Joe Francis had an iron core but was a kind and gentle man with an abundance of dignity and class. His passion was fueled by his love for his wife Flo, who was with him every inch of the way, providing new wind under wings as he faced challenges that seemed to be insurmountable.
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JOE FRANCIS AN AMERICAN ENTREPRENEUR
By EDWIN KLEIN
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Edwin Klein and Florence Francis
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA SEED IN MAZEPPA, 1933
What makes a man? What is it that builds his character? In the case of Joe Francis, he came from good stock. His mother, Sadie George, began her epic voyage to America from Beirut, Lebanon in 1928 on a two-story freighter. She traveled with her brother, Said. She was 16, a 5'3" dynamo with black hair, brown eyes and a fair complexion. Her parents, Joseph and Mary George had immigrated to America 15 years earlier and left Sadie and Said in the custody of grandparents and other relatives. What little money her parents could scrape together to send back for their children, would fall through the cracks. The parents later learned that the money was spent on other family needs and not on Sadie and Said. Needless to say, the children had a difficult childhood.
When Sadie and Said arrived at Ellis Island, they were shocked to learn that they would have to pass an Entrance test. No one had prepared them for this! This wasn't a problem for Said. He could speak fluent Arabic (their native language) and French. He could also read and write and the test was offered in Arabic. Sadie, unfortunately, was not educated. There was no way Sadie could pass this test. They were gripped with fear; they had no money and returning to Lebanon was not an option. Said would not abandon her and he wouldn't accept turning back. His determination and creative juices kicked in as he relentlessly badgered the officials until he convinced them and they finally gave in and allowed them both entry into the United States.
Their parents and siblings were living in McIntosh, South Dakota, so Said and Sadie boarded a train and headed west. When they were settled, since they did not have the skills they would need to be independent in America, it was time for school and learning. Because of their lack of English language skills, they were placed in the 1st Grade. The humiliation of being teenagers in classes with much-younger classmates was unbearable and they quit school soon after enrolling.
For the next few years, Sadie was relegated to household chores, as was the custom in her native country. There were more surprises and tests to come her way soon. In Lebanon, marriages were arranged by the family when a girl reached marriageable age and so her parents betrothed Sadie to be married to a countryman, Joseph Peter Francis. Although Sadie was concerned that Joseph was twenty-five years older than her, they were married in 1932. Within a year, they moved to a small farm he had bought in Mazeppa, Minnesota. She never really made an emotional recovery from the marriage arrangement but survivor that she was, she endured and stayed the course until Joseph's death thirteen years later.
Joe Francis was born into this setting on December 1, 1933, the oldest of four children, in a small farmhouse without the benefit of running water, indoor plumbing or electricity—his childhood could well have been called harsh. The old farmhouse was not well built and seemed to breathe with the wind at night. Far too often, the family was nearly penniless. He later recounted going to the icebox on several occasions when hungry, only to find it empty. What little they had, would have to stretch a long way.
Joe was born with adventure in his heart, and he loved challenges. Once, as a boy, when Joe's dad was helping a neighbor during the threshing season, a cow somehow got out of his dad's fenced pasture. His father told Joe to try to find the cow; he was afraid it might get into the nearby Zumbrota River. Joe, with his cousin Bill tagging along, found the cow. Sure enough, it was in the river. Joe couldn't swim but he did know how to hold his breath and bob up and down from the river bottom. Cousin Bill objected—telling Joe, "That's crazy, are you nuts? You could drown." But Joe was determined and he jumped in, bobbed out to the cow and brought her back. This was good practice for Joe, as he'd be bobbing for air and taking even more daring risks in his future business career!
Joe's childhood certainly wasn't all play and no work. This young man was often up before daybreak to haul pails of milk to the neighbor's farm; pretty ominous trip for a lad of ten or eleven when many times there was not even the benefit of starlight or the moon.
Perhaps the seed of his work ethic was planted while toiling in the fields behind his Dad and the horse-drawn plow. Or, it might have come from observing his Mom fetch wood for the stove, pump water at the outside well for cooking or for washing clothes and hauling it into the house. She also had to bake and prepare meals for the family, sew and mend their clothes and see that the children got their schoolwork done. Schooling, for a woman who never had much of a chance to learn, became a problem between Sadie, and her husband Joseph.
Joe's dad was known to be the hardest-working man around. He felt the farm should come before anything else and he expected the whole family to help. However, he was barely able to eke out even a meager living. He had very little equipment, spoke poor English, the ground was hard, lacked nutrients and crops were poor. The family suffered immensely.
In Mazeppa, the children got to their one room school by horse-drawn cart. The school was miles away and had only one teacher who taught all eight grades. Since this was in the Minnesota "snow belt," their winter ride was by horse-drawn sleigh. Hot bricks for their feet and blankets to cover them were their only comfort.
One day, there was a particularly bad snow storm and while Sadie was bundling the children for school, she noticed that little Joe's shoes had worn so thin they were useless. Without hesitation, she removed her shoes and had him try them on. Not the best fit but at least his feet were protected. Off he went in his Mom's shoes. Because the family lived hand-to-mouth, clothing often had to be shared too. Severe weather and bitter winters would take their toll and the children often missed school as a result.
No doubt, Sadie's childhood flashed back into her mind. Perhaps she relived the fear she felt when she landed in America; and the disaster that could have happened because she didn't have any education. In any case, Sadie wouldn't have it—her children were going to be educated no matter what.
This schooling issue led to a rift between Sadie and her husband Joseph. Both stood firm in their convictions and, in a very unpopular move for those times, Sadie left Mazeppa. She took the children and moved to a St. Paul neighborhood close to better schools. Times were tough, clothing was minimal, food was scarce and there were no frills. Sadie worked very hard to make ends meet, plucking chickens at a Dahlgren's Produce and as a maid at The St. Paul Hotel. Joe's dad couldn't get by with just farming so he took a job with Kopper's Coke, a coal plant in St. Paul, MN. He also continued to work the farm from spring through fall.
Young Joe loved going back to work the farm with his Dad during the growing seasons. He'd take the bus from St. Paul to Mazeppa, and then walk eight to ten miles to the farm. Tough as his Dad could be on him, Joe never complained about his adult-sized chores. His father taught him how to cook and take care of the home. Joe always remembered and loved this private time and lengthy conversations with his dad.
Eventually, Joseph must have realized he was fighting a losing battle and he auctioned off many of the family belongings and used the money to buy a small hobby farm right on the outskirts of St. Paul, close to schools. Sadie relented and the family was reunited on the new farm. The year was 1942. Joseph, died from a stroke just three years later. Joseph's death moved Joe, now just 12 years old, to position of head of the family. He remembered his mom coming to him and saying "you're the man of the house now." The struggle and toil continued. Sadie was forced to sell the Mazeppa farm for a pittance, and moved the family to the west side of St. Paul, across the street from her brother Said.
As you might expect, his father's death had a deep emotional effect on young Joe, one that surfaced again 38 years later. During a discussion with his family, Joe inadvertently said "When I was twelve, I died." Indeed, one might guess that what he meant to say was that when he was twelve years old his dad died. However, Joe's childhood died with his father and perhaps his subconscious was speaking the truth. His dad's work ethic lived on in Joe. And, thanks to the chores his dad had harnessed him with back on the farm, Joe could cook and manage household tasks. He took right over with his siblings as his Mom worked outside their home.
While she worked her jobs, Joe was also beginning his business career. His Uncle, Said George, ran a shoe repair business on South Robert St. in St. Paul. Said had learned the business from his father, who was a custom boot maker in South Dakota and earlier, back in Lebanon. It occurred to Joe that if he could have a few square feet in the corner of that shop, he could offer shoeshines. His uncle set him up with the goods and Joe was now shining shoes. He charged 15 cents a shine. His clientele at the shoe repair shop included a lot of men who worked in the nearby stockyards. They would come in with mud and manure on their boots and his uncle would escort them to the back door to scrape and clean them off before they got a shine.
Uncle Said was a blessing for Joe and a solid role model for his little nephew. They talked about customer service, business in general and the future. More than once, Said would tell Joe, "you see all this expensive equipment? You don't want to be in the shoe business." Pointing, he said, "look at the barber down the street ... all he has to buy is a clipper, comb and scissors and he's in business—think about it!" When it came to business ideas, Joe was wide-awake and Said's advice began to take hold.
His tenure as a shoeshine boy and dealing with everyone from stockyard hands to bankers and attorneys helped Joe focus on his future. The "wheels" were always in motion with Joe and as an adjunct business to his growing shoe shine stand, he started delivering telegrams with his bicycle and also got a paper route. All this customer contact would pay off for him later. Every dime he made, he turned over to his mother for the household. He didn't know it but she put a lot of this money away for his future. Joe adored his mother, and with his own small savings from his paper route, he bought her a special wall mirror, a mirror that's still in the family.
As he grew into his teens, his experiences made him very savvy and he became quite "glib" as well. In dealing with a wide variety of customers and situations, he started developing impressive communication and business skills that led to many 'regulars'. He always had a great sense of humor, a quality that impressed a certain sweet young lady whom he would pursue with his heart and soul.
Florence Marquardt had been working for two years at her family's bakery, next door to George's shoe repair shop. The "guys" in neighborhood made it a point to stop at the bakery and chat, trying to get to know this cute 14 year old girl who was so bubbly and friendly. At the bakery, Florence did it all—prep work for baking, slicing and wrapping bread, taking phone orders and covering the sales counter. She often worked next to her dad, Bill Marquardt. He had a great sense of humor and would often toss a small ball of dough at Flo when she came to work after school. (Flo, of course, would toss it right back at her dad.)
