DE PERE — When Fran DeCleene recognizes a need, he addresses it. That is his approach as maintenance supervisor for JPG Inc. (Legends Brewhouse and Eatery in De Pere and Howard, and Swan Club, De Pere), Chicago Street Pub and Caliente, De Pere. DeCleene also helps meet needs outside the workplace including service at St. Mary Church, Ledgeview, and through numerous volunteer efforts in the community.
“I have a hard time saying no when somebody asks me to do something,” he said.
DeCleene is happy to serve because for more than 40 years, his work schedule limited opportunities. He worked as a truck driver for Brillion Iron Works.
“Sometimes we would leave on Sunday to be in Detroit on Monday,” he explained. “Then you would get home late on Monday night and leave on Tuesday. Some weeks you would go to Pennsylvania or New York and would be gone all week. When the kids were in athletics in high school, I worked hard to get home for games. My boss was a family guy, so he would work with you. It was a good company to work for. I started on my 21st birthday. You had to be 21 to drive interstate. I just couldn’t get involved because of being gone all the time. We never knew until Friday morning where I would be going on Sunday.”
DeCleene retired from trucking in 2000 after 4.3 million miles without a preventable accident.
“I loved meeting people on the road,” he said. “When I retired, that was the thing I missed more than anything. I didn’t miss the truck. I met so many people. When you go there more and more, you get to know them. I love meeting strangers and just sitting down and talking.”
DeCleene now meets new people through his maintenance position at businesses owned by his son, Greg, and through service.
“People ask me ‘How can you work for your son?’ We get along so well,” said Fran, who served in the military in the early ’60s while employed by Brillion Iron Works. “I think it’s great. I love it.”
One volunteer effort that preceded retirement from the road is serving as the booyah maker for St. Mary Parish.
“Greg was the chair for the church picnic in the mid ’90s and he asked me if I would do booyah for him. I was working at the time, but I could fit it in,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for 20 years. It goes over well. We do about $5,000 profit (per year for multiple sales). I have regulars that help me.”
Fran, a Greenleaf native, and his wife, LaVerne, who is from De Pere, were married at St. Mary Church in De Pere in 1960. They have four sons — Deacon Kevin, Greg, Randy and Jay — 17 grandchildren and a great grandchild on the way. Fran has always been active in the church, serving as an usher, lector and extraordinary minister of holy Communion. He credits his parents, Al and Millie, for their examples of faith.
“There were 12 (children) in our family. I remember kneeling down every night and saying the rosary,” said Fran. “My parents were very involved in the church. My dad was a trustee and head of the picnic.”
Attending Mass on Sunday has always been a priority to Fran. When he was on the road, he would often find a church by taxi.
“That’s what my parents passed down to me,” he said. “Hopefully, I passed that down to my children and grandchildren.”
The only Mass conflict he encounters now is when he is scheduled to lector on the same Sunday that Deacon Kevin is giving the homily at Nativity of Our Lord Church in Ashwaubenon. He likes to hear his son preach.
Other service through St. Mary includes Care Ministry. Since 2003, Fran and LaVerne have provided nursing home ministry at Angel’s Touch locations in northeast Wisconsin.
“No matter how bad they may be feeling that day, they are so happy to see you,” said Fran. “We do a prayer service in the hallway. We bring Communion. We walk into rooms and invite people to start with the sign of the cross. They will make the sign of the cross and pray the Our Father with us. It gives you such a lift.”
The new St. Mary Church was built a year before Fran retired. The parish was paying $375 for one grass cutting, so when Fran became available, he put a lawn care crew together. The parish purchased the equipment. Fran also works pancake and porkie breakfasts at the church. He orders the food through Legends and recruits helpers.
“I will have four grandchildren working with us at the next one,” he said. “They can get service hours. You try to set that example for them.”
Whether he is scanning tickets at pre-season games at Lambeau Field to support the Knights of Columbus, delivering food to NEW Community Shelter in Green Bay, packing medicine for Friends of Haiti or assisting the Ecumenical Partnership for Housing, Fran is thankful to give back.
“In May, we will be celebrating our 56th wedding anniversary,” he said. “I always tell my wife, she did an excellent job raising those boys. God has been good to us. I have been blessed.”
He has not ruled out new volunteer ventures.
“I’m open to doing new things,” he said. “I don’t know if I want to be the leader, but I enjoy doing the work. If something comes along, I will pray about it, go to a couple of meetings and see if it fits.”