Former Merrick head dies, leaves behind legacy of kindness and care

Fran Ivory

When friends and acquaintances of Francis Ivory — better known as Fran — think back to their memories of him, they all say the same thing: he was a gentleman.  

Ivory, an Oakdale resident, died July 27. He’d had Parkinson’s disease. He was 70 years old.

Ivory was a former executive director of Merrick Community Services on the East Side and was heavily involved in helping to take care of the east metro community where he lived. 

Ivory was a member of the Maplewood-Oakdale Lions Club, the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale Rotary and the Optimist Club, and was involved in various religious organizations like Our Lady of Victory and Church of St. Peter. 

His life’s motto was “Life is good,” something those around him said he truly believed in and lived by, committing his life to serving the community and his family.

In his memorial program, his family listed his numerous accomplishments, which included delivering thousands of newspapers in the Como neighborhood as a child in the 1950s, delivering nearly 550,000 meals through Meals on Wheels, completing 10 marathons, coaching numerous kids to play hockey, softball, baseball and soccer, as well as leading Friendly House in Davenport, Iowa — a community services nonprofit.

He was also an associate director of Neighborhood House in St. Paul before becoming executive director of Merrick Community Services in 1997. 

On top of all that, Ivory and his family also had a strawberry shortcake booth — the Strawberry Patch — at the Minnesota State Fair. Ivory “devoured an estimated 800 Pronto Pups,” according to the memorial program. The stand still operates today and can be found near the horse barn. 

His friends and family also described him as being Irish through and through, and he would often host a St. Patrick’s Day party at his home after attending the St. Paul St. Patrick’s Day parade. 

Up until recently, Ivory also worked at the Xcel Energy Center as an usher. 


Nothing but warm memories

In the funeral program, his children each left a little note, thanking him for all his support and love. 

“I’m not sure what the Strawberry Patch will do without our taste tester and water guy, the 12 Days of Christmas will never be the same, and your Irish eyes won’t be here to smile on St. Patrick’s Day,” wrote his daughter, Shannon Lawson.

His daughter Molly Guevara wrote that she sees so much of him in her children and that he was a great role model. 

Wrote his son, Sean Ivory, “From your leadership in the community, your love of coaching, and the love you showed your family, I have always been proud to call you my dad.”

Ed Mishmash, treasurer of the Maplewood-Oakdale Lions Club, said he always remembers Ivory being someone who was enjoyable to hang out with. He said he has many memories of working on Lions events with Ivory, from piping-hot chicken barbeques to freezing-cold Mother’s Day plant sales. 

He said no matter the temperature and the difficulty it may have brought, Ivory always had jokes to share and a memorable smile. 

Ivory served as president of the Maplewood-Oakdale Lions Club in 2006 and 2007. He was awarded the Melvin Jones Award, the highest award given to Lions members. The award is named after club creator Melvin Jones and is given to members who exemplify the humanitarian ideas of the Lions Club. 

“As far as Lions go, you couldn’t have a better member,” Mishmash said, adding that whenever they held events to serve the community, Ivory was always there to help.


Dedicated to the cause

Mary Mestingen said she worked with Ivory during his tenure at Merrick Community Services, from 1997 to 2011.

Mestingen was a program director and worked closely with Ivory on the nonprofit’s executive team. She said of all the bosses she had over the years, he was one of the few she had high regard for.

“He was just such a great person to work for,” Mestingen said. 

She said she had many memories from the years working with him, but one of the most memorable was a trip to Washington, D.C., for a conference. 

Mestingen said in order to save money, the group from Merrick used the D.C. metro train rather than taxis. She said he was so concerned about helping everyone else with their luggage that he forgot about his and left it on the train. 

She laughed as she said he tried to get back on the train to find it, but had no luck; he ended up just going to Target to buy some new clothes. 

Switching tones, Mestingen said Ivory was very dedicated not just to Merrick, but also to his family. Because of his devotion to his family, she said he also respected when people took time away from work for their own loved ones.

Many programs — like Meals and Wheels and the food shelf — were already in place when Ivory became executive director of Merrick Community Services. However, Mestingen said that while he worked to expand those programs, the one he was most proud of starting was the construction training program. 

People who had little to no income were able to be trained in the construction field, which lead to them obtaining high-paying jobs, leading the way for students to buy homes and support their families. 

“He was just really proud of that program,” Mestingen said, adding that she’s still in contact with some of the students who tell her how the program changed their lives.

Dan Rodriguez, current executive director of Merrick Community Services, took the position after Ivory; their terms overlapped as Ivory trained him in. 

Rodriguez said Ivory was soft-spoken, a gentleman, and that Ivory and his family were very dedicated to Merrick Community Services, the Meals on Wheels program and serving the community.

“He always cared about others,” Rodriguez said. 

Ivory’s visitation was held July 30 and his funeral was July 31 at Church of St. Peter. He will be interred in Resurrection Cemetery in Mendota Heights.

He leaves behind his wife, Rosemary, three children, seven grandchildren and five siblings, of which he was the youngest.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorials for Ivory be donated to the Parkinson’s Foundation. 


–Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto

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