Please remember in your prayers Frances Ann “Frankie” Bakeman, 80, a former longtime employee of St. Thomas who died on Saturday, June 18, in St. Paul. She was preceded in death by her husband, Chuck, and is survived by eight children, 20 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren (with one on the way). She was the aunt of Josie Driscoll, University Relations.
Visitation will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, June 24, at O’Halloran and Murphy Funeral Home, 575 S. Snelling Ave., St. Paul, and one hour prior to Mass on Saturday at the church. Mass of Christian Burial will be said at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, June 25, at the Church of the Assumption, 51 W. Seventh St., St. Paul.
Bakeman worked at St. Thomas from June 24, 1968, to Aug. 31, 1995. She worked first as secretary to Bill Malevich, dean of students, and then for many years as the university’s facilities scheduler. According to friends and relatives, she was a dedicated employee with a fine sense of humor, and someone who had more than her fair share of “Frankieisms.”
“When Frankie retired, St. Thomas lost a hard-working, fun-loving, caring and generous staff member whose presence helped to shape the heart of the institution. Now that she is gone, she will be sorely missed by those of us who have been blessed with her friendship,” noted Lisa Barnard Hoeppner ’81, who was a work-study student for Bakeman in the late ’70s and early ’80s in what was affectionately referred to as “Frankie’s Office.”
As the facilities scheduling coordinator, those who wanted to reserve a classroom, meeting room, auditorium, banquet room or the chapel had to work through Bakeman.
“We didn’t have computers back then, so most people just stopped by Frankie’s office to reserve event space whenever they happened to be passing through Murray Hall. This meant that there was always a steady stream of people stopping in to conduct business. Very few of them managed to get in and out of the office strictly on business,” Hoeppner recalled. “Frankie had a way of turning every business call into a social encounter. Usually she interrogated students who came in to request meeting rooms for club or fraternity activities, insisting on knowing all of their plans for before, during and after their meetings. Instead of being offended, most of these students left laughing and later returned just to visit. Eventually they became official members of Frankie’s fan club.
“A lot of off-campus groups also rented space. We coordinated wedding receptions, art shows, retreats, concerts, and many other activities. At one point, Frankie managed to convince her supervisor that she needed two overstuffed swivel rocking chairs for her office so that members from these off-campus groups had a comfortable place to sit when they came in for meetings. She giggled all day when those chairs arrived.
“Having two plush rocking chairs in her office created a whole new atmosphere. Frankie already had a magnetic pull on people, but those chairs made it seem as if her office was the center of gravity for the entire campus. There were few minutes in the day when those chairs sat empty. Students, faculty members and staff members took turns ‘hanging out’ in Frankie’s office. Some came in to tell her jokes and stories; others came in to seek advice or to cry on her shoulder. But no one left without having at least a few laughs with Frankie.
“One of the most dreaded parts of Frankie’s job was scheduling classes in classrooms each semester. This was done entirely with pencil and paper and easily could take several weeks to accomplish. It seemed that we always ended up with more classes than classrooms. This would cause Frankie much anxiety, and as she reached her breaking point, she always did the same thing: She walked to the window, and did her best impersonation of the Reverend Mother in ‘The Sound of Music’ as she sang ‘Climb Every Mountain.’”
This was a semiannual ritual in which Hoeppner would always laugh, and Bakeman would threaten, “You laugh now, but someday you’re going to get married, and I’m going to come and sing this at your wedding.”
When Hoeppner married Phil Hoeppner, who today works in Alumni and Constituent Relations, she went to Bakeman and called her bluff, saying, “OK, Frankie, after all of the years you vowed to sing ‘Climb Every Mountain’ at my wedding, I hope you’re prepared to make good on your promise.” Bakeman laughed and declined. As part of an elaborate practical joke, Hoeppner then changed several wedding programs to include a reference to Bakeman singing during the ceremony and made sure that Bakeman and her family got copies of those programs when they walked in the door. After Bakeman sat down, she noticed that she was scheduled to sing “Climb Every Mountain.” Panicked, she looked at several other bogus programs held by family members and saw the same line. Bakeman eventually discovered the ruse when she found an authentic program.
Returning to the subject of scheduling classrooms, Hoeppner said, “What made these class-scheduling times bearable for Frankie were the cookies, muffins, and other sweets that faculty members would bring to try to bribe her into assigning their favorite classrooms to them. She had no moral compunction about accepting such bribes; with some faculty members, it was more like extortion than bribery (all in good fun). She enjoyed teasing others and being teased in return. In general, she was just a fun person to be around.”
Driscoll said that Bakeman’s “Frankieisms” were legendary. In one incident, Bakeman, Driscoll and another staff person had gone off campus for lunch.
“Upon returning to campus, the driver of the car decided to drop Frankie off on Cleveland Avenue across the street from the Murray Hall parking lot entrance. Frankie got out of the backseat, closed the door, and the driver started to slowly pull away from the curb,” Driscoll recalled. “After checking her rearview mirror, the driver asked me why Frankie was running alongside the car waving frantically. I turned to wave back, and noticed that Frankie’s coat was caught in the door and she was actually trying to get out of the coat and get our attention so we would stop the car before she was dragged down the street. It worked. We stopped, she got back in the car, and we all had a good laugh over the incident.”
Driscoll recalled another typical “Frankieism”: “One day Frankie came into the Dean of Students office to use the copy machine. There was a student leaning over my desk, asking questions. From the back, Frankie thought it was a faculty member she knew, so she swatted him on the butt with the papers she had in her hand. He turned to look at her; she realized she had never seen the student before, and without missing a beat she said, ‘Welcome to St. Thomas’ as though this was a ritual of some kind.”
An obituary and guest book are available at legacy.com.