Frances Genevieve Rapatt (Tanko) passed away peacefully at the age of eighty-three on Friday, March 17, at 6:15 a.m. Visitation with prayer service and a time for sharing memories was held on Thursday, March 23, 2023 at Karvonen Funeral Home in New York Mills, Minnesota.
On April 27, 1939, a tiny three pound baby girl was born in Chisholm, MN. Frances Genevieve Tanko was so small that both the doctor and her mother didn’t have much hope that she would survive; but her Grandmother Mary volunteered to take care of her. This included feeding this tiny baby with an eye dropper every 2 hours day and night and keeping her cuddled in a basket near the warmth of the wood stove until she grew into a normal sized baby. This girl had gumption and a strong will to enjoy life! She grew into childhood where she spent time with her mother and father, Annie (Briski) and John Tanko, and six siblings. They all worked together on their self-sustaining family farm. This country lifestyle taught Frances many talents and skills while she also enjoyed going to school, liked math, playing basketball, music, and sock hops with friends.
When Frances was fifteen a handsome young man rode into town on his motorcycle and they hit it off right away. In a year, Wilmar and Frances were married. They stayed in Chisholm while Wilmar worked in the mines and then they moved to Butler MN. Here is where Frances fell in love with a piece of property on Bear Lake and she knew this was where she wanted to call home. They had to travel to North Dakota to meet the owner to purchase the property. She was a wealthy business woman who had this young couple stay in her big fancy hotel while they finalized the purchase of the property. This woman liked Wilmar and Frances and she was determined that they should own this land. Thanks to her, Frances was very happy to be in her own home, which honestly wasn’t much more than a small shabby house with a very overgrown property near the lake. It looked so rough that her mother cried when she first saw it. But none of that mattered to Frances and over time Wilmar and Frances turned it into a beautiful home to raise their six children, Richard, Roger, Anita Lavell, Cindy (Greg) Huwe, and Rhonda (Gary) Peterson.
Living on a lake brings many new adventures and fishing was a passion for Frances and her family, many a time she would rush them to get out in the boat or ice house because the fish are “hot right now”! This passion was shared with friends and neighbors and eventually to the public as well when the family started renting wooden fishing boats and cane poles for the 100 foot wooden dock. This lasted a few years till it just became easier for the Rapatts to let the DNR attain a piece of property to create a public water access on the east end of Bear Lake and regain some privacy at their homeplace. Frances was a great cook and a generous hostess; her and Wilmar hosted many family and neighborhood gatherings, fish frys, turtle feeds, and swim days on the large lawn by the lake.
Having a chance to swim every summer day was an awesome thing, but this wonderful space was shared with the New York Mills Public School as the location for their swimming lessons for many years. Bus after bus drove into the yard to drop off and pick up children for their lessons until a pool was finally built in town.
Frances loved deer hunting as well and provided many meals, warm clothes, and other supplies for the large hunting parties of family and friends. Fortunately, even after helping everyone else, she got a few trophy deer herself and was still hunting even with her walker at the age of 79.
As her children grew up and moved out of the house Frances took on a few jobs out of the home. She cleaned hotel rooms part time for a while and became the caregiver to a woman in Fridley MN who had cancer. Finally, when her youngest child graduated high school, Frances didn’t know what she would do with herself and so she decided to do something that kind of scared her. Because she was always a good cook, going back to school to become a Chef seemed like the right choice. At the age of 48 she attended Detroit Lakes Technical College Chef training and earned her official diploma. She was an inspiration to many students and staff that knew her. One of her favorite jobs was working as the Head Chef at a resort in Lake of the Woods.
Frances and Wilmar divorced in 1990. She remained in her forever home on Bear Lake where her children, 17 grandchildren, one step-grandchild and 17 great grandchildren enjoyed visiting her. They have many happy memories fishing, bird watching, camping, swimming, bonfires, picking nightcrawlers, outdoor eating, playing cards, and learning to crochet with Grandma Franny.
In 2005, Donald Bethel entered Franny’s life and filled the need for a companion. He was a third-generation wood carver. This new hobby/business became a passion she could share with Donald. They traveled to trade shows and found many ways to promote Donald’s talent.
She soon filled her home with his many wonderful carvings of fish, birds, and other wildlife. Donald eventually moved to be near his family due to his deteriorating health.
Frances remained active feeding her birds, container gardening, watching nature, calling the loons, and loving every new day that she could look out to enjoy her view of Bear Lake in every season. She remained in her home until the Spring of 2021, at which time she moved into the Emmanuel Nursing Home in Detroit Lakes. This became her new home and she along with her family are forever grateful to the kindness and care the staff provided for her there. A special thank you to the Red River Valley Hospice (blue team) for their presence and comfort.
Many people had the opportunity to know and meet “Franny” throughout her life, once they did, they were not soon to forget. She always had an exciting story to share. Those who were lucky enough to meet “Franny”, were sure to walk away with either a smile, a laugh or a shake of the head.
Frances, you will be missed and thank you for gracing our lives with so many wonderful gifts. Rest peacefully “Queen of Bear Lake”.
Frances was preceded in death by her parents, four brothers, two sisters, David Rapatt (infant son), Roger Rapatt (son), Bobby Gillette (grandson), Pat Lavell (son in law) and Donald Bethel.
Frances is survived by her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and a host of family and friends.
Arrangements provided by Karvonen Funeral & Cremation Service of New York Mills, Minnesota. Please visit www.karvonenfuneralhome.com to leave memorials and condolences on Franny’s Tribute Wall.