By Kevin Hogencamp
On the same day that Jacksonville Mayor and JU alumnus Alvin Brown proclaimed a day in her honor, JU Past President and Chancellor Emeritus Dr. Frances Bartlett Kinne sat with a roomful of family members and friends and watched a 30-minute video about her life and legacy.
“Wow, what a day,” Dr. Kinne, donned in a typically stylish red outfit with red shoes, said about 7:15 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1 as the action-packed day was coming to an end at the Schultz Center for Teaching & Leadership. “How exciting this all has been. I still don’t know what to say except, wow.”
The video, which will be broadcast at 8 p.m. Nov. 15 on WJCT-TV, is the first segment of a film library being produced by the Jacksonville Legacy Series, a non-profit initiative of Leadership Jacksonville to document and preserve the thoughts and ideas of the region’s most prominent leaders. The project is being produced by Jacksonville’s Lindsey Films.
Dr. Kinne began her JU career as a humanities professor in 1958 and was the founding dean of the College of Fine Arts, becoming the first female dean of a college of fine arts in the world. She served as dean from 1961 to 1979 and as JU’s president from 1979 to 1989, and was the first female president of a college or university in the state of Florida.
Escorted by Jacksonville University President Kerry Romesburg and his wife, Judy, Dr. Kinne paid what she thought was going to be an informal visit to Brown at City Hall at 4:30 p.m. Thursday. She left Brown’s office with a surprise: a mayoral proclamation decreeing Nov. 1 “Dr. Frances Bartlett Kinne Day” in Jacksonville.
“Dr. Fran Kinne is one of our city’s most distinguished citizens and has contributed to Jacksonville in countless ways …” Brown says in the proclamation, which recaps Kinne’s 54 years of service and leadership at JU, and her philanthropic work locally and beyond.
The Romesburgs then drove Dr. Kinne to the Schultz Center for a preview of the first episode of the Jacksonville Legacy Series video featuring Dr. Kinne.
“You heard her accomplishments and they speak for themselves,” Brown told the Schultz audience before the preview. “But the real story about her success is one that will live on for generations to come.”
Brown said he was the first member of his family to attend college and that he is among countless JU students who Dr. Kinne took under her wing as a mentor. And when Brown could not afford tuition for an upcoming spring semester despite working full-time at Winn-Dixie, Dr. Kinne saved the day.
“She said, ‘You go downstairs and register. I’m calling down there. Merry Christmas. You don’t owe a dime,” Brown told the audience. “She believed in me. She invested in me. The return on the investment is that I’m the mayor of Jacksonville, Florida …
“She did it because she knew I wanted to be somebody. Can you imagine if she turned her back on me?”
Brown, who earned a bachelor’s degree from JU in 1985 and a master’s degree in business administration from JU in 1989, then looked at Dr. Kinne and concluded his remarks: “I love you so much and I thank God for you. Congratulations.”
During her tenure as JU president, Dr. Kinne created what is now the Davis College of Business and was instrumental in establishing the School of Nursing., College of Arts and Sciences, Davis College of Business and the Aviation program. She served as JU chancellor from 1989 to 1994 and has served as chancellor emeritus since 1994.
In addition to her leadership, Dr. Kinne’s hand of generosity is legendary. JU’s student center (Frances Bartlett Kinne University Center) bears the Kinne name due to her charitable endeavors, as do the Frances Bartlett Kinne Auditorium at Mayo Clinic Jacksonville; the North Wing of the Bertha Bartlett Public Library; Kinne Garden at Wilma’s Little People School at Jacksonville University; and Frances Bartlett Kinne Alumni & Development Center at Drake University.
When the video ended Thursday, Dr. Kinne told the audience that she deliberately decided as a young adult to heed her parents counsel and follow Albert Einstein’s advice when he said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
She then shared humor-peppered, detail-laden anecdotes on her life, noting that her first memory is as a 2- or 3-year-old listening to her mother’s piano rendition of Irving Berlin’s 1923 song, “What’ll I Do?”
Dr. Kinne explained that she opted to be a U.S. Army hostess rather than a Women’s Army Corps member because of her eyesight, and that her World War II assignment had her in charge of providing entertainment for as 70,000 GIs. Her knack for drawing celebrities such as boxers Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson to meet U.S. military personnel carried over to her career at Jacksonville University, to which she was able to lure dozens of world-famous entertainers and other celebrities and public figures, including Winston Churchill, President Gerald Ford, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Charlton Heston and Boston Pops Orchestra conductor Arthur Fiedler. She also enticed George Steinbrenner to bring his New York Yankees baseball team to play in an exhibition game against the JU squad to raise funds for the university.
Dr. Kinne recalled teaching Fiedler how to summon alligators during a visit to J.E. and Flo Davis’ property where the Mayo Clinic is now located in Jacksonville. She delighted the audience by making an alligator mating call sound and said that Fielder said later that he returned to Massachusetts and “tried it on Mrs. Fielder.”
“He said it didn’t work with her – that it worked better with alligators,” Dr. Kinne said.
She also 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 chose the VW over a Mercedes, she said, because “I thought it was cute” and logged 47,000 miles in “the Bug” over the next three years commuting from St. Augustine to her new job at JU.
Dr. Kinne says that when people ask her for advice on being successful in education, business and in life, she admonishes them to work hard, be positive, remain hopeful in trying times, and rejoice in their uniqueness.
“I tell people, ‘ Because of your DNA, you can do something that no one else can do, and that if you want something it, work for it … that there is always hope on the horizon,” she said.
After each installment of the Jacksonville Legacy Series premieres on WJCT, it will be available for viewing on the WJCT website, Leadership Jacksonville’s website and YouTube Channel, the Schultz Center website, Jacksonville University’s website, Jacksonville.com and the Financial News & Daily Record website. The film project is being produced by Jacksonville’s Lindsey Films.
Leadership Jacksonville Executive Director Isabelle Owen Spence said that the leaders featured in the video series are being selected based on criteria including their community service, integrity, leadership, historical contributions to the community, and diversity.
“We believe we are leaving a legacy with this project,” she said.
The focus of future episodes in the Jacksonville Legacy Series will be community leader and civil rights activist Alton Yates, who attended Thursday’s preview; the late businessman and politician Frederick Schultz, who served as Federal Reserve System vice chairman under President Jimmy Carter; and former Jacksonville Mayor Jake Godbold.