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J. Francis Conrad: A prince of a man

RIP: John Francis Conrad: 1928-2022

Photo taken the day before his 90th birthday

Sometimes, we can recall occurrences from our very young days. That slight memory from when I was six-years-old returned to me earlier this week.

On June 14, 1953, I was excited because my parents were allowing me and my younger sister an opportunity to attend a wedding reception, something that had never happened in our lives. I knew that the man being married was a cousin of my dad’s, though not much more than that.

That special cousin was Francie Conrad, and he was marrying a wonderful young woman by the name of Dorothy Mae Walters. For some reason, I can remember bits and pieces of the wedding reception. This is the extent of my recollection, and what I saw that day told me what I would learn later as an adult.

What I learned that day, something reinforced later as an adult, was that Francie Conrad a special human being.

The wedding

The reception was held in the social hall of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Lilly. What do I remember? Just that the Francie appeared to be the happiest man on earth. His smile was then, and was until earlier this week, an infectious one. It revealed how much joy he felt that day with his marriage to this special young lady.

What I did not know at the time was that this: Francie was one of the most wonderful human beings I was ever going to meet in my life. But, what I did not realize until much later was that the marriage of those two superb human beings could be described as “love personified.”

I visited with Francie last summer, and during that, we had a long conversation that focused on his difficulty remembering the names of his great-grandchildren. He said something like this, “I am able to remember the grandkids, but those great ones — I am just guessing, and it makes me feel so bad.”

As young children, you know nothing about love. It made no sense to a six-year old. I never realized the true narrative of Francie Conrad until I was an adult.

His 91st Birthday


Last year, I had the opportunity to visit with Francie again. I knew that age was challenging him, but was soon as he saw me, he smiled and said, “Hughie Conrad.” He did not forget.

Francie may have been 92-years-old last summer, but to his children, his 14 grandchildren, and his 17 great-grandchildren, he was the consummate symbol of love and joy.

Then … and now.

We talked alone for a while, and one thing was bothering him. He told me that he could remember the names of his grandchildren.

My answer was simple: “Francie, they could care less about whether or not you know their names. What they will always remember is the beautiful smile on your face and the love that they feel when you hug them. That’s what is most important.”

He laughed at that.

A prince of a man

When I call Francie a prince, I realize that it is not an adjective that he would have ever used to describe himself. He was a laid-back, easy-going, humble man who reflected so well on the upbringing of his parents, particularly his mother, Eleanor. His parents were very religious, and their faith in God was passed on to Francie, who said the rosary at least twice a day in his life.

As my friend and mentor Art Martynuska said many years ago, “If Francie and Dorothy Mae do not make it to heaven, none of the rest of us have a chance.”

That was so true. Faith was so vital in his life, and so much of that originated with his mother, Eleanor.

When I was about 8-years-old and a member of the Boys Scout Troop 53 in Lilly, every month or two, I would trudge through the area of Dutchtown where the Conrad family lived and sell $1 50-50 chances to help us go to camp. During those walks, I learned why Francie had the temperament that he did — and why he had such a strong faith.

One of my stops was at the Conrad household, and that was where I learned about “Mama Eleanor.” Not only would she buy a ticket, but she would ask me to sit down and talk. There I learned about the genealogy of the Conrad family — and the Eckenrodes and the Dunns, which were her birth families. I truly believe that she was the one who instilled in me the importance of knowing your ancestry, your legacy.

However, she was also so kind and gentle, so supportive, such a joy for me to talk with at that time. She would tell me about her brother John Eckenrode, who was diametrically opposed to the quiet, gentle Eleanor.

Some many times in life, young children reflect their mothers. Francie did that so well in his life, and his wife continued that as a role model with her children.

I will always treasure my long talks with Francie

Seeing photos this week

Social media has some advantages, and as I looked at the photos that some of Francie’s granddaughters posted on Facebook, it left a thud in the pit of my stomach — but it also left tears of joy. Those young people will never, ever forget their grandfather. His passing is indeed the end of an era physically, but when I saw that Francie was a prince, I mean that the goodness of a person is not found by crowns or gold or castle.

Francie Conrad’s goodness was his heart, his smile, his goodness, and his love. Those virtues were ones that everyone will always remember about him.

My sympathy to his children and their families: Jean Ann, Mark, Charlene, Mary Rose, DeSales, Eleanor, and John's family, his wife Elaine and their children. They are mourning today, but all of them realize how fortunate they were to have had the wonderful parents that they did.

From the body language, you can tell that the Steelers did not do well against the 49ers

Cash, Francie, Frank, Byron, and I

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