Fran Kentling, former editor of the active age, died in the same way she lived her life: without fear or fuss and absolutely ready for the next adventure if there happens to be one.
In the short time since she received a terminal lung cancer diagnosis, Fran took to answering the phone, “Hello, I’m dying,” in the same matter-of-fact manner she relayed all news. News was Fran’s passion, from working on a school paper and earning a journalism degree to shepherding young writers at The Wichita Eagle and helping save the active age.
Fran was a daughter, mother, grandmother and friend to countless people, all of whom occupied a coveted spot in her heart. Born Nov. 12, 1940, in Pratt, Kan., to the late Frank and Helen Smith, young Frances displayed an inquisitiveness that was to be her hallmark throughout life. Plainspoken directness helped her win school elections and eventually become editor of her school paper. In high school, Fran became part of a group of female friends who dubbed themselves the Magnificent Seven, whose remaining members are close to this day.
Following one-year stints at Kansas State University and Southwestern College, Fran earned a journalism degree from the University of Wichita. After post-graduate journalism studies at Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Mass., and briefly working in the Boston area, Fran returned to Kansas to work in the information and public events office at her alma mater. Next, Fran held various positions at the Eagle. She was adept at managing a newsroom budget and teaching future leaders, and she wielded a wicked sense of humor capable of skewering anyone, including herself.
Perhaps her most significant accomplishment at the Eagle was caring for the annual crop of students who came to learn on the job. Fran became known as the “Mother of Interns.” Like a parent, she was a protective cheerleader for each of her charges, but she never hesitated to be candid when they disappointed her. It was criticism most everyone accepted because, as one former intern put it, she invested in them, and it was important to show you were worthy of that investment. The people Fran helped guide into journalism and other careers represent her most indelible contributions to the Wichita community and beyond.
Fran took a buyout in the first of what would be many rounds of employee reductions at the Eagle. Fran’s legacy at the Eagle was so strong that, until the building was torn down in 2017, the office she had occupied continued to be known as “Fran’s office” despite a succession of other people occupying it. And she remained an important part of her colleagues’ lives. As more buyouts and layoffs followed, Fran often was the first to let former colleagues know they would find success elsewhere. Fran’s focus after the Eagle was the active age. As part of a team of journalists who stepped in to help the struggling publication, Fran hovered over colleagues to ensure the right edits were made and persevered to guarantee the newspaper would endure. Once the paper was back on solid financial footing, Fran passed the reins, but continued to serve on the newspaper’s board of directors and volunteer with proofreading, editing and writing as recently as a few weeks ago.
Fran was involved in a variety of other volunteer interests, such as the Crime Stoppers of Wichita-Sedgwick County and the Old Town Walkabout. Her work on the BOO HOO We Need a . . . NEW ZOO campaign around 1970 had a huge impact. Her unofficial volunteer efforts with friends, neighbors and even strangers were classic Fran. She was a welcome committee of one for newcomers or anyone on the fringes. She was an unfaltering nursemaid to those in need, including once physically lifting a friend from the floor to get her to a doctor. She was more comfortable offering help than receiving it.
Fran’s forthright nature was on occasion a bit overbearing, but if called on it, she was quick to burst into laughter and admit, “Oh, I can do that sometimes.” Her ability to laugh, particularly at herself, was one of her most admirable qualities.
Survivors include son Christian Kentling; son-in-law Patrick Lansdowne; grandchildren Bailey Kentling, Carson Kentling, Cameron Kentling, Riley Kentling, Reagan Kentling, Hannah Kentling Soderling and Nitai Dasa; brother David Smith and sister-in-law Judy Keene Smith. In addition to her parents, Fran was predeceased by her beloved daughter, Carrie-Nell Kentling, who died in July 2017.
In lieu of flowers, Fran suggested friends consider a donation to the active age.