Wilmette, IL – Monika Franzen was an adventurer, feminist, scholar, author, dog friend and the best mother and grandmother her three children and seven grandchildren could have wished for. She was an inspiration. Monika died on June 22, 2018, at age 78 from a sudden illness. We all – children, grandchildren, husband, sister, extended family and deeply connected friends – remember and honor Monika as a unique and powerful spirit brimming with life. Monika was born to a loving family in the midst of war on March 24, 1940, in Kiel, Germany. Her earliest years were spent surviving the conflict and the hunger years that followed. That experience imprinted on her a lifelong dedication to peace over bullets and bombs, and to life over suffering.
Monika always sought freedom and adventure. At just 17, she emigrated to the United States to build a life for herself, following her own dreams. She started in Chicago, which would remain her geographical center for most of her years despite a sojourn in St. Louis and brief stint in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
In her early 50s, she discovered the joy of Montana. Together with her husband, Dr. Laurens Ackerman, they settled on a grassland property in the Bitterroot Valley near Missoula, built a vacation house and then extended it for the many family and friends who visited, and made sure to have high windows looking west from the valley floor to the Bitterroot Mountains. Monika and Laurens became a rare type of “snowbird,” spending summers in the Bitterroot and winters in Wilmette.
Wherever she was based, Monika went out into the world. As a child, she swam in the Rhine and clambered aboard barges. In the St. Louis years, there were overnight canoe and camping trips in the Ozarks. She road tripped as the solo adult with two young children from Wilmette to Yellowstone, sparking her love for the Northern Rockies and the open prairies. Monika was always drawn to water and kayaked in half the world, from Alaska to Costa Rica to Crete. Many times she traveled with children or close family and friends, including to the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, Iceland, Spain, Germany, Denmark, and the Viking settlement remains at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. Sometimes she ventured out with women peers, including floating the Upper Missouri River in Montana. She was healthy and vibrant until the very end, planning trips this summer to Door County, to New Mexico, to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan, and more beyond.
Her life and career were also an adventure. Monika started undergraduate studies at Kendall College in Evanston, Illinois, despite having her first child to look after. She completed her bachelor’s in night school in St. Louis while raising a second child and immediately went into graduate German studies at Washington University, where she completed her Ph.D. in 1979, a year after the birth of her third child. In that space of time she had divorced, moved from St. Louis to Chicago with two children to support, worked and found a lifelong network of friends at the American Medical Association, met and married Laurens, and created a new home in Wilmette while raising a young son. Hitting her stride, she co-authored and published a book on the history of feminism in cartoons (“Make Way!,” 1987), co-owned the business Historical Pictures Service, became a publisher at Chicago Parent magazine, and worked with a women’s shelter helping abuse survivors move to safer quarters. Monika always had a desk. In later years, among favorite pictures on the wall above her desk, she posted this quote: “A ship in the harbor is safe – but that is NOT what ships are built for.”
Monika is survived by her husband, Laurens; children Marcus (Theresa Waldrop) Kabel, Alexandria Kabel, and Dr. Sean (Dr. Elizabeth Zeeck) Ackerman; and grandchildren Lillian Kabel, Michael, Caroline, John, and Katie Kurzydlo, and Amelia and Otis Ackerman; and sister Jutta Jordan.
A Celebration of Life will be held Saturday, July 21, 2018, 2 to 6 p.m. at Mallinckrodt Community Center, 1041 Ridge Road, Wilmette, IL 60091 with a Memorial Program beginning at 3 p.m. Interment is private. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to: Misericordia Home, 6300 North Ridge Avenue, Chicago, IL 60660 or The Nature Conservancy, 32 S. Ewing Street, Suite 215, Helena, MT 59601. Info: www.donnellanfuneral.com or (847) 675-1990.