Low-key hero honored by her ‘village’

When longtime childcare provider Frankie Jean Torrence walked into the U of M Research Engagement Community Outreach Center (UROC) in North Minneapolis on Saturday morning she had no idea that she would walk into a surprise party, as family, friends, and community members gathered to celebrate her as a vital part of their village.

In a friendly, almost grumbling tone, a surprised and smiling Torrence admonished, “ I don’t like it one bit! They know I don’t like surprises, and I’m not the kind of person that has to have gifts or be ceremoniously honored. I’ve been low-key all my life.”

Nevertheless, this was all done to say thank you to a woman who, as many at the event explained, has been supportive to so many over the years. “Look at all these people coming in here. This is ridiculous!” expressed a humbled Torrence.

Not one to discuss her age, Torrence was born in Camden, Ark., and raised in Minnesota. She has been providing care in one way or another for five decades.

Marlene Whitaker, related to Torrence through marriage—her brother is married to Torrence’s sister—spoke highly of her. “Frankie is always there with an open door and a smile, whether it’s to help with kids or just have someone to talk to. 

‘We just wanted to let her know how much she is appreciated. She has watched all of our children. She’s just a loving soul.” Whitaker said.

Marlene’s brother Dewayne Whitaker also weighed in. “I wanted to come out and show gratitude to Frankie. As the saying goes, a child is not simply raised by the family he or she is born into, but it takes a village, and she was a large part of our village,” he explained.

Candace Whitaker added, “She is a very kind and giving person. She has given to the community, family and friends for more than 40 years, She was raised on the North Side and still lives here.”

But perhaps the greatest praise came from Troy McCoy. Torrence provided care for him and his brothers. McCoy, now 47, said he has been connected to Torrence since he was six years old. “Me and my brothers, Tony and Tyrone, practically grew up in her house until we were like eight or nine years old. We spent many nights and days under her watchful direction. She is part of what is called ‘the village’.

“I remember watching TV shows with her from ‘Sesame Street’ to kung fu movies, ‘Planet of the Apes,’” McCoy continued. “Her playroom was in the basement where all the toys were. It was a little chilly sometimes, but I have great memories of playing at her house, and of her cooking a lot of good food. 

She is family, McCoy affectionately recalled. While he was in her care, she was also very protective. “We were always safe and never worried about anything. She even taught me how to ride the city bus, and I wasn’t afraid because I knew how to act and where to sit.

“If she had a doctor’s appointment, she took us with her. She was so considerate and protective of everyone in her circle. To us she wasn’t just a childcare person per se, but more so a neighbor who cared.”

Although Torrence said she was not a big fan of this surprise celebration, her warm smile and interaction with the many family members and friends told a different story. And, in her words, she is a low-key person never seeking the limelight, a trait of many unsung heroes in our communities.

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