards college scholarships to graduating seniors of Shullsburg, Wisconsin, where Emily taught fourth grade. One of the first year’s scholarships was awarded to one of Emily’s fourth-grade students; that woman’s daughter received a scholarship in 2016. Emily’s Fund became a catalyst for community building in the small town of Shullsburg.
Residents formed a board to oversee the foundation, and hold annual fundraisers to increase the fund’s principle. Since 1980, the Emily Franz fund has provided college scholarships to 327 Shullsburg students, awards totaling $863,000. Many student recipients have remained in touch with Dick and corresponded regularly up until his death.
Through frugal living and careful investing, Dick was able to generously support many causes and organizations about which he was passionate:
Friends Service Committee
Dick frequently wrote "Letters to the Editor" published in both The 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. He marched for peace, for civil and women’s rights, for social justice.
Dick was an active member of the United Nations Association, Waukesha Chapter. 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.
Dick was active in the local community as well, forming a group under the Focus New Berlin Plan to keep the western half of the city rural in character (Conservation Housing) that made recommendations to the mayor and common council. Much of the study was approved in new zoning rules.
A gardener, woodworker and avid bicyclist, Dick regularly biked 60 to 80 miles several times a week in retirement, including from his home in New Berlin to Retzer Nature Center to attend WEAL board of director meetings, often traveling both ways in the dark. Rides downtown to visit the Milwaukee Art Museum and other attractions were regular occurrences, too.
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 Waukesha County Land Conservancy, Waukesha County Environmental Action League, or Planned Parenthood.
A brief service will be held for his family of
friends on April 29 at 12 noon, Blessed Savior Lutheran Church, 15250 W.
Cleveland Ave., New Berlin. A lunch will follow.