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Honoring a mother's legacy is becoming a community-wide effort

Posted at 4:51 PM, May 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-09 16:51:56-04

Mothers’ Day is here and for one East Lansing family, honoring their late mother is becoming a community-wide effort to keep her legacy alive.

Frances Kaneene with her family

Frances Nambi Kaneene is survived by her husband and three children, and the community of students and educators at Michigan State University.

“She was a person who liked to bring together communities,” her son Tibita Kaneene said.

She was a person who liked to bring together communities

“Though she had three kids by blood, she was a mother to so many others,” her daughter Tessa Kaneene said.

“We refer to like all the students as Frances's babies. I mean, she remembers every single one of them,” longtime colleague and friend, Kim Chung said.

“When you were in front of her, you were the center of the world,” her honorary son Jackson Kaguri said.

Frances Kaneene

Frances Kaneene spent 30 years as an academic advisor at MSU. She's remembered by many of her former students as "mama."

While Kaneene battled cancer, she recorded a video so all of her children would always have pieces of their mama with them.

Accept your competence. Be confident and just feel good about what you're doing

“Be wise, I want you to continue learning. Read, be progressive. So that you know that's a Be proud. Be proud, I want you to be proud. That means accept your achievements. Okay? Accept your competence. Be confident and just feel good about what you're doing,” Kaneene said.

Frances Kaneene filming legacy video for her family

In her role as an academic adviser, she made it clear that she wanted to push her students to explore the world and grow as people as well as academics, according to those that worked with her.

“She was just so incredibly supportive of everybody made them feel a bit better,” her former colleague and longtime friend John Kerr said.

This Mother’s Day, her family will celebrate the first holiday without Frances in attendance but those who love her say they know she’ll still be there.

As Mother's Day comes, we wish all the best and a good rest for Mama

“As Mother's Day comes, we wish all the best and a good rest for Mama. And may we all aspire and try to do a little of what mama did for all of us,” Kaguri said.

Just before her passing, Michigan State University created the Frances Kaneene Study Abroad Scholarship in her honor. Kaneene’s longtime colleagues and friends Kim Chung and John Kerr were the co-creators of the fund that they hope will build in perpetuity to help Kaneene’s legacy continue forever.

Study abroad trip with Kaneene

“Frances was such a big believer in the possibility of experience abroad, transforming your life. And, that's really what we're hoping will come out of this scholarship that a student who wouldn't have had the chance otherwise will get to go do something that is just mind-expanding, and life-changing,” Kerr said.

Since the announcement, 300 donors have given almost $200,000 to help keep Frances’ legacy going. Donations are still being accepted and special community events are being held to raise money for the scholarship.

“Three hundred donors added up to a very large amount, and 301 will be even better,” Kerr said.

Frances Kaneene running with her daughter Tessa.

When she was first diagnosed with cancer in 2011, she joined the Playmakers Running Team and raced for years before she passed.

The Kaneene family and MSU will host the first annual “Frances 5k Walk/Run” on her heavenly birthday, Sep. 12 to combine all of her passions in one event: community, running, and creating opportunities for others.

The event will have an in-person, as well as virtual, 5K walk/run event in the morning followed by performances from the MSU band, drumline, and local artists. The Kaneene family says the day is meant to capture all the food, music, and activities their mother loved. All proceeds will go towards the scholarship fund.

I think it will help a lot of people heal

“I think it will help a lot of people heal and remember that the work that she did while she was alive, still exists and still lives in all of us, and will continue to reverberate in future generations,” Tibita Kaneene said.

To get involved with the Frances 5k or donate to the scholarship you can head over to the race website.

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