Dr. Frances Bartlett Kinne – A Super Influencer Who Changed My Life

In life, we all have people that influence who we are.  Sometimes, there are a few that bubble up as “super influencers.”  I suspect most of us can only think of a handful of super influencers.  One of mine was Dr. Frances Bartlett Kinne, former president of Jacksonville University.

When I was in high school, I (as with many of my peers) wanted to attend the city’s most prestigious private university, Jacksonville University (JU).  With a small student population of less than 3,000 students, not only was it hard to get in, it was more expensive than public universities – and a bit more than I could afford.  As it turned out, I received a scholarship to go to another college, and chose that path.  But, I never quit thinking about JU.  It didn’t help that my then future wife, Marisa, was attending JU.


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In life, we all have people that influence who we are. Sometimes, there are a few that bubble up as “super influencers.”

“So, tell me about Todd Leonard!”

Because Marisa went to JU, I attended many social events with her.  Outside of classes, I spent more time on JU’s campus than I did my own.  I enjoyed the campus life experience at JU compared to my commuter college.  One late afternoon while there, I was waiting outside of the administration building for Marisa to come out of  a meeting (she was very involved in the campus life), when Dr. Kinne came outside.  She immediately approached me and said, “You don’t go to school here, do you?”  She knew that because she knew almost every student on campus – and many by name.  When I told her I did not, she asked my name – and wanted to know why.  The minute I told her my name, she said, “Oh, I know who you are.  Marisa has told me all about you!”  Marisa was my biggest fan and went out of her way to find any avenue to help me get to JU.   When I came clean about how much I wanted to attend JU, but also the cost issue, she told me to come to her office the next morning and let’s find a way to make it work.  But, she made it clear if I really wanted to attend JU, I would have to work as hard as she to get there.

I showed up right at 9:00 a.m. (I had scheduled after meeting her the day before).  I have never seen a more impressive, intimidating and yet comfortable office than that of Dr. Kinne.  With two administrative assistants outside of her office, the inside was elegant.  A beautiful desk, mementos all around the office from various trips, students, business functions or interactions with famous people.  On her wall was a signed photo of Dr. Kinne with Jack Benny and Bob Hope.  She had once convinced them to come to JU for a performance.  We sat on a couch on the opposite side of her office, and with a big smile and excitement in her voice she began, “So, tell me about Todd Leonard!”  At that moment she was so down to earth, very personable, and spoke as if I was the only thing on her mind.  She asked questions not to intimidate but because she was genuinely interested in knowing me.  I recall the conversation being so inviting. 

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"Please join me in justifying, each day, the space we take up on this planet, and in celebrating life, the greatest gift of all."
– Dr. Frances Bartlett Kinne

After a few minutes of speaking, she excused herself to get with one of her assistants.  The door was open, so I heard the conversation.  She asked that the top VPs of the university along with the Dean of Students be immediately summoned to her office.  Within minutes they walked in.  In her trademark upbeat personality she said, “Meet Todd Leonard!  He is our newest student!”  Mind you, at that moment I was no more a student than the day before.  “Your job is to find scholarships and financial aid that fit Todd.  We have already agreed on how much he can personally afford to pay.”  She then began to recite from memory what I had told her about me – my academic success in high school, my grade point average during my first two years in college, that I am an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts, leadership roles I had undertaken, my family background, and more.  She concluded the meeting with an ask that they report back to her by the end of the day.  Then, she turned to me – grabbed my hand and said, “Welcome to Jacksonville University!”

"When we founded Alleon Group, we had a commitment to help businesses succeed – justifying the space we take up."

Well, by the end of the day I was officially a student at Jacksonville University … my dream college.  That day changed my life.  Dr. Kinne opened a door for me and welcomed me in as if I were part of her family.  To her, all of the students, faculty and staff were her family.  Two years later when I graduated from Jacksonville University, Dr. Kinne was on stage – and as I received my diploma, she looked at me with a great big smile, again as if I was the only one on her mind.  She shook my hand and said, “Todd, I’m so glad you chose to come here!”  She had remembered my story.  And, as all 300 in my class crossed that stage she had a special hug or personal message for each one.  I left that day more inspired than our first meeting.

At 102, Dr. Kinne passed away in May 2020.  But, not before touching the lives of so many.  Mine is only one example of thousands who could likely share a similar experience.  Bob Hope once said, “When you are around Fran Kinne, things happen.”  Indeed they did.  Dr. Kinne was the life of Jacksonville University, playing an active role until the end of her life.  On her 100th birthday, the university published a story about Dr. Kinne, that captured my favorite quote from her, “Please join me in justifying, each day, the space we take up on this planet, and in celebrating life, the greatest gift of all.”  She set the example for me and many others.

When we founded Alleon Group four years ago, we had a commitment to help businesses succeed – justifying the space we take up.  Underlying that is an appreciation for life – the greatest gift of all.  We work hard for our clients and ourselves.  But, we also take time to personally grow, recharge and remain relevant.

Dr. Kinne will be missed – but the good she did during her life will remain for many years to come.

*Photos credited to linked sources
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