James Addison “Jim” DeFrance III, 92, of Frankford, Del., died Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, while listening to the Cardinals sing and holding his daughter’s hand.
He was the last male of the “James” line of the DeFrance family. His ancestor fled the family estate in France, seeking freedom from Huguenot religious persecution, coming to America in the early 1700s and settling in Pennsylvania. Generations of DeFrances were educators and farmers, and he continued the tradition of doing both.
DeFrance was a Depression baby, born on May 12, 1929, in Oil City, Pennsylvania. His father was superintendent of area schools and simultaneously managed a working 400-acre cattle farm. His mother taught history and cooked acres of food for farm workers. Times were tough, but some of his fondest memories were his farm, caring for animals, swapping stories with his cousins, and relaxing on the porch listening to the owls after a hard day’s work. Selling this farm later in life was one of his few regrets.
It was on his farm that DeFrance developed his love of nature and his keen sense of observation. Birdwatching became a lifelong passion and he developed an extraordinary ability to identify and imitate any bird song so effectively that the birds would sing back. Throughout his life, he traveled throughout the United States and abroad to view birds and other wildlife.
After graduating from Oil City High School, DeFrance earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from Grove City College in Pennsylvania. Soon after, he was drafted into the US Air Force, serving in the Strategic Air Command, Airman First Class, from 1951 to 1955, as an X-ray technician with the doctors. While stationed in Tucson, Arizona, he spent a lot of time pulling cactus needles out of Airmen’s poorly executed parachute practices. He was also proud to have been part of his home base’s winning bowling team, the ‘Needle-pushers’, and was delighted to be in London the week before Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation.
After service, he taught biology at Hampton High School in Alison Park, Pennsylvania for 10 years. He also worked summers as an X-ray technician at Oil City Hospital, where he met his brown-eyed daughter and married her in June 1959. The following year, they created a daughter, before moving to Greenville, Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Jo, were active members of The United Methodist Church, both sang in the choir and shared a mutual love for extended camping vacations all over the United States. He also loved ice fishing on Lake Erie.
DeFrance received the second Master of Education degree ever awarded at Thiel College, Pennsylvania, for attending the National Science Foundation Summer Sessions at Thiel and the University of Rhode Island. He was the head of the biology department at Greenville High School, where he also served as assistant athletic director, and sponsored other student activities, such as the chess club. He enjoyed teaching and joking with his “children”. He also liked to keep track of his students after high school. Many have stayed in touch with him over the years, much to his delight.
In 1987 he received the dedication from the GHS yearbook and was deeply touched by both the honor and the inscription: “An effective teacher is one who is respected, but well loved. He can teach his students while being able to identify with them and care about them. It takes a very special, well-rounded person. [DeFrance’s] many students over the 30 years he has taught biology and advanced biology have appreciated his unique qualities. Not only does he care about his students and their learning, but Mr. DeFrance also has a terrific sense of humor. Her classes are filled with enjoyable learning that prepares students for further education and, more importantly, to think for themselves. For the past four years, Mr. DeFrance has held the position of assistant athletic director. This work includes planning seventh and eighth grade sporting events and participating in and leading half of the college events. This is just one way for him to show how much he loves and wants to help students. On behalf of the student body, we would like to thank Mr. DeFrance for being such an exceptional and wonderful