Endowed Giving: Franklin and Bonnie Fee

Endowed Giving: Bonnie and Franklin Fee

Franklin and Bonnie Fee kept faith with the Hutchinson community all their lives.

Born in Hutchinson in the 1930s, they attended schools here and left town for the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

But Hutchinson drew them back, and with them came an entrepreneurial and community-minded spirit that helped fuel the establishment of the Fontron-Fee Agency; endeavors in real estate; and a life of civic, cultural and philanthropic leadership.

“Both Frank and Bonnie grew up here in Hutchinson, graduated from Hutch High and HCC and were lifelong Hutchinson citizens. So I think it was only natural that they wanted to give back to the community they cared so deeply for,” said Bob Fee, the couple’s nephew.

After returning from KU in the early 1950s, Franklin and brother Jim joined father Frank’s real estate and insurance firm, the Frank Fee Agency. Through a series of mergers, by 1957, it had become a partnership between the three called the Fontron-Fee agency, with a Hutchinson lineage dating back to 1883.

In 1960, Franklin and his partners further cemented their commitment to the community when they ventured into new territory at 30 W. Sherman St. According to a Hutchinson News story at the time, Fontron-Fee’s new 2,150-square-foot building in the heart of Hutchinson resided on ground that had never been developed.

“Old timers recall a small tin shack in the rear for buffalo hides but that was all,” The News story reported.

Meanwhile, Franklin and Bonnie married in 1953 at Trinity United Methodist Church and welcomed children Thomas and Carolyn. They began forging their civic path, one that involved a commitment to youth. Franklin volunteered with the Boy Scouts in various roles for more than 50 years and from 1969 to 1977 served on the Hutchinson USD 308 Board of Education. Bonnie was a Cub Scout den mother, served on the Roosevelt Grade School PTA and was a YouthFriends mentor at Avenue A Grade School. She also volunteered on the Girl Scouts Wheatbelt Council board.

Franklin eventually sold his share of Fontron-Fee, today known as Fee Insurance Group and led by nephews Bob and Allen. He remained active in real estate, presiding over various real estate boards and committees over the years.

Bonnie’s community service, meanwhile, extended to the Reno County American Red Cross and Wesley Towers boards, PEO chapter CM, church and the arts.

Her interest in arts and culture led her to advocate for the Hutchinson Art Association’s drive to renovate the former Jewish Center building at 16th Avenue and Main Street into a permanent art museum.

“‘We have people coming into Hutchinson from surrounding towns to see our Planetarium. An art museum would be an added benefit, an extra cultural attraction to bring them here. We also need a place to assemble art works, and a place for our students to study it,’” she told The News in 1976.

Now known as the Hutchinson Art Center at Fifth Avenue and Washington Street, the gallery showcases contemporary local and regional artists and provides art education and programing to the community.

Franklin passed away Dec. 5, 2019, and Bonnie died April 6, 2020. Bonnie’s obituary described a woman who “practiced daily actions of encouragement, compassion, and empathy towards others, and her purposeful efforts to ease the burdens carried by the people around her, was an inspiration.”

Now those qualities live on in a more than $2 million gift to Hutchinson Community Foundation. The Bonnie and Frank Fee Endowed Fund continues to support the organizations and causes they believed in during their lives, and the unrestricted Frank and Bonnie Fee Fund for Hutchinson helps provide for the ever-changing needs of Reno County.

“Their gift to the unrestricted community fund showed their faith and trust that the Hutchinson Community Foundation would make good use of the funds for future community betterment,” said Jim Gilliland, the couple’s friend and estate attorney. “They appreciated the quality of life in Hutchinson and wanted to help ensure that good things continued after their passing.”