Frances Clare Abts Robinson, 94, died on May 26, 2017, after battling Alzheimer’s disease.
She was born to Morris Abts and Catherine Schlick Abts on September 17, 1922, at home in Iola, Kansas, the fifth of six children. Frances remembered her mother as a strong, capable, independent and educated woman. Her father, who was baptized Moritz but anglicized his name to Morris, began as a blacksmith but became a respected businessman who owned auto parts stores. During the Depression, the family kept farm animals on acreage outside of town for food, extra income and charity. The Abts family set aside enough of their butter, eggs and milk to feed more than one struggling family and impoverished widow.
Frances graduated from Iola High School, Iola Junior College and the University of Kansas. She earned the KU women’s diving championship, studied journalism and edited the student newspaper, the University Daily Kansan. Frances interviewed Phog Allen, the legendary basketball coach, for the UDK. A true Jayhawk, she worshipped at the altar of KU basketball and joined the KU Alumni Association as a life member.
She met Robert Dale Robinson, known as Dale, when he was setting type for the UDK and brought errors to her attention. They graduated in 1944 and married in 1947 in the new Danforth Chapel on the KU campus.
After graduation Frances interviewed for a job as a reporter at the Kansas City Kansan during the labor and housing shortages of World War II. The newspaper hired her during the interview and she began work that day. A printer employed by the paper showed her a classified ad, not yet published, for a furnished apartment over a garage six blocks from the Kansan. She met the landlord after work and rented the apartment. In one day Frances launched her career and found her first solo home.
She was the first woman to cover the police and courthouse beat for the Kansan. She was grateful to the police officers and firemen who watched out for her welfare as she reported on crimes and fires. All her life, she could recall vivid images of domestic abuse, murders and other tragedies she covered.
News that the war ended came while Frances was at work in August, 1945. She remembered the downtown streets as full of screaming, hollering people.
Although it was common for women to quit working outside the home when they married or had children, Frances quit the Kansan not for those reasons but because the paper hired two men, had her train them, and then paid each male rookie more than she had been making.
Her six children arrived from 1948 through 1957. During the flood that devastated Kansas City in 1951, the Kansan asked Frances to return temporarily, although she had a preschooler, a toddler and an infant. One of her flood stories was distributed by a national wire service. When she took her children to the top of a bluff to see the devastated West Bottoms, her three-year-old asked, “Mommy, is that the ocean?”
Frances belonged to Theta Sigma Phi, now known as the Association for Women in Communications. For many years, she hosted their holiday party at the Robinson home south of the Country Club Plaza.
Although busy at home, Frances also worked part-time with Dale. One of their ventures was a paper for the Waldo neighborhood, the Southwest News, for which Frances wrote original puzzles, games and stories. Her “Children’s Page” was the most popular feature in the paper. Frances and Dale closed the Southwest News to concentrate on their typesetting business, which grew rapidly and eventually employed every Robinson child in middle school, high school, and sometimes college. The Robinson family was probably one of very few in which dinner conversation included the merits of different typefaces.
The family business went through several locations and names before it became Mission Photocomposition and pioneered the field of computerized typesetting, which was in its infancy. As the children grew more independent, Frances became more involved in the business. In the 1960s she became the full-time personnel manager who interviewed, tested, hired and fired. After Frances and Dale sold Mission Photocomposition in the late 1960s she remained in the graphic arts industry, first at an insurance company and later at a printing plant.
Frances retired from business to help raise grandchildren, eventually living in a three-generation household that included two grandchildren. She resumed many of the mothering tasks she had performed so well. Frances loved children, especially infants, but had less patience for older children who tested limits, talked back, or did not finish their homework. She excelled at nursing the sick and nourishing the hungry.
In 1995 Dale died at home; Frances caught him as he fell dead from a heart attack. Their marriage had lasted 48 years. She remained at home in Prairie Village until 2013, when she moved to assisted living. She often treated residents and staff to her signature phrase, “I’m dandy!” Although she coped with her share of challenges in family, career and health, she rebounded from problems that would have felled a less cheerful person.
Frances was one of the few surviving grandchildren of Michael and Anna Abts, who homesteaded near Fountain City, Wisconsin, after the Civil War. Abts family members hold reunions every five years in Fountain City. At the 2008 reunion, in front of hundreds of Abts relatives, Frances retold a story learned from her father about how the patriarch Michael and one of his sons were kidnapped by Jesse James, who was fleeing the disastrous Northfield, Minnesota, bank robbery in 1876. In 2006, StoryCorps had recorded and archived her tale.
Her husband Dale Robinson and infant Teresa Clare predeceased Frances, as did her parents and siblings. Five children and their families remain: Marc Robinson, his wife Susan Miller and son Colin Robinson; Cynthia Robinson, her husband David McMurray and daughters Claire Robinson McMurray and Marcella Robinson McMurray Jewell; Craig Robinson, his wife Peggy Robinson and sons Charles Robinson and Nicholas Robinson and stepchildren Bobby Curiel and Nicki Lawrence; Jeff Robinson and his wife Larri Robinson; and Michael Robinson. Frances leaves four great-grandchildren: Lacey Lawrence, Olive Robinson, Rosemary Johnson, and Ezra Jewell. She also leaves many nieces and nephews.
Frances chose cremation. Her ashes will rest in the family plot she chose in Highland Cemetery, a one-acre cemetery established shortly after the Civil War. Highland is in a quiet neighborhood near the Prairie Village, Kansas, house where Frances lived for nearly 30 years.
Family members request no flowers. If you wish to make a memorial contribution, please consider the University of Kansas Alumni Association or the Alzheimer’s Association Heart of America Chapter.
A Celebration of Life and a luncheon are scheduled for June 5, 2017, at noon at the Overland Park Chapel, 8201 Metcalf, Overland Park, Kansas 66204. Please celebrate Frances by wearing a cheerful color, especially her favorite, yellow.