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Sun Spots - Frances Van Zomeren

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On the refrigerator door in Frances Van Zomeren's kitchen is a poster showing a traffic jam of ducks each going in a different direction and running into one another in the process. The poster's caption reads: "DO something...lead, follow or get out of the way."

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"I think of that when I hear of people making trouble or complaining," said Van Zomeren, who has had the poster since her teaching days. "DO something!"

It's clear that Van Zomeren has been a trailblazer of sorts for all of her nearly 96 years.

Born Frances Diehl in Donnelly Township, Stevens County to parents Jesse and Edith Diehl on Oct. 11, 1916, Van Zomeren attended District 42 country school, west of Donnelly at the age of four. She had two older brothers, Russell and Ellwood. "Another girl wouldn't go to school unless I was there, so I went with her. They said I might as well stay and continue," she said. "I stayed home for a year following country school because my parents said I was too young to begin high school. We stayed at Brisbane's in Morris because there was no bus service--eight girls, two to a room. We went home on weekends."

Van Zomeren graduated in 1933 from Morris High School.

After earning a bachelor's degree in education from Hamline University in 1938, Van Zomeren began to teach high school students, a career that spanned, with extra credit given for getting married and raising children, more than 40 years.

"When I started teaching, the principal said I shouldn't expect to have the respect of the students because they'd never had a female math teacher before," said Van Zomeren. "But I never had any discipline problems."

During four years of teaching at Ashby, "I had to teach girls' physical education in addition to math and science." So Van Zomeren attended summer school at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, to earn a P.E. accreditation. She had majored in math with science and English minors while at Hamline.

She married Frank Van Zomeren in 1942. "We met at a baseball game at the Barrett Ranch (near Herman)." Frank died in 1970 and Frances never remarried.

"It was not the thing back then for women to work outside the home when they got married," said Van Zomeren. But when asked to fill a mid-year vacancy, return to teaching she did, this time at Herman High School in 1945. She taught history and the sciences to complete the year. "After that I taught math for three years. Frank farmed and people would tease him, saying "your wife is supporting you.'"

In 1950 daughter Kay was born. The Van Zomerens raised three children--Kay, who lives in the Phoenix, Ariz., area and, Lois and Robert, who live in the Seattle area. There are eight grandchildren and one great grandchild.

Van Zomeren took a leave from teaching so that she and her husband could accompany her parents on a trip to California. Her travels over the years have taken her to Germany twice when son Robert was in the Air Force and to her mother's ancestral home in England. In the 1980s, she traveled to Hawaii and Alaska with Elderhostel programs. In addition she visited her children annually in Phoenix and Seattle.

"As a family we usually took short car trips after harvest and before school started," said. Van Zomeren, who was a 4-H Club member and leader for many years when her children were in 4-H. "My family was very important to me." In addition to raising children and working on the farm, she was also active in Homemaker's Club.

In the mid 1960s, with schools facing a shortage of substitute teachers, Van Zomeren was again asked to teach. "I had a lifetime teaching certificate that one could get after six years," she said. "It cost $5 through the State Department of Education.

"People asked me 'how can you teach the new math'? " said Van Zomeren. "I said 'you can't tell me that 2+2 isn't still 4!' "

She was a substitute teacher in Herman for two years prior to teaching full time in the Hancock High School where she taught math for 16 years.

"I'd tell my students that you can do anything you make your mind up to doing," she said. She recalled one student in particular who wasn't as interested in school as he was in reading science magazines. "He became an engineer."

Van Zomeren's retirement from teaching in 1982 marked the end of one teaching career and the beginning of another. She taught college algebra on the Morris campus during the fall quarter 1983-1984. "Jim Olson was chair of the Division of Science and math then," she said.

She also "helped students who needed extra help. I didn't call it tutoring," said Van Zomeren. Parents who wanted help for their children would request her help. "I never wanted to get paid for it."

One of the most significant changes in education over the years, said Van Zomeren, is undoubtedly the computer. While she taught at Hancock, University of Minnesota, Morris Professor Emeritus of Computer Science Andy Lopez encouraged the school to use keypunch machines, then teletype before the advent of the Apple computer. Van Zomeren embraced the new technology. Today she uses the computer at the Morris Senior Center and "I'm on email, but with the children, I like to use the telephone," she said. When it comes to reading online, "I like to hold a newspaper in my hand so I don't read the paper on the internet," she shared. Van Zomeren has a cell phone for emergencies.

Since her retirement from teaching, Van Zomeren has been active in Senior Citizens clubs at both Morris and Hancock. In addition, her volunteer work at the Stevens Community Medical Center gift shop and once a week at the Senior Center, along with her knitting and crocheting, occupy some of her time. She makes doilies and crochets tops for towels, which she donates for church bazaars. Along with friends Lenora Waddell (who makes the caps) and Agnes Searle (who makes the clothes), she makes blankets for dolls to donate for the Silent Auction at the Stevens County Historical Museum as well as for the Senior Center and church bazaars.

Van Zomeren attends the United Methodist Church in Herman or the Federated Church in Morris where she is active in Women's Fellowship, has served as the financial secretary on the Church Board and as Sunday School superintendent. She makes shawls with the church's "mission knitters."

"I eat right and get rest," said Van Zomeren, who still drives. "I used to go to the RFC, but I still drive to the Senior Center and to the dentist in Hancock and elsewhere around Morris."

Following a lifetime of "doing something," most notably nurturing hundreds of students through the process of learning, Van Zomeren can still impart one of life's best lessons: "I try to do what's right and do what I can for other people."

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