In Memoriam: Franke, Fury-Fistman, Hult

In Memoriam: Franke, Fury-Fistman, Hult

Franke define life by his attitude

Ronald “Ron” Franke approached life with multiple sclerosis by utilizing his active keen mind and sense of humor. He reminded people to choose to be happy, treat everyone with respect and remember how lucky they were.

Franke died in August. He was 64 and lived in Hopkins.

Franke was one of four children. He had an older brother and sister, and a twin brother. His family lived in St. Louis Park and Golden Valley. He graduated from high school in Robbinsdale and attended the University of Minnesota.

He was diagnosed with MS in 1983, after noticing symptoms the year before. At the time he was a healthy young geologist and outdoorsman.

He compared his MS progression to a glacier. In 1986 Franke began walking with a cane, then used a walker. He took his last steps in 1995 and retired that year. He went through the process of becoming a certified financial planner.

Franke also became an activist, working with the MS Society and Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities. He was frequently at hearings.

Franke was able to move out of a nursing home in the 1990s, thanks to the Minnesota Disability Health Options Program. It was one of many programs and issues he testified about before the Minnesota legislature.

He developed a lifelong circle of friends in the “MS gang.” The friends enjoyed outings including Twins baseball games and get-togethers.

He once wrote:

“My name is Ron Franke. After four months of symptoms, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in April of 1983. The next 13 years were a struggle, but I lived a relatively normal life. I walked, drove and worked full time. But the walking became more difficult, and during the last week of November in 1995 I took my last step. Over the next nine years my arms steadily became stiffer and weaker until they were gone. Just like the ocean waves continually pound the shoreline into sand, so did the waves of MS pound away at my mobility. But just like the ocean waves could never catch the wind, the waves of MS could not catch my attitude. Even though my legs and my arms don’t work anymore, I wake up every morning with a smile. I have a great deal to be thankful for. I am a happy man. I am a lucky man.”

He chose to focus on the positive things, rather than negatives. “Rather than reminisce about times gone by or dwell on my lost abilities, I choose to revel in my new life and all that I still have. I believe that people with disabilities and able-bodied people alike are often trapped by their own fears. Back during the November week when I quit walking, I was initially gripped with the fear of my loss. But soon I experienced the elation of my newfound freedom and the removal of the shackles on my withering legs. I have released myself from the prison of my fears. Now I am free. Now I can fly.”

Franke is survived by a daughter and son, three grandchildren, his siblings and their families, and many friends. Services have been held. Memorials preferred to the National MS Society, Upper Midwest Chapter.

Providing assistive technology was Fury’s passion

Carol Fury-Fistman is remembered as dedicated to helping people find assistance to lead their best lives, with a focus on assistive technology and how it could make a difference. She co-authored state statutes, set up programs for people of all ages and was a champion for people with disabilities. Fury-Fistman died this summer after a bout with cancer. She was 64 and lived in rural Howard Lake.

Fury-Fistman was born in Worthington. Her career in disability services was almost 50 years long. At age 15, she was a volunteer paraprofessional in the Chaska Public Schools, helping the first student mainstreamed there. She later was on a development team at the University of Minnesota Institute on Community Integration, to create the Minnesota Developmental Program System. The system evaluated the skills of persons with developmental disabilities and helped move people out of institutions and into community settings.

In 1980 she built, licensed and operated an intermediate care facilities for individuals with behavioral and intellectual disabilities, to meet needs during a state moratorium.

She cofounded the Project SWAN day training and habilitation program. SWAN stood for Strategic Work Activities Now. It was a pilot program for Hennepin County. Fury-Fistman also designed the first community-based residential program for people with traumatic brain injury. ReSTART became a national model.

She served as director of the Adult Training & Habilitation Center in Winsted. But Her crowning achievement began in 2001 when she founded the nonprofit Assistive Technology of Minnesota, later known as EquipALife.

EquipALife was set up to help people obtain needed assistive technology, and to help people with disabilities develop, expand or maintain businesses. EquipALife also helped with events, including wheelchair races at the Twin Cities Marathon and worked closely with the agricultural assistive technology program AgrAbility. EquipALife recently closed.

Fury-Fistman also founded the Minnesota Regions Assistive Technology Collaborative, which ensured that services were available throughout Minnesota. She led a variety of needed assistive technology training programs, for educators and for those involved in the assistive technology assessment process

She served on the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted School Board for six years, where she served on the school district’s special education cooperation and worked on standards for paraprofessional certification.

Fury-Fistman was honored by the Minnesota State Council on Disability and the Minnesota STAR Program. She was a 2015 nominee for the Access Press Charlie Smith Award.

She is survived by her husband Jerry, siblings and their families, and other relatives and friends. Services have been held.

Hult founded ALS walk, promoted service dogs

Kathleen “Kathy” Hult turned a disability into decades of activism. Hult lived with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, for 23 years. She died this summer. Hult was 68 and lived in Edina.

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Hult showed courage, creativity and perseverance as she met many challenges with her motto, “I am grateful for what I can do today as I don’t know what I will be able to do tomorrow.”

Born in St. Paul, Hult grew up in Forest Lake and attended school there. She graduated from the University of Minnesota and shared her love of sports through teaching and coaching physical education and health.

She went on to earn an MBA and made an impact in the business world, specializing in marketing. She volunteered for Junior Achievement by sharing her passion for finance with young people.

After her diagnosis, Hult worked with the ALS Association on many projects from lobbying legislators in Washington D.C. to starting the first Walk to Defeat ALS in Minnesota. She also served on the association’s board of directors.

She received two service dogs from Helping Paws to assist her in her daily activities, and gave presentations throughout the state with Joy, then Claire, her closest companions.

Her dedication to improving the lives of others, especially those with disabilities, resulted in her being honored as one of the Eleven Who KARE in 2011.

Hult is survived by her father, a sister and her family, service dog Claire and many other friends and family members.

A celebration of life will be held in the fall. Memorials may be designated to the ALS Association MN/ND/SD Chapter or Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest.