Franke leaves lasting memory on Ashippun
ASHIPPUN -- The Ashippun community is mourning the death of longtime fire Chief Jim Franke, who served the department for more than 40 years, including 17 as fire chief.
He is remembered for his love of his family, which included those who served on the department with him.
Franke, 71, died unexpectedly May 2 in Colorado leaving behind his wife, Shari and his two daughters.
“He was my mentor when I started with the department,” said Deonne Eske, who served as Ashippun’s fire chief for 17 years and recorded 36 years with the department. “I could always ask him questions. He wanted everyone on his department to succeed in whatever they did.”
She said family really mattered to him.
“He loved his wife, daughters and grandchildren immensely,” Eske said. “He would often talk about his daughters and how proud he was of them. He loved his family and that overflowed to those on his department.”
Eske, who remains as the department’s EMS captain and safety officer, said when the department ordered an engine Franke wanted it to come equipped with a bell.
“I’m not sure why he wanted it, but we had a bell installed on Engine 1163,” Eske said.
She said in keeping with the tradition when the department ordered its new engine they had the bell installed on the new apparatus.
“Jim was in Colorado when the new engine arrived April 29,” Eske said. “He never had the opportunity to see the bell from the old truck on the new engine.”
The past president of the Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs Association, Franke’s motto with his own fire department was “We work hard, but we play harder.”
Franke was the current Ashippun Lions Club president at the time of his death.
Norman Lange, an Ashippun Lions Club member, said he couldn’t recall the year when he met Franke, but admitted when he was treasurer of the club he admired the former fire chief’s frankness.
“He rarely messed around with words, which I really liked about him,” Lange said. “I try to emulate that because it is so absent today in conversations. I do remember the time he used the words ‘ad nauseam’ when he sold me his Kubota tractor. I still have the tractor and never regretted purchasing it.”
Franke, who pursued a career in sales selling industrial and agricultural equipment, was rarely without a pen.
“We were in Lions together, but we knew each other before then,” Larry Christopherson said. “When he was Ashippun fire chief I was the chief of police for Ashippun at the same time. I always had a pen on me because as a police chief I needed one all the time. Jim was a salesman and he had a pen on him all the time too. We would laugh about it.”
Christopherson, who was past president of the Ashippun Lions, said he too was in sales and he and Franke would often talk about it.
“We just clicked on the same level,” Christopherson said. “That’s the way he was with everybody. He made everyone feel welcomed around him. And he always had that pen with him which worked out well especially when we were selling tickets for something.”
Joel Hembel, who didn’t serve on the fire department or in the Ashippun Lions Club, recalled the morning breakfasts on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when a group of locals would meet at Ashippun’s Trackside.
“While I’m not a lifelong resident of Ashippun, it didn’t take long to get the Ashippun welcome. Jim was always friendly and inviting,” Hembel said. “We had great fun sharing his jokes and looking at goofy stuff on our smart phones.”
Hembel said Franke was “very passionate” about Ashippun and was a positive example for the community.
He also could make people laugh.
“As everyone knows, Jim had a great sense of humor. What might not be as well known is that Jim could take a joke as well as anybody,” John Kuhn said. “He loved and sold Kubota tractors. I am a former John Deere employee. We liked to rib each other about our respective tractor loyalty whenever we got the chance.”
Kuhn said there was a drawing at a Lions club meeting and Franke “magically” made sure Kuhn won a Kubota ball cap.
“It’s unthinkable for a John Deere guy to wear a Kubota ball cap,” he said.
Kuhn said his son and wife took the cap and attached a small toy John Deere tractor to the top of it with flashing green and yellow LED lights that hid the Kubota name on the front of the hat.
“I wore it to the next Lions meeting, and Jim nearly fell off his chair laughing so hard,” Kuhn said. “That’s what I’ll miss about Jim. His jokes and laughter. Jim will be sorely missed by everyone who knew him.”