Obituary of Francis L. Abel
Francis Leo Abel, 93, West Branch
Francis Leo Abel, 93, passed away peacefully on Friday, February 3, 2023, at Crestview Specialty Care in West Branch, Iowa, with his children by his bedside.
Visitation is Wednesday, February 8, 2023, 5–8 p.m., at Henderson Barker Funeral Home in West Branch. The funeral mass is Thursday, February 9, 2023, at 10 a.m. at St. Bernadette’s Catholic Church in West Branch, followed by burial at St. Bridget’s Cemetery in Nolan Settlement in rural Solon. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to Future Farmers of America (FFA) or Goodwill Industries, in memory of Francis L. Abel.
Francis was born on August 10, 1929, son of Jesse P. Abel and Gertrude M. (Beckman) Abel, on the family farm near Mediapolis, Iowa. His great grandfather Theodore Beckman was a prominent early pioneer and agriculturist near Burlington, Iowa, who bought his first farm with money he earned mining in the California Gold Rush—a fact Francis loved to share.
Francis graduated from Sperry High School, near Mediapolis. After attending junior college for two years, he graduated in 1952 from Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, with a degree in agriculture education.
He was then drafted into the army and stationed near Verdun, France, where he was assigned as a surveyor to document the lasting impact of WWI trench warfare on the surrounding landscape. This was one of the highlights of his life and was featured in a memoir he wrote in recent years.
Immediately after leaving the service in 1954, he began his 38-year career as a teacher at West Branch High School, teaching primarily vocational agriculture. He was proud to teach generations of students in the old “Ag Building” north of the football field. Many of those students became local farmers and dozens of former students have remarked that he was their favorite teacher and they learned so much from him. Groups of students over the years dubbed themselves “Frank Boys,” carving “Frank” in the desks and even painting it on the old water tower. He never learned to type, so all his tests and class handouts were handwritten.
Francis was very involved in the West Branch community throughout his life, especially with the FFA, serving as advisor to the local chapter all during his teaching years. He believed in the importance of lifelong learning and was president of the West Branch Public Library for years. He also coordinated local adult education classes in the early 1970s.
He contributed to Cedar County activities too. He worked as a county surveyor and performed as a 4-H judge at the county fair. He also ran the area corn contests and conducted soil tests for the Iowa State extension service in the county during his career.
Soon after he began teaching, Francis married a young nurse, Regina (Jean) Mary Cahill of West Branch, on October 8, 1957. They built a house in West Branch where they raised their family and lived nearly all their lives.
Francis enjoyed tending his large garden in the backyard, where he grew tomatoes, strawberries, blackberries, lettuce, radishes, and (his favorite) rhubarb.
Other hobbies Francis enjoyed included reading, watching college and professional sports, fishing, golfing, playing Hearts, napping, and chatting with anyone and everyone on a wide range of topics.
He had a deep and abiding love of history, especially Lincoln and the Civil War as well as WWII. He also loved researching his genealogy and local history. He spearheaded the 2001 publication of West Branch: The First 150 Years, writing a section on early Iowa in the book, which won the state regional history award that year.
Francis was an avid photographer too, focusing mainly on his family. He filmed super-8 movies and took hundreds of pictures, many with his trusty Zeiss Ikon 35-mm camera, bought during his army days in Europe. His slide shows are legendary in the family, as is a 10-DVD set of family movies and photos.
In his retirement, Francis cherished time spent with his grandchildren, including going to West Branch school sporting events in which they participated. He was also a member of the notorious local retired men’s coffee club Citizens Against Virtually Everything (CAVE). In reality, Francis followed the news and was exceptionally civic-minded; he was for anything that justly served the people of his world, country, state, county, and town.
Francis is survived by his five children: Kim (Dan) Salm of Iowa City, Lisa (William Wallace) of Coralville, Tom Abel of West Branch, Chris Abel of West Branch, and Andrea (John) Walsh of West Branch; five grandchildren: Lauren (Drew) Rasmussen, Kyla Salm, Ben and Zach Thompson, and Will Tidrick; and by his brother Raymond, married to his wife’s sister, Patricia, of Burlington, Iowa.
Francis was preceded in death by his parents, three siblings—Paul and Harold Abel and Loretta Stevenson (ne Abel)—and his wife, Jean.