From a distance Frances Tuck seemed to hurry through life, working her way from modest roots to executive suites and, astonishingly, setting running race records into her 90s. But up close, those who knew her best were gratefully aware that Fran took time to nurture family and friendships.
Born a Parker in St. Clair County in 1922, Fran was one of 13 siblings. In her early teens, she got her first taste of business by working in a general store in the tiny Gerster community near Osceola. Later she enjoyed a successful career in the insurance industry and worked until age 95 in her family’s investment and rental property firm.
In her late 70s, she took up running and began competing in local events. According to official listings by the USA Track & Field organization, Fran holds eight Missouri records for running in various age brackets. They include:
- 5K (3.1 miles) for 92-year-olds, set in the 2014 Turkey Trot with a time of 58 minutes, 55 seconds.
- Six records for 10K (6.2 miles) set in the Sunshine Run in 2002-2011 for ages 79, 80, 81, 82, 87 and 88. Her times ranged from one hour, 23 minutes to one hour, 49 minutes.
- The half-marathon (13.1 miles) for 81-year-olds with a time of three hours, 16 minutes, set at a 2003 event sponsored by Second Baptist Church.
Those accomplishments have been recalled and recounted by acquaintances since her death on Feb. 20 at age 99. However, family members, neighbors and even some race fans cherish more personal memories — of examples set and lessons taught.
A leader in the family
Grandson Deni Allen, now a businessman in St. Louis, recalls an encounter with Fran when he was 12: “Granny called me into her office and shoved the old rotary telephone over to me with a phone number to call Prudential. She gave me $500 and made me talk to the financial advisor to purchase a stock and a mutual fund. I ended up buying a bunch of Walmart stock at $3.30 (current price: $150). It was a great experience I’ve never ever forgotten.”
Deni’s sister Dori Grinder, executive officer with the Home Builders Association of Greater Springfield, has a similar memory: “As a youngster, if we had a cheerleading squad or softball team that was raising money, Granny always wanted us to come by her office. She would take us around the building, which had lots of other businesses in it as well, and she would introduce us — but we had to make the sales ourselves. It was good training.
“Today, I don’t buy Girl Scout cookies from a mom,” Dori says. “I make a Girl Scout come sell them to me. I feel like that’s the whole point, to learn a little something like Granny helped me do.”
It wasn’t all business with Fran, however. Deni has a particularly fun recollection:
“In 1998, when the Cardinals’ Mark McGwire was in the baseball home run race with Sammy Sosa (of the Chicago Cubs), my grandparents came up to St. Louis for a game. We traded tickets and eventually got seats in left field. And, lo and behold, in the second inning I think it was, McGwire hits a home run and I catch it. It was his 60th.
“After the game we were taken to the locker room, and I gave the ball back to McGwire in front of the TV cameras. The Cardinals gave me all sorts of autographed stuff and season tickets. But Granny brushed aside (Cardinals manager) Tony LaRussa and (broadcaster) Jack Buck and got right up into Mark McGwire’s face and said, ‘Mr. McGwire, I have a list here of my grandkids, and I’d very much appreciate an autographed baseball for each of them for Christmas.’ And McGwire runs back into the equipment room, autographs six baseballs and brings them back and hands them to Granny. She was quite a spitfire!”
A competitive streak
Fran was a stylish dresser, too, says Deni: “She wore high heels into her 90s. She wore formal dresses, jump suits, fur coats, jewelry. She had fancy gowns, beautiful dresses, that she wore to governors’ inaugural balls in the 1960s and early ’70s.”
He also appreciated his grandmother’s determination: “A common quote we often heard from Granny was ‘I just keep putting one foot in front of the other.’ And another was ‘If I can run a mile today, I surely can run one-point-five tomorrow.’”
And her competitive spirit: “One time I was driving through town with Granny and we drove by a bowling alley. I jokingly asked if she could still bowl. And she said, ‘Why, heavens yes I can still bowl — and I can probably beat you!’ She was 88 years old at the time.”
Dori has a special memory of Fran’s competitiveness as well as her love of family:
“She liked taking things to the (Ozark Empire Fair) and winning ribbons. She taught some of the younger grandkids and great-grandkids how to make bread. She was very meticulous. She was a hands-on teacher — but they had to do the work themselves. You had to go to her house and practice at least two or three times before you had breadmaking skills good enough to take to the fair.
“When my two sons were around 4 or 5 and 11 or 12 was their first time to make bread to take the fair and get judged. Granny had my Uncle Randy take her on opening day to see if the kids had won any ribbons. She called me and was so excited! She said, ‘You’ve got to take the kids to the fair tonight!’ Both boys had won blue ribbons, and my younger son had won Best of Show. I’d never heard Granny so giddy. She was over-the-moon excited for them.”
A love of running
Fran’s marriage at age 18 to Glenn Allen in Osceola produced three sons, of whom only one, Randy, survives. In 1981 Fran married Charles Tuck, and they lived and worked together in Springfield until his death in 2014. That marriage brought Brad Tuck and Becky Brown into Fran’s fold as stepchildren.
All the family admired Fran’s running activities, and some participated with her in events.
“Mom always exercised,” recalls son Randy. “One of my earliest memories is of her exercising while watching Jack LaLanne on his TV show in the 1950s. She always paid attention to fitness. She started the running as a way to keep exercising, and just stayed with it.”
Dori was college age when Fran began competing around the turn of the century. “I’m not a runner, so at first I just would make a poster to cheer her along. But eventually, I realized that Granny wasn’t very fast and that I could keep up. So we ran the Turkey Trot with her every year. But she didn’t need us. She would invite us, and if it worked out that we could come along, fine. But she was going to do it whether we were there or not.
“Granny would tell us ‘You go run your own race.’ Anybody in the family who wanted to turn in a competitive time, they would go ahead and run the race and then come back and find Granny. I never did run on my own. Her run was quite slow, kind-of jogging, and I could walk fast and keep up with her. But — and I don’t know how she did this — if she was walking, I would have to jog to keep up with her. She was a fast walker.”
Fran took time to make and greet friends among the competitors and race organizers.
Anne-Mary McGrath, superintendent of recreation for the Springfield Parks Department who has overseen the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot since 2008, got to know Fran as she competed through 2015. “She was our oldest participant a number of years. She was always very gracious, always had a big smile, was always complimenting and congratulating others. She would always say ‘Hi!’ to us when she came on the Wednesday before the race to pick up her packet, and would thank us for having the event.
“When you have 7,000 or 8,000 participants, to remember one that person has to be pretty special. Fran was very special.”
When she was no longer able to compete, Fran still stayed active. Elizabeth Prestwood, who lived across the street from Fran for the past decade, witnessed it:
“She was fiercely independent. Until very recently she drove herself everywhere. She had a little dog, a Pomeranian named Mitzy, and they would walk every day. Often when I’d see Fran starting out, I’d go out and walk with her. She was just so congenial and sweet and fun to be around. Even when she was starting to suffer the ills of getting older, she got a walker and would go out with it almost every day.
“Fran was very neighborly and she loved children. Even though she didn’t use our community swimming pool herself, she always paid her membership dues for the pool because she thought it was such an important thing to keep it up and going for the kids and the families in the neighborhood.”
Randy also was an occasional walking companion in Fran’s last years.
“She couldn’t go far on the walker, and I worried some about her falling. But she’d get out and go a couple of blocks — I’m talking when she was 97 or 98 years old. If I was there, I’d walk with her. In bad weather, she’d walk inside the house to keep going.”
Fran’s generosity also touched her family.
“Granny always wanted to take us back-to-school shopping and Easter clothes shopping when we were kids,” says Dori. “And to the fair each year. She always let us ride all the rides that we wanted to ride. Which, of course, was a great relief to our parents; it gave them a break — and now that I’m a parent, I get that. Granny always had time for us.”
Dori’s brother Deni treasures several Bibles gifted to him by his grandmother — and especially the handwritten notes that Fran tucked inside.
“We were raised in the Baptist church — South Haven Baptist and Second Baptist in Springfield — and at every life event I would get a King James Bible with handwritten notes from Granny. Another thing that impressed me was that when we sang hymns in church, Granny had them all memorized. She never picked up a hymnal; she just sang from the heart.”
Typical of her business-like organizational approach, Fran had listed her valuables to be distributed among her family after her death. But Dori notes that the things that grandkids and great-grandkids wanted as keepsakes were Fran’s mixing bowls.
“Those were things that they had special memories with about Granny, from making bread with her. They meant more than anything. That tells you something … .”