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Retiring Family Teachers Ze (left) and Jesse Frank stand behind the cake honoring their 32-plus years of service to the Mooseheart campus. The Franks' retirement began on Sunday, Sept. 16.
Mooseheart Director of Residential Living Ron Ahrens (left) hands retirement checks and other materials to Ze and Jesse Frank at their Sept. 14 retirement party. The Franks retired on Sept. 18 after nearly 33 years as Family Teachers on the Mooseheart campus.
Jesse (left) and Ze Frank have been supporters of Mooseheart through their 32-plus years as Family Teachers. They spent Sept. 16 in the stands watching the Ramblers football team play Christian Liberty
MOOSEHEART, Sept. 18 - When he came to shake hands with Director of Residential Living Ron Ahrens at the retirement party for he and his wife Ze, Jesse Frank looked into Ahrens’ eyes and said: “Mr. Ahrens, thanks for not firing us over the years.”
Everyone laughed, but in the time Jesse and Ze Frank worked as in-home caretakers for Mooseheart boys - many years had indeed come and gone. Jesse and Ze came to Mooseheart in October 1979, and began careers that finally came to a close on Sunday, just under 33 years later.
And at the end, they were still thinking about the many children they have served over the years. The Franks' final day of work was Saturday, Sept. 15 and their retirement began when they awoke on Sept. 16. The campus celebrated their careers with a retirement party on Sept. 14.
“The most important thing you can do in this world is to help another human being,” Jesse Frank said. “That’s what it’s all about and that’s what it’s always been about for us. Some people build cars or build houses, but we work directly with shaping the lives of kids and it doesn’t get any more important than that.”
At their retirement, Jesse and Ze Frank were known as Family Teachers. When they started, they were called houseparents. By any title, the job required them to provide surrogate parenting and discipline in a home with a selection of Mooseheart children. The Franks worked with boys throughout their three decades on-campus, with a home of middle school and high school boys being left behind as they move into retirement.
“It’s going to be hard not to live with seven, eight or nine boys who are 17, 18 or 19,” Ze Frank said. “We’re going to come down for breakfast and not have a dining room. That’s going to be different.”
Some of the decision to retire was created by the calendar. Jesse Frank recently turned 65 and Ze is just short of 65. But after working so many years in a field where almost no one works so many years, the decision to retire was not a difficult one to make.
“We’ve worked hard and tried to be good employees of Mooseheart,” Jesse Frank said. “We feel like we’ve done all that we can do. We’re getting older. Our health hasn’t been the greatest. It’s time to reap the fruits of our labor. We’ve been making plans for it for some time, and we’re ready.”
Ahrens has been the Director of Residential Living since March, 2003 and so was the head of the department for the final nine years of the Franks' tenure at Mooseheart. Ahrens arrived on-campus in 1999, at which point Jesse and Ze Frank were already 20-year fixtures as houseparents--the term used prior to the current title of Family Teacher.
“When I got here, I was shocked that there was a couple that had been here for 20 years,” Ahrens said. “You don’t hear of direct staff like Family Teachers working that long in the job anymore. That’s incredible.”
Philosophies toward caring for the youth at Mooseheart changed a number of times through the years the Franks worked and lived at Mooseheart. In the late '70s, each home on-campus was its own independent living space, each with its own rules. It is only since 1998 that all residential homes have been unified under the Mooseheart Model of Care, which Ahrens and his wife Michaela, along with then-Executive Director David Coughlin, brought with them from Boys' Town in Nebraska. That Model of Care has been modified several times, but the core precepts of combining the delivery of home care with the disciplinary system at the school remain a constant.
“In 1979, things were still in the ‘orphanage” days,” Ahrens said. “Each home was kind of going its own way.”
But when the Mooseheart Model of Care came into being, Jesse and Ze were solidly behind the shift, and they remain staunch advocates for the existing system today.
“You always hear things like ‘it hard to teach an old dog new tricks.’” Ahrens said. “But here’s what happened. Jesse and Ze embraced the Model immediately and have been among the biggest supporters to this day. They sit in meetings and say ‘this is the way it used to be, and this is so much better now. They are always saying that they’ve seen a lot of change, but that the changes have been for the better.”
Ahrens didn’t have to think for more than a split-second before describing the Franks’ legacy to the Mooseheart campus.
“Their legacy is the amount of boys who have lived with Jesse and Ze who come back to campus because of the impact they have had on them,” Ahrens said. “They have men who have lived with them who have children who call Jesse ‘grandpa.’ They are like grandpa and grandma to the kids of kids who went through their home. I think everyone would like to have that.”
Prior to the institution of the Mooseheart Model of Care, Jesse and Ze Frank were often the “last stop” for more troubled boys on-campus. When left to his own devices, Jesse--a retired Marine--was known as a firm, no-nonsense disciplinarian. If a young man couldn’t conform and turn things around while with the Franks, then their time at Mooseheart was likely going to end. The Franks never gave up on those kids, however, and this is one reason there is such loyalty all these years later.
“We wanted them all to be successful,” Jesse Frank said. “But it was up to them, after we gave them the tools to work with.”
Both Jesse and Ze Frank are Moose members and they said they intend to take some time in retirement to visit with some of the men and women who have made the campus a reality for 99 years. The campus celebrates its centennial in 2013.
“The Moose is made of hundreds of thousands of wonderful, caring folks,” Jesse Frank said.
“Without all of those people working together toward the common goal of helping these kids, they wouldn’t have a wonderful place to come to and be safe and to get everything they need in order to be successful in life. We’re glad to have been a part of it.”
The Franks will retire to their North Aurora (IL) home and have plans to travel. Both said they intend to visit Mooseheart for athletic events or concerts or other activities.
“All our lives, we’ve been on a tight schedule,” Jesse Frank said. “It’s our turn to find out what it’s like to kick back and relax. We’ve worked hard. We spent half our lives here - probably the best half. The first half, we were just learning.”
Since its founding, Mooseheart has operated a complete, accredited kindergarten-through-high-school academic program, plus art, music, vocational training and interscholastic sports. It is an extremely nurturing and student-tailored program, with an average student-teacher ratio of 12-1.
Mooseheart students who complete their studies with a 3.0 GPA or better (4.0=A) are eligible for up to five years of annually renewable scholarship funding, covering tuition, room and board in an amount comparable to that required for an in-state student at an Illinois public university.
Mooseheart is currently home to roughly 230 students, ranging in age from preschoolers to high school seniors. Applications for admission to Mooseheart are considered from any family whose children are, for whatever reason, lacking a stable home environment. Mooseheart boasts its own U.S. Post Office and a fully functioning branch of Fifth Third Bank.
In addition to Mooseheart, Moose International also supports Moosehaven, a 70-acre retirement community near Jacksonville, FL founded in 1922; and conducts more than $70 million worth of community service programs annually.