Family and friends are not only mourning the loss of Janice Gosnell Franzen, the longtime editor of Wheaton-based Christian Life Publications, but they are heartbroken the 92-year-old philanthropist won't be able to enjoy the long-awaited launch of her autobiography "Be an Angel?" next week.
Jay Renstrom, the son of one of Franzen's first cousins, said the beloved lady's three passions in life were "teaching and doing good for people and writing."
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"She would always have just a smile on her face and welcome people," Renstrom said. "She found it easy to empathize with people. Even though she had means, she never put herself above anyone."
The financial means by which she was able to contribute to many different charities came through her 1964 marriage to DuPage County philanthropist Ralph O. Franzen, who passed away in 1999.
Among the organizations she was involved with were the Ralph O. Franzen Charitable Foundation, the Wesley Luehring Foundation and the Janice G. Franzen Endowed Scholarship at Wheaton College.
She also contributed to the Baptist Children's Home and recently bought a $90,000 bus for Windsor Park assisted living community in Carol Stream, where she'd lived since 1999.
Renstrom said it wasn't the complications of age that brought her to Windsor Park, but the aftermath of an accident in which she was nearly killed by a closing door at a department store.
Though she needed some help in her later years, she remained independent in many other ways and retained her sharp mind and good humor all the way through her final week, Renstrom said.
Franzen began her working life as a teacher and then became director of the Christian Writers Institute.
More than 10,000 students graduated from the correspondence school during her association with it.
While heading Christian Life Publications and editing Christian Life Magazine, Franzen interviewed and wrote about many notable people, including conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, singer-actress Lynda Carter, author Catherine Marshall, TV pastor Robert Schuller and musician June Carter Cash.
An evangelical Christian herself, Franzen chose people to write about she felt would be of interest to the readers of Christian Life Magazine, Renstrom said.
The inspiration for her self-published autobiography came late in life, and she concentrated on her childhood in Onalaska, Wis. -- which she considered a small "whistle-stop" compared to her later life in the Chicago suburbs, Renstrom said.
She worked hard on it and was looking forward to the launch party that is still taking place as scheduled, he added.
The title, "Be an Angel?" was a favorite phrase of her Aunt Margaret while asking young children -- as Franzen was at the time -- to do her favors.
Though her spirits never diminished, her life was ultimately ended Thursday by her heart being permanently weakened by a heart attack she suffered in February 2013, Renstrom said.
Visitation will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, April 11, at Hultgren Funeral Home, 304 N. Main St. in Wheaton. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 12, at Windsor Park Manor in Carol Stream, followed by a social reception.
Memorial gifts may be sent to the Janice Gosnell Franzen Endowed Scholarship Fund -- Wheaton College, 501 College Ave., Wheaton 60187.