Frances Grace Remeika
FITCHBURG- Frances Grace (Busse) (Zwickey) (Scoll) Remeika died peacefully on November 5, 2012, just two weeks short of her 97th birthday, in her apartment in Fitchburg.
Fran was born November 19, 1915, in Meteor Township, Sawyer County. Her parents were Joseph and Edith (Way) Busse. Until she was 10, Fran lived among lumberjacks and dairy farmers in the northwoods, in a tarpaper-covered shack, 10 miles from the nearest telephone and 30 miles from a doctor. After the family moved to Madison during Prohibition, her father became a bootlegger and ran speakeasies at several addresses on Williamson Street and the north side of Madison, where Fran and her siblings helped their parents hide liquor and beer from police raids.
After graduating from East High School, Fran learned to ride a motorcycle, became the first and only woman in the Madison Motorcycle Club, and took part in a motorcycle stunt-riding act at local fairs. She also started working at the Wisconsin Office of Vital Records. In the late 1930’s, Fran rose through the ranks at Vital Records and then became Assistant State Supervisor for the Wisconsin Vital Records Project of the Work Projects Administration. She supervised numerous projects and dozens of employees, and in 1940 went to Washington, D.C. to work for the WPA there.
In 1945, Fran became a realtor and joined the Madison Board of Realtors. A year later she was the first Madison realtor to sell a property in a white neighborhood to an African-American family. She and her boss, Rolf Darbo, were fined and suspended from the Real Estate Board.
In 1948, Fran started a probate research business, which continues to this day. One of her cases went to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, establishing an important probate precedent. The Los Angeles television crew of "Unsolved Mysteries" filmed Fran, using one of her cases as an episode in 1989. Fran also ran a student rooming house on Frances Street, a Santa Claus suit rental business, a Christmas tree lot, and invented, patented, and manufactured a children’s toy, the “Magic Bubble Pipe.”
Her first marriage was in 1935, for one year, to Jared Zwickey. Fran married her second husband, Armand H. Scoll, in 1943, in Louisville, Kentucky, when he was in the service. Their marriage lasted only 14 months, because he was killed on New Year’s Day 1945 in France at the Battle of the Bulge.
Fran met Frank Lloyd Wright several times in the late 1940’s when she was on the board of directors for the First Unitarian Meeting House, and he was the architect for the new meeting house. She later attended Prairie Unitarian Society.
On February 24, 1951, Fran married her third husband, Albert “Mike” Remeika, an ex-serviceman from Connecticut. They were the first couple to exchange vows in the not-quite-finished Unitarian Meeting House. They remained married until Mike’s death in 2008.
With her husband Mike and daughter Diane, she moved in 1958 from Frances Street to Crestwood, a housing cooperative on the west side. In 1963, Fran jumped into civic life as a citizen activist, spearheading the fight against urban renewal of the Greenbush neighborhood in Madison, and losing. The urban renewal fight gave Fran a taste for politics, and in 1966 she ran for city council. She made it through the primary, but lost the general election. That same year she was one of founders of the Bayview Foundation, which built low-income housing, and she served on the Board for many years.
After a 1970 move to Fitchburg, Fran served on the Fitchburg Planning Commission, the Zoning Board of Appeals, and the Emergency Services commission. In 2010, Fran moved to Avalon Assisted Living apartments, a wonderful place with an orchard setting, abundant wildlife visible from the windows, and a caring and committed staff.
Fran woke up every day feeling optimistic, and she never turned down an adventure. She had a fascination with mechanical objects, a strong scientific curiosity, and was, since age 12, an agnostic with a well-developed moral sense. She loved music and fun, words, cooking, gardening, and animals. She opposed hunting, always had pets, and rescued many dogs, cats, chickens, and wild creatures. For the last 30 years of her life she was a vegetarian. She swam, canoed, and snorkeled well into her 80’s, and loved business travel and taking Lindblad environmental cruises to the Baja Peninsula and Costa Rica.
She always said, “I’m not afraid to die, I just want to wake up in the morning.” Even in the last couple of years of her life, struggling with dementia, she had a ready and easy smile, a cheerful outlook, and a continued interest in nature and current events. Just before her death, she supported Tammy Baldwin and the re-election of President Obama.
She is survived by her daughter, Diane “Dee Dee” Remeika (Larry Hamlin), sisters Gerry “Toots” Gapp, Irene Hanson, and Dorrie (Norm) Alff, and special cousin, Ellen Roberts. She was preceded in death by her parents, her sister Ruth Robbins, and her brothers Robert and Clarence “Hap” Busse. She is also survived by nieces and nephews, cousins, and dear friends: Metje Butler, Karl Lang, Charlie Wheelock, and Fedrick Gibbons. The family wishes to thank Avalon staff members, including Jan, Gemado, Michael, Olga, and Saphine. We also thank Group Health Doctor Claudiu Gherlan and his staff, who took such generous and attentive care of Fran in her last years.
An informal celebration of Fran’s life will be held on Saturday, January 19, 2013, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Gaebler Living Room of the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive, Madison. In lieu of flowers or gifts, memorials may be made to the animal rights, pet rescue, environmental, or progressive political organization of your choice.
In lieu of flowers or gifts, memorials may be made to the animal rights, pet rescue, environmental, or progressive political organization of your choice.
An informal celebration of Fran’s life will be held on Saturday, January 19, 2013, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Gaebler Living Room of the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive, Madison.