Fran Wicht, 89, has led an adventurous life, but it’s the adventures of her ancestors that led her to document her father’s family history during the pandemic.
Wicht, who lives in south Spokane, started the book when she wrote about her mother’s family back in 2007, but had set the project aside.
“I got serious about it and decided to finish it during the pandemic,” she said.
“Bennett and Beyond,” was published through Gray Dog Press in February. The volume traces the family history of her father, Lowry Bennett, all the way back to the Mayflower.
“I used to laugh when people said they could trace their family to the Mayflower,” Wicht said. “Then I discovered five of my ancestors arrived on the Mayflower, including John Alden and Pricilla Mullins.”
Though she spent her professional life as a nurse and an educator, Wicht once dreamed of a writing career.
“The plan was to go to the University of Idaho and study journalism, but I didn’t have the money,” she said.
However, she did end up with a journalist in the family –her daughter, Sue Lani Madsen, writes an opinion column for The Spokesman-Review.
After graduating from North Central High School in 1950, Wicht studied nursing at Deaconess Hospital School of Nursing and enrolled at Whitworth University to pursue a bachelor’s degree.
“Before I finished at Whitworth a friend and I decided to attend the University of Hawaii,” she recalled.
They arrived in Hawaii to discover they couldn’t work part-time and attend school.
“I got a job at Queen’s Hospital in Honolulu. The outdoor nurse’s station opened to the breeze and the palm trees.”
And instead of finishing her degree in Hawaii, she married Conrad Wicht, who was serving in the U.S. Coast Guard.
While in Hawaii, she faithfully wrote to her mother who saved every letter. In 2005, Wicht compiled them into her first book, “50 Years Ago in Letters,” which was also published by Gray Dog Press.
But before that book came many years of finishing her education while working and raising two daughters. She finally earned a bachelor’s from Whitworth and went on to earn a master’s in education from Eastern Washington University. She spent 25 years teaching nursing at Spokane Community College.
Teaching led to another adventure: an around-the-world sabbatical studying different nursing cultures across the globe. Wicht also chronicled that adventure in a book. But it wasn’t until she retired at 62 that the genealogy bug bit.
“It’s just so interesting,” she said. “Once you start you don’t want to stop. You get addicted – you want to find one more thing.”
She peppered “Bennett and Beyond” with small vignettes of the people in her family tree.
“I try to find something about each person,” she said. And she included historical context in her narrative.
Wicht added many family pictures in “Bennett and Beyond” in hopes the photos will make the volume more appealing to her grandson.
“I hope the younger generation will read it,” she said. “Don’t you wish your grandmother had left you a book?”
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