A royal parade for an elegant lady

Opinion: Columns

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

When she was interviewed in the lobby of 314 Lathrop Ave., Frances J. Lee looked positively regal. Her hair was styled and her dress was elegant. Lee looked like a queen but possesses a humble servant's heart. Family, friends and residents can honor Lee for her 90th birthday, on Sunday, June 28 at 4:45 p.m. with a car parade.

Her niece, Marie Carlisle, organized the celebration. There will be a police escort from village hall past Lee's building. Carlisle, who has taught at Middle School for 26 years, is very close with her aunt. After her mom, Thelma, passed away, Lee became her surrogate mother.

She isn't just motherly to family members. She also cares for her church family at J.W. James Memorial A.M.E. For Lee, church isn't just for Sundays; she was active every day of the week as a member of the Missionary Society and serving on the Steward Board.

Lee continues her ministries, even though the pandemic prevents her from attending services. She is an "encourager clerk," who sends out weekly cards to inspire others. She is also a "prayer warrior," who prays for members every Saturday. Being cut off from the congregation is difficult, but Lee listens to Sunday services on her landline.

Her favorite church ministry, though, was teaching Kindergarten. To qualify for the job, she obtained her teaching certificate from Triton College. The excitement in her classroom was contagious. She started the day by having her sleepy students do jumping jacks. They were also hungry, so they would make cookies and Lee baked them during naptime.

Creative with her students, she had all of them reading by the age of 4. "If you can read, you're your own teacher," she declared. After 12 years of teaching, the Great Recession caused the school to close. Lee never stopped being a teacher, though, freely sharing her wisdom.

She discovered her key to wisdom growing up in South Bend, Indiana. She saw a slogan: "If you give to the world the best you have, the best will come back to you." Lee has lived her life accordingly. She also takes comfort from Psalm 91, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust." She isn't preachy and pious, though. A building resident said Lee helped restore her faith through her thoughtful actions.

She leads an incredibly active life. In addition to continuing to cook and bake, she still drives to her beauty parlor in Broadview and her church in Maywood. She dines on Madison Street at Louie's Grill and Francesca's Fiore. She has also traveled extensively. The first time she boarded a plane she took her 16-year-old son, Mike, on a tour of Europe.

Lee later flew with a church group to Liberia and Sierra Leone, where they donated thousands of dollars. She traveled with Carlisle to the 2018 family reunion in Texas and visited her son, Mike, and her grandchildren in Olive Branch, Mississippi. 

She also likes being home in Forest Park, where she has lived since 1988. During the quarantine, her neighbors have been very kind, bringing her groceries. Lee finds Forest Park to be so accessible, she can walk anywhere she needs to go.

She once considered selling her condo, but when she didn't receive a single offer, she took it as a divine sign to stay put. Lee is looking forward to her birthday parade. She has just one request for the parade-goers: that they display a shade of purple, her favorite color.

Purple has long been the color of royalty.

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