By Shelby Stewart-Soldan
Ortonville— Since she was 5-years-old, Fran Hotchkiss loved the Brandon Library.
“May 1, 1975 I got my first paycheck,” said Hotchkiss. “But I think the whole volunteering at the age of 5 and getting to put away 10 picture books a day, that was really my big start.”
Hotchkiss has served 47 years of paid service at the Brandon Township Public Library, and because of her hard work and outreach in the community, she has been selected as the 2022 Citizen of the Year.
“I loved books, I love playing story-time teacher when I was little,” she said.
Hotchkiss is a 1979 Brandon graduate, and grew up two doors down from the library when it was located on Mill Street. When she was 11, the director at the time started paying her a dollar an hour out of petty cash, since she wasn’t old enough to get a work permit. In 1975 she was brought on as a part-time employee, and in 1979 the Brandon Library hired her full time. She worked while she got her masters degree in library science from Wayne State University, and taught one story-time a week. She also was hired by the Kratt Family at 18 to work at the party store.
“I would work 9-5 at the library, then go across the street and work 5-11 at the party store,” she said. “That helped pay for my college and all my family had moved to Colorado so it helped pay for the plane tickets so, the Kratt Family, I really appreciated them. So I worked two jobs until I was 31.”
The whole time Hotchkiss has worked at the library, she has worked in the children’s section. She was the youth services manager until 2016 when the director at the time, Rebecca Higgerson, changed her title to Library Outreach Liaison, since she did so much community outreach with her story-time programs, programs at the schools, and at the mobile home park.
“Doing all the outreach, doing the story times, I would say one of the biggest joys I have on a personal level is, no matter where I go in Ortonville, ‘Miss Fran, Miss Fran, I love you’ and just the hugs I get,” she said. “When I went to the back to school night, I almost got knocked over because all of these children were trying to hug me at one time, even the older, tall middle schoolers were, and that’s what gives me so much joy. Just to be loved in the community. It’s priceless.”
Hotchkiss has made such an impact on the community that she has great grandparents who bring their great grandchildren to her story times because they brought their children and grandchildren years before.
“I think it was 17 the last time I counted but I’m sure there’s a lot I don’t even know of,” she said. “Third generation of story-time students. And that really does my heart good because I think, wow, they loved my programs way back when, I must be doing something right. I don’t take one day for granted in this great job I have in this great community. I’m really blessed. It’s such a privilege and honor to serve in this community.”
Hotchkiss said her goal was always to get children reading and coming to the library, and when they can’t get to the library, she wants to bring the library to them with her outreach programs.
“Going to the schools is such a joy, I’m so thankful to the teachers and the principals that invite me to come in and do programs because I reach so many more children and get them excited about books,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of children, well they’re adults now, that come and tell me ‘oh, you’re the one who taught me to love books and love reading’.”
She also is a member of Brandon Groveland Youth Assistance, which focuses on strengthening families and communities through prevention and casework services.
“The work I do with Brandon Groveland Youth Assistance is always supporting and strengthening families and children, and if you can teach them a love of reading and give them that gift, I think reading is the foundation of everything we do. I mean for science and math, you have to know how to read, and so working with BGYA, that has that same mission that the library does, it just seems like a perfect fit. And just helping the community be better,” she said.
Hotchkiss said that she loves seeing kids as their reading skills improve, and the looks on their faces and their pride in themselves improve as they get better at reading. And in her 47 years at the library, she said it’s still home.
“It’s family. It’s home. I love to travel, but I’ll be gone for a couple weeks, and I’m always ready to come home, Ortonville is home to me, it’s a very special place. All the people, they truly care about you, and make you feel like you’re important. It’s so welcoming, everyone always pitches in and helps out and it’s just a great feeling to come home every time,” she said.
For the community, she had a simple message: thank-you.
“Thank you to all of my mentors, all the past directors, library board members, all my coworkers over all the 47 years, to the community for always being so warm and welcoming. It’s the best, I thank God every day for getting to be part of this community,” she said. “I’m really thankful to all the people that made a positive difference in my life and encouraged me through the hard times I had and celebrated all the good times. Very thankful, I just feel beyond blessed. I’m a billionaire when it comes to the love I’ve received from this community.”
By Shelby Stewart-Soldan