One snowy winter day, as she walked from school to the bakery, she noticed something strange. This teenaged boy was going in and out of the shoe shop just cracking up, laughing and waving his arms around. As she got closer, she could see what he was up to. He had partially buried a wallet in the snow with a string attached to it. He would hide around the corner in the window of the shop and whenever a passerby would spot the wallet and stoop to pick it up, the boy would yank the string and pull it out of reach. "I couldn't help but watch him do this several times," Flo would later say, "he was having so much fun."
The teenage boy was Joe Francis and when he saw Flo watching him, he gave her a wink. Flo said she felt like flying, "he was so handsome, black curly hair and ... what a smile!" Later the same day, just before closing time, as Joe shoveled the sidewalk in front of the shoe shop, he saw Flo locking up the bakery. He hustled over to her—"I'll shovel your walk for a free crispy." Flo was totally smitten! She gave him a bag of pastries and discovered in conversation that they both went to the same high school. The next day and everyday thereafter, Joe would meet Flo outside her freshman home room. But it was the day Joe jumped over the bakery counter and kissed her that Flo says she saw stars! This would be the start of a lifelong love affair. While Flo was always very aware of her own personal appearance, it didn't bother her that Joe would wear the same clothes to school almost every day—jeans, work boots, his leather flight jacket and a sailor's beanie cap when it was cold. He didn't have much but his character ran deep.
Flo was Lutheran and Joe was Catholic. This was not a romance her parents were ready to endorse. However, once they met Joe and noticed his kind manners and engaging personality, all was well. The courtship continued. Flo had the utmost respect for her parents. Her dad worked hard, was a model family man who was kind and good to his wife and children. Her mom, Edith, was a very talented lady and wonderful homemaker. She was a "jolly" soul who loved to entertain! Flo credits her social talents to her mother.
Flo graduated from St. Paul's Humboldt High School when she was sixteen and went to work for the Welfare Services at the State Capitol. She was always very frugal; she knew how to find a bargain, and even sewed her own clothes. Flo also had literary and acting talents. At the time, her wages were $262 dollars per month and she saved $200 each month! (She was already planning for her future wedding to Joe.)
On the other hand, Joe Francis, in a hurry to get on with his plans for the future, dropped out of high school his Junior year. There were more important—more exciting things to do than attend high school. The Navy seemed like a good idea to him but his plan to join was redirected when he found he needed a high school diploma or a trade. Harkening back to Uncle Said's advice, he decided to go to Barber school. Fortunately, he'd been hustling customers at the Barber school for shoe shines for a couple of years and with what he saved and the money his mother had put away for him, he had enough for his tuition. He learned to cut hair and would cut from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. six days a week—then wash dishes at night in a nearby restaurant. When he'd get a short break to eat, he'd always give Flo a call. The two were inseparable. Joe was on a mission. Although he'd dropped out of high school, he graduated from Barber School as the youngest graduate ever in the state of Minnesota, at age seventeen!
His successful completion of the Barber School was quite an achievement. Joe was always ambitious, yet Flo understood the value of a high school diploma and urged him to go back to finish. He finally agreed and they graduated the same year, 1953, when she was sixteen and he was nineteen. So, in reality, Joe didn't "quit" high school ... he just postponed his graduation.
Shortly after graduation in 1953, Joe was drafted into the Army and was stationed in Fort Carson, Colorado. Over the next 18 months, Flo continued to work hard and save most of what she made. In 1955, having saved enough money, they were married at Holy Family Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Because Flo was Lutheran and Joe a Catholic, she agreed to satisfy the requirement of Joe's faith that any children would be raised as Catholic. After the wedding, they moved to Fort Carson, Colorado and into a tiny two-room apartment.
While Joe continued soldiering, Flo took a job at Colorado Springs City Hall. She was their receptionist and switchboard operator. Part of her duties included taking notes at the Planning Commission meetings, setting up press releases and reporting to various media. She caught on quickly and this experience would prove to be very valuable in the not-too-distant future.
Excerpted from JOE FRANCIS AN AMERICAN ENTREPRENEUR by EDWIN KLEIN Copyright © 2012 by Edwin Klein and Florence Francis. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsA Tribute PACKED HOUSE....................XV
Chapter One A SEED IN MAZEPPA, 1933....................1
Chapter Two AGAINST ALL ODDS....................19
Chapter Three THE FOUNDER'S MARATHON....................39
Chapter Four TIME OUT....................57
Chapter Five BACK TO WORK....................65
Chapter Six FRANCHISE GROWTH....................73
Chapter Seven COST CUTTERS....................89
Chapter Eight GIVING BACK....................113
Chapter Nine A NEW DECADE....................137
Chapter Ten MOSCOW....................143
Chapter Eleven GLOBAL GROWTH....................157
Chapter Twelve WATERING THE TREE....................165
Chapter Thirteen IN THE SHADOW....................187
Chapter Fourteen WHO'S THAT KNOCKING?....................203
Chapter Fifteen THE AFTERGLOW....................207
Chapter Sixteen THANKS FOR THE ROSES....................209
Chapter Seventeen JOE FRANCIS AWARDS & RECOGNITION....................213