Kathryn Jean Frans
February 1929 — July 2014
HICKORY — Fore!!! Kathryn Jean Frans, 85, golf club in hand, has entered the gates of heaven.
The third and youngest child of Lee P. and Wilhemena Frans, Jean was born Feb. 16, 1929, in Hickory. She died on the morning of July 16, 2014, at Frye Regional Hospital after a period of declining health. Upon hearing the voices of family and special friends, she passed peacefully.
The Frans family has been prominent in Hickory for nearly 90 years, and Jean was proud of her heritage.
Her father, L.P. Frans, had moved from Winston-Salem with his wife and oldest daughter, Mary Elizabeth, in 1925 when he purchased an Orange Crush bottling plant. A second daughter, Margaret, arrived in 1926, and then Jean in 1929. In 1936, he took a chance at buying a Pepsi-Cola franchise.
In the early years, the Frans family lived downtown near the railroad tracks across from Carolina Park. During the Great Depression, the family learned how to live within their means, but frequently fed hobos off the trains. Fortunately, the soda business survived those lean times and grew into one of Hickory's most successful enterprises.
Jean played clarinet in school bands and graduated from Hickory High School in 1946.
She stayed home to attend Lenoir Rhyne College, graduating in 1951 with a degree in elementary education. After college, she moved to Winston-Salem and taught in the public school at Clemmons, while living with her aunt and uncle, Baleka and Phil Thorpe, and their daughter, Susan. She also spent some time in Statesville.
She decided to return to college where she received an associate degree in radiology technology from Baptist College in Winston-Salem, and shared an apartment with her aunt, Martha, who was attending Wake Forest.
Her younger cousin, Susan, remembered going over to the Winston-Salem apartment and playing the latest Elvis records with her cool big cousin.
Jean worked as a nurse at Baptist Hospital (now Bowman Gray School of Medicine) for 13 years before returning to Hickory to work in the family business.
Once back in Hickory, she would learn all phases of the Pepsi operation from checking in trucks to office work. She would eventually become vice president of the company, one of the few family-owned Pepsi-Cola franchises left in the country. It now serves 17 western North Carolina counties under four generations of the Frans family.
Jean never married; some would say she was too active to pin down.
As a young woman, she was famous in Hickory for driving around in whatever new vehicle struck her fancy, from motorcycles to an amphibious car that was featured in a Pepsi commercial. She also learned how to fly. Although she soloed only once, she loved hanging out with pilots and was a fixture at the Hickory Municipal Airport hangar for many years with friends like Johnny Terrell. Later in life she would take up painting but she couldn’t sit still for long. She loved to travel and sailed around the world twice.
She also surprised her family by running off to NASA Space Camp while still in her 60s. Recently when a great-grand nephew visited her office at the Pepsi plant and saw the photo of Jean upside down in a space suit in a zero gravity chamber, he commented that their aunt was an astronaut.
But her hijinks aside, Jean was best known as a champion golfer. In the 1950s and 1960s, she dominated tournaments in the region. A plaque showing female club champions at Lake Hickory Country Club’s old town course from that era listed very few names other than Jean’s. And she didn’t stop in Hickory. Her winning ways continued in the 1970s and 1980s at her winter home in Tampa, Florida, and summer mountain home in Waynesville.
Jean never had a hole-in-one until she was almost 70. Then she scored two more aces before health issues halted her playing just three years ago.
She made fast friends wherever she went. In Tampa she became close friends with Hugh Culverhouse, the original owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Jean was one of the original Bucs season ticker holders, and many times traveled with the owners to away games. She remained loyal to the Bucs even after Carolina landed its own NFL franchise. Other special friends in Tampa were Jim Walter, of Jim Walter Homes fame, and Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club pro Gil Gonzalves and his wife, Sharon. Jean was a member of the club for nearly 50 years. Active in the club’s women’s association, she founded the women’s member-guest tournament, named “The Early Bird,” in 1970, and was a generous sponsor with Pepsi products at all times.
Living in Tampa Bay, she also was a member of the Tampa Yacht Club and will be missed by her Florida friends and golfing buddies.
Jean was invited to visit Waynesville a couple decades ago after playing in a prestigious women’s golf tournament in Asheville. After falling in love with Waynesville, she bought a condominium and joined the Laurel Ridge Country Club. A tree was planted at the club in her honor this past weekend.
She became a board member of the Haywood Regional Medical Center Foundation board in 2005 and along with friend Phyllis Prevost endowed a scholarship fund for continuing education for nurses. She also supported the Outpatient Care Center and the Emergency Department. In 2012 she was honored by the HRMC Foundation as its Philanthropist of the Year.
By then, Jean’s health was starting to decline and she had made the decision to stay at her Hickory home. Members of the board came to Hickory to present the award, and an article and photo were published in the MedWest News.
“She has given tirelessly to the mission of the HRMC Foundation and has committed her talents and financial resources to show her support,” said Dr. Laura Leatherwood, chair of the HRMC trustees, in the article. “This community and hospital is forever in debt to Jean and her unwavering support over the years.”
In Hickory, Jean contributed to her church, First Baptist of Hickory, the Salvation Army and other charities.
Her family has a history of giving back to the community. In 1993, along with her sisters, she was an honored guest at the dedication of L.P. Frans Stadium, home of the Hickory Crawdads. The family provided seed money for building the baseball stadium.
Jean was preceded in death by her father in 1969, mother in 1991, and sister Margaret Brady, in 2010.
She is survived by sister, Mary Teeter, of Hickory; nephews, Lee (Coco) Teeter, Frans (Robin) Teeter, John (Diane) Teeter and Colin Brady, of Hickory; nephew, Jeff (Dorothy) Brady, of Skagway, Alaska; and niece, Jean (Moore) Patton, of Hickory; several grand- and great-grand nieces, nephews and cousins stretching form South Carolina to Virginia; and the extended Pepsi-Cola family.
The family also gives special thanks for the loyal friendship, care and love of Kevin Herron, who was like a son to Jean for many years, and to the ladies who cared for Jean during the past couple of years at her Hickory home.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be sent to: Riddle Evangelical Association, P.O. Box 1399, Pilot Mountain, NC 27041; Sipes Orchard Homes, 4431 County Home Road, Conover, NC 28613; or Salvation Army, 750 3rd Ave. Place SE, Hickory, NC 28602.
Bass-Smith Funeral Home in Hickory assisted the Frans family with arrangements. A viewing was held Saturday, July 19, followed by a private graveside service in Oakwood Cemetery officiated by the Rev. Dr. Phillip Reynolds of First Baptist Church. Friends and family then gathered for a party to celebrate Jean’s life at one of her favorite restaurants, Youssef 242, in Hickory.