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IOWA CITY - Long before former University of Iowa College of Nursing Dean Rita Ann Frantz died, she and her husband wrote into their will a UI donation supporting an endowed chair.
As their funds grew over the years - through monthly contributions and wise investments - the couple discussed supporting a College of Nursing professorship as well. But it wasn't until after Frantz died at age 68 on Sept. 7 that her husband realized they had enough to support the professorship, two scholarships, and two endowed chairs.
When David Frantz told UI Foundation representative Dayna Ballantyne about the $5.25 million gift he wanted to make on his wife's behalf, he said Ballantyne was speechless. Then she told him Rita Frantz, while dean, had set a goal of getting two endowed chairs for the nursing faculty.
'Rita hadn't ever shared this with me,” David Frantz said. 'It was like I was fulfilling her goal, and I didn't even know it.”
Frantz, during a celebration of his wife's life earlier this week, went public with their gift to the UI Foundation for the benefit of College of Nursing instruction and education. He said the gift's ability to fund two endowed chairs and a professorship fulfills one of his wife's longtime dreams and addresses a real need.
'We've got a nursing shortage, and part of that is due to the fact that we have a shortage of qualified faculty,” Frantz said.
One of his wife's primary concerns was the high percentage of UI nursing faculty who are to become eligible to retire in the next five to 10 years. And, Frantz said, she was 'constantly recruiting and recruiting and recruiting” qualified professors.
'She would have liked to have increased the enrollment into the college but didn't have the faculty to handle it,” Frantz said.
‘She was a workaholic'
Rita Frantz grew up on an Iowa farm north of Davenport and earned her bachelor's degree in nursing from Marycrest College in her hometown. She started toward a master's degree in medical-surgical nursing from the University of Iowa in the summer of 1971 and had her degree by fall 1972, when she was promptly invited to join the faculty in the UI College of Nursing.
She earned her doctorate in educational psychology from UI in 1977, and rose through the ranks to become dean of the college in 2007. Two years later, in 2009, Frantz was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. But that didn't slow her down, according to her husband.
'She pretty much went to work every day until this last summer,” he said, noting that after years of chemotherapy, it finally got to her. 'It was the first drug out of six that made her sick.”
Before that, according to David Frantz, she would be working on her iPhone and laptop while receiving infusions from the very nurses she was leading - some of whom she had taught.
'She just amazed everybody at the college that she could continue to do that,” he said. 'She was a workaholic. It wasn't a 40-hour workweek for her. But I think her work was relaxing for her, and it was so important to her.”
While taking this final drug, however, she needed to be on medical leave and eventually decided it wasn't fair to the college to not have an acting dean.
'As much as she hated to, she decided it was time,” Frantz said. 'And so she wrote a resignation letter to the provost and set the date of her retirement for the 6th of September.”
‘Never in our wildest dreams'
While growing their savings through measured contributions with the goal of an eventual big gift, Frantz said his wife donated anonymously to the College of Nursing many times during her 44 years with the university.
'We weren't blessed with children, so we didn't have that eating up our savings,” he said. 'Even though we would have welcomed children with open arms, it just never happened. So we were blessed in another way - that our funds could grow exponentially.”
When the couple wed in 1970, they never imagined making such a gift, Frantz said.
'Never in our wildest dreams,” he said.
But, in talking to the nursing college's faculty, staff and students this week, Frantz said he can't think of a better cause and a more appropriate way to honor his wife.
'I see the nurses at work,” he said. 'I saw the nurses when they were giving Rita her chemotherapy drugs and infusions and the kindness and caring and compassion the nurses displayed for me, for Rita.
'I can't think of a more honorable profession to promote and try to give our resources back to.”
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