by Mike Roberts, Church Historian
One of the leading ladies of our Universalist Church during the last half of the 20th century was Frances Carpenter. Frances and her husband, Ralph, were members of the church in the days of the Essex Street location and later at Salem Acres. Ralph turned the spade at the ground breaking ceremonies for our present Heritage Church. He also served several years as secretary of the Board of Trustees.
Frances Russ was born in Darke County, Ohio, and after graduation from high school went on to earn a teaching degree at Miami University. She first taught in Darke County during the depression years but also served as a cottage parent at the Old Soldiers and Sailors Home in Xenia. This facility was an orphanage which accepted children of deceased veterans. It had 30 cottages with 20 children in each cottage. Frances worked there for nine months, sewing and cooking in the morning and doing relief to cottage parents in the afternoons and evenings.
Eventually, Frances found another job as a teacher in Gibsonburg Schools and then later moved to the Fairfax Schools to be closer to home. Responsibilities to her family and their farm kept Frances from pursuing much of a social life and it wasn’t until after many years of teaching that she met and married Ralph Carpenter. They became acquainted through membership in the Audubon Society and at a dance club. They became much closer when Frances helped to nurse Ralph back to health after he suffered a severe beating at the hands of an angry debtor. Despite her family’s objections, they became man and wife in a small ceremony at the Universalist Church in Reading. A smaller reception was scheduled at the apartment of friends but Ralph and Frances were late for the party because he decided to stop at Frisch’s for dinner.
Ralph and Frances were extremely active in the Audubon Society. She served as the local President in 1977-78. They also served as co-treasurers of the organization for years. They lived in a house on Saybrook Avenue in Hyde Park and it has been reported that every inch of their yard was covered with plants, flowers, and bird feeders. They were very dedicated to wildlife and preservation of natural habitat. When Frances sold the family farm in Darke County after the death of her father and brother, forty acres were donated to the county for a nature preserve.
As the couple aged, Ralph finally had to be placed in the St. Luke’s Health Center. Frances visited daily but then she suffered a broken leg as a passenger in an auto accident. She joined Ralph in his room until he passed away. It was feared that the couple may have been wanting for money in their later years, but one friend noted that they were known to squeeze their pennies until Lincoln screamed. In reality, after their passing, they left substantial financial gifts to the Audubon Society, the Cincinnati Nature Center and the Salvation Army.
Connie Booth recalls visiting Frances at St. Luke’s and that the walls of her room were covered with memorabilia from Darke County including pictures of Annie Oakley, another past resident of the county. Guests to her room were directed to a sack of bird feed and asked to fill the bird feeders outside her door.
Frances passed away in November 1994 and a memorial service in her honor was held at Heritage. Contributions in her memory were used for sponsoring Audubon Adventure Classrooms in the schools.
Image: Morning Dove, from Birds of America by John James Audubon. The Audubon Society was a favorite cause of Frances Carpenter.