Businessman whose vision keyed industrial park, residential developments dies Monday at age 89
Saukville businessman and philanthropist Gene Fransee never lacked for development ideas or the energy to follow through on that vision.
He also never missed an opportunity to share a quick joke, often at his own expense.
Known most recently as the founder of Fransee & Son Garden Center on Highway O, Fransee was also a driving force behind many projects that contributed to making Saukville what it is today.
Fransee, 89, died Monday of complications from congestive heart failure at Milan Estates assisted-living facility in Saukville, where he had been under care since late July.
According to the family, his health began to deteriorate after he injured his head in a fall last year.
“I never thought the Energizer Bunny would run out of power,” joked his son John, who for decades operated the nursery with his father.
“This was the first growing season when he wasn’t at the nursery every day. Last year, I had to pull him from a truck because he wanted to make deliveries. There was no quit in his tank.”
Although he grew up in the Milwaukee area, his family said Fransee embraced Saukville as his home.
“If he could have chosen his hometown, he would have chosen Saukville,” his son said.
That support was much more than lip service, John Fransee said.
“One winter when the village’s budget was especially tight, he provided the salt and sand needed to keep its roads safe,” his son said.
Fransee saw the potential of the community, pushing the development of several residential projects, retail centers and the industrial park.
Many of those projects included something of a family code, the name Majesa — a moniker created by using the first letters in the names of each of his six children.
“Even though he would often say his motto for life was ‘I did it my way,’ sometimes even singing the Frank Sinatra song to make his point, he was really all about family,” his daughter Mary Springer said.
That love of his children, and all children, inspired Fransee and his family to donate the land on Northwoods Road used for the Feith Family Ozaukee YMCA.
“He thought it was important for the children of Saukville to have a place to go,” his daughter said.
Fransee delighted in telling embellished stories, like the time he shot off two fingers on his hand with a shotgun during a teenage hunting accident or how he once did landscaping for gangster Al Capone’s brother, Ralph.
“He liked to be in the spotlight. He was never afraid to tell it like it was, which some people loved about him and some did not,” John Fransee said.
Those views were often shared during meetings of the Village of Saukville Plan Commission and Community Development Authority, both bodies on which he served.
“He was always a real pleasure to have on our committees, because he would ask thoughtful questions but then drop in an off-the-wall comment to keep us entertained,” Village President Barb Dickmann said. “He will be sorely missed.”
One of Fransee’s favorite gags was to pass out fake $1 million bills.
Mr. Fransee was born in Milwaukee on Feb. 9, 1926, the son of Arthur and Lucille Greiner Fransee.
On Aug. 30, 1947, he married Kathryn “Kay” Lau at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Milwaukee.
Mr. Fransee started a landscaping business, Landscape Artist, in Milwaukee and 1946. He eventually relocated the business to Saukville.
Mr. Fransee was a member of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Saukville and Landt-Thiel American Legion Post 470.
He is survived by his children Mary Springer of Phoenix, Ann (George) Eger of Saukville, John (Penny) of Port Washington, Beth (John) Fredericksen of Cedarburg, Susie (Greg) of Ollman of Fox Point and Amy (Jeff) Smith of Saukville; nine grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.
Mr. Fransee was preceded in death by his wife Kay, and son-in-law Paul Springer.
Funeral services will be at 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11, at Eernisse Funeral Home, Port Washington.
Visitation will be at the funeral home from 2:30 p.m. until the service.
Burial will be during a private family service at St. Mary’s Cemetery, Saukville.