CADILLAC — Fran Wallbank has lived in various communities throughout the Midwest. But when she found herself in a position to choose the place where she'd make her life, she chose Cadillac.
Now, as the "face" of the city of Cadillac prepares to retire, she's still choosing Cadillac.
"I think staying in northern Michigan is just fine," Frances "Fran" Wallbank told the Cadillac New of her future plans.
Wallbank was born in Minnesota and spent some of her childhood in Superior. Later, her family moved to Omaha, Nebraska and then Council Bluffs, Iowa, where she graduated.
She briefly lived in Cadillac with her ex-husband; they moved to Mount Clemens, and when they split up, Wallbank returned to Cadillac after a brief stint in Indianapolis.
She'd formed lasting friendships in Cadillac and it was some of her friends from the First Baptist Church who drove south to Indianapolis to bring Wallbank and her daughters home to northern Michigan.
Shortly thereafter, Wallbank started working for the city and hasn't looked back.
She started as a payroll clerk in March of 1993 and later became a cashier, a job she's held for more than 20 years. Her job as cashier makes Wallbank's face one of the ones you're most likely to see if you come into city hall to conduct business.
"It's been a real good fit for me because I've loved the people," Wallbank said of her role as the cashier.
But she didn't know in 1993 that she'd stay in city hall as long as she has.
She remembers when she was first interviewing and then-city manager Pete Stalker asked her how long she planned on staying in the job.
"I thought, you know, 'Well, maybe five years?'" Wallbank recalled. "But it was much longer. It's been wonderful for me to be here."
"I've always liked it here," Wallbank said. And by the time her daughters graduated from high school, "it was home."
In the nearly 28-years Wallbank has worked for the city, things have changed.
"It's become a little more casual," Wallbank observed. "We have a jeans day. Friday is jeans day. We never would have done that in the past. It's okay. It was nice that way and it's nice this way."
Other things have been changing, too. Even before COVID-19, more people have been paying their bills online instead of coming into city hall to do it in person.
"I kind of missed that. I missed the bustling office space," Wallbank said.
Though Wallbank has nothing but kind words about her coworkers and the community members who became regulars, her most precious memory from her work at city hall is meeting her husband, Peter Wallbank.
"He is from Toledo, Ohio and worked for a company that did their business in small towns. Peter came into City Hall in 1995 (I think) to get a business license. I was at the front counter. We chatted. Later he asked if I wanted to go to Hermann's for dinner some night. And that’s how we met," Fran recalled via email. "That is probably the sweetest story I have to tell about City Hall."
The pair married in 1996.
Wallbank's last day on the job will be March 22; she'll turn 71 in early May.
"I was hired in March. So I decided to keep it clean," she said.