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Deceased Name: FRANCES HOFFMAN LAVINE

Frances Hoffman Lavine, 93, of London Road died Thursday, July 8, 1999, in St. Mary's Hospice in Duluth.

 

Born Jan. 7, 1906, in Chicago, Lavine was the daughter of Louis and Sophie (Tauber) Hoffman. Following the death of his wife, Louis Hoffman brought his daughter Frances, then 12, and sons Morris and Harold to French River just north of Duluth on the North Shore of Lake Superior. Later Frances moved to Duluth and made her home there until her marriage to Max H. Lavine in December of 1935.

 

Frances understood the power of personal commitment and the dramatic change it could set in motion.

 

In her twenties, she was known in the Twin Ports and around the country as founder of the legendary Duluth Children's Theater. The theater company she started in a barn in the late 1920s rose to national prominence as a place where children and adolescents developed a high level of theatrical skill and produced plays of superior, professional quality.

 

Later, while still a very young woman, Frances toured the United States and Canada with one-woman shows she created and produced. Theater remained a lifelong passion and, as opportunities to share her skills in non-theatrical settings presented themselves, she added the art of teaching, along with community service and organizing, to her lengthening list of capabilities.

 

After her marriage to Max Lavine, then advertising department manager of the Superior Evening Telegram, and the 1941 birth of their son, John, family life became a central focus for Frances. Still, community service remained a family priority for the Lavines who lived in Superior. Frances continued her significant civic involvement throughout the years her son was growing up. She believed strongly in the idea that everyone must make an effort to ''pay their room rent on earth.''

 

She spearheaded raising funds for Douglas County's first mobile X-ray unit to screen children and adults for tuberculosis and devised a public awareness campaign to mobilize residents' use of the facility. She also led in the effort to raise support for the Easter Seal Society for handicapped children when polio was rampant, and she raised funds to build an accessible classroom for handicapped children at Superior's Cooper School. She put tireless energy into drives for blood donations during World War II. In more recent years, she was an early trustee of the Duluth-Superior Educational TV Corp.

 

Newspapering involved all of the Lavines. By the early 1960s, Max Lavine had become general manager of the Superior Evening Telegram and general manager of the Murphy Newspapers. He and Francis were also owners of the Portage Daily Register in Portage, Wis. It was the first newspaper in what was to become The Lavine Newspaper Group. Just before Mr. Lavine's death in 1964, the family purchased the Chippewa Falls Herald Telegram in Chippewa Falls, Wis. In 1969 they added the Baraboo News Republic and, in 1975, the Shawano Evening Leader. They also developed weekly newspapers and commercial printing ventures in those markets. Frances Lavine served as chairwoman of the Lavine Newspaper Group and John Lavine was publisher-editor.

 

During the 1960s, when the Job Corps set up a site in Clam Lake, Wis., Frances convinced them to let her be the first teacher-in-residence to the 200 young men who came there from inner cities around the country. Initially, she received a cool reception. Soon, however, the diminutive lady with the big presence could be seen walking across the camp between tough, towering young men who were engaged in animated conversation. They were consulting her about some aspect of their futures. At the time, one of them said that they were ''checking with Mrs. Lavine. She tells it like it is and gives us really straight, smart advice.''

 

Frances said that the experience moved her deeply. For the rest of her life, she dedicated a significant portion of her personal and financial resources to providing educational opportunities for young people who might not otherwise find a path to success. She also designated special awards for faculty who teach those students.

 

In 1972, the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth named Frances to its first lay board of trustees, a group of prominent business and academic leaders. She was the first lay-woman, as well as the first member of the Jewish community, nominated to the new board. She served for 12 years and since has been active as a trustee emerita.

 

Her service and accomplishments earned her honorary doctorate degrees from both the College of St. Scholastica and Northland College in Ashland.

 

Even in her 90s, age never daunted her spirit. Community leaders regularly sought her opinion and, since 1973, five presidents of the College of St. Scholastica have been the benefactors of her personal counsel. She also regularly taught classes in gerontology. With zest she told students how to better treat and interact with the senior citizens they were learning to serve. Typical of the experience of meeting ''that amazing, tiny lady,'' were these comments from student evaluations of her class: ''I can't believe she is nearly that old. She has so much energy in that tiny body, and she is so smart the phrase 'telling it like it is' must have been coined when someone met her. You know she cares deeply about each of us, about quality, and about improving what we do for seniors.''

 

Faculty and students at the College of St. Scholastica, the University of Wisconsin-Superior and Northland College in Ashland have also benefited from her interest in teaching and learning.

 

At Scholastica, Frances endowed scholarships in history, music, and gerontology; an annual award to an outstanding English major; and an annual award for excellence in teaching.

 

At the University of Wisconsin-Superior, she established the Max Lavine Award for Scholarly Achievement and an American Indian Studies fund. At Northland College, the Frances Lavine Native American Studies Outstanding Service Award and the Native American Studies Academic Achievement Award are given annually at the Spring Honors Convocation.

 

For her 90th birthday, friends of Frances arranged for the birthday gift of her long lifetime. In lieu of individual presents, a pool of more than $15,000 was put together as a start on a Habitat for Humanity house. In the spring of 1999, Frances saw the house completed and ready for its new owners. She participated in a ceremony at Temple Israel celebrating the occasion.

 

Frances was a collector of poems, which she recited from memory, including a perfect rendition of James Weldon Johnson's ''The Creation,'' performed on the occasion of a family birthday celebration when she turned 90. She also often quoted the poet Edwin Markham, a friend of hers when she was a young woman. These words of Markham's come close to expressing Frances Lavine's secret for a successful life:

 

''He drew a circle that shut me out -- Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle that took him in.''

 

Frances was preceded in death by her husband, Max; her father, Louis; her mother, Sophie; and her brothers Morris of Phoenix and Harold of Fountain City, Ariz.

 

She is survived by her son, John and his wife, Meryl Lipton Lavine of Evanston, Ill.; and her grandsons Max Bernard Lavine of Evanston and Marc of San Francisco; her granddaughter Miriam ''Mimi'' and her husband, Jon Gellman, of Jersey City, N.J.; her great grandson, Adam Louis Gellman; four nephews and two nieces.

 

Service: 10 a.m. Sunday in Temple Israel, 16th Avenue East and Second Street. Burial in Temple Emanuel Cemetery, 4400 Woodland Ave. In lieu of flowers, memorials to Frances Lavine Fund at Habitat for Humanity-Duluth, 130 W. Superior St., Duluth, MN 55802; The Frances Lavine Scholarships at the College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN 55811; the University of Wisconsin-Superior, Superior, WI 54880; or Northland College, Ashland, WI 54806. Arrangements by Johnson Mortuary.

 

Duluth News-Tribune (MN)

Date: July 9, 1999

 

 

 

 

 

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