By Kevin Hogencamp/Jacksonville University
With basketball legend Artis Gilmore leading the refrain and much of her loving, admiring Jacksonville University family assembled in her honor, Chancellor Emeritus Frances Bartlett Kinne says “Happy Birthday to You” never felt and sounded so good to her.
A former JU professor, dean, president and chancellor, Dr. Kinne was honored Thursday, May 23, with a celebration of her 96th birthday and of her many contributions to the University. About 120 past and present JU students, faculty, staff, administrators and trustees were on hand, as were Kinne’s closest relatives, her Mayo Clinic physician and others Kinne calls her “Mayo family.”
Kinne’s service and leadership at Jacksonville University has changed lives and the course of higher education in Northeast Florida and beyond. The luncheon celebration was held at a building named in her honor, the Kinne University Center.
“I continue to be moved and touched by the love that I receive from my Jacksonville University family,” Kinne said afterward. “I am very fortunate.”
Kinne began her Jacksonville University career in 1958 as a humanities professor, was selected as founding dean of JU’s College of Fine Arts in 1961, and served in that capacity until being named JU’s president in 1979, becoming the first female college president in Florida.
Kinne was JU’s president for 10 years and chancellor from 1989 to 1994, and has served as chancellor emeritus since 1994. With Kinne as president, JU established the Business College, nursing school and aviation program.
Kinne had a nomadic life as a music teacher, wartime U.S. Army host and colonel’s wife before agreeing to teach at JU for a couple of months.
“The grass never grew under Fran’s feet, at least until she came to JU 55 years ago,” said Dr. John Trainer, a vice president and professor under Kinne and the birthday luncheon emcee, said during the celebration.
Trainer, a former Lenoir-Rhyne University president and Bolles School administrator who now is JU’s senior campaign officer, provided several humorous anecdotes about Kinne, including one about her conversation with a Mayo physician who marveled recently at Kinne’s intelligence, saying she had the brain of a 35-year-old.
“Fran said, ‘That’s well and good, but what can you do for my body,’” Trainer said.
JU President Tim Cost, a 1981 JU alumnus, said that Kinne is a “magical woman” of grace and class who has a knack for demonstrating her leadership abilities rather than just talking about them.
Referencing a photograph of Kinne presenting Cost his diploma at the 1981 JU commencement ceremony, Cost said that he learned recently that Kinne’s husband died that day.
“She left his hospital bed to run our commencement,” Cost said. “You can talk all day about influencing other people’s success — or you can do things like that.”
History Prof. Walker Blanton, JU’s longest-tenured faculty member, opted to forgo a speech at Kinne’s party and said simply: “Fran Kinne is the best thing that’s ever happened to Jacksonville University.
Diana Donovan, a 2011 JU graduate and JU Alumni Board of Governors member who works as an aide to Jacksonville Mayor and JU alumnus Alvin Brown, told the celebration audience that being around Kinne influenced her to be kind and attentive to everyone around her.
“I learned so many lessons from you … not just from what you said, but from watching you live,” Donovan said to Kinne.
Gilmore, a 1971 JU alumnus who led the Dolphins to the NCAA championship game and whose distinguished career resulted in his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, also spoke of Kinne’s inspiration and encouragement. Gilmore now serves as JU’s special assistant to the president.
During her anecdotal-filled remarks, Kinne reminisced about the new Volkswagen Beetle that her first husband, U.S. Army Col. Harry Kinne, purchased for her as a present for obtaining her doctoral degree.
She could have had a new Mercedes, but liked the looks of “the Bug,” in which she logged 47,000 miles over three years commuting from St. Augustine to JU.
“I thought it was cute,” she said.
Kinne says that she attributes her success and health to her positive attitude – a trait she encourages others to adopt. She noted that she and Cost have something important in common: They entered the higher education business for the right reason.
“The only reason we are here is because of the students,” she said. “Sometimes as administrators we forget that.”
Earlier Thursday, Kinne and Cost were guests on the WJCT-FM 89.9 radio program, “First Coast Connect” with Melissa Ross (click here to listen to the broadcast; the interview begins at about 25:30). The show took emails, Tweets and calls from listeners wishing Kinne happy birthday, including former JU board chair Ron Autrey.
One caller got choked up as he discussed Kinne’s influence on his life.
“She (is) just the most positive person,” the caller said.
Kinne said she always thought each new post she took on at JU would be temporary, but she kept staying on.
“It got in my blood. I enjoyed the students and JU so much,” she said.
Cost said on the radio show that Kinne was an overwhelming presence and influence in his life “from the word go.”
“I’ve been stealing ideas from her ever since,” he said, clasping hands with her. “An important one is to be constantly out with the students.”
Before Thursday’s luncheon and in recognition of Kinne’s 96th birthday, friends of Kinne and other JU supporters donated about $20,000 for the Harry & Fran Kinne Business Scholarship and renovations of the JU Library.
(JU Director of News & Publications Phillip Milano contributed to this report.)
Here is a gallery of photos from Kinne’s 96th birthday celebration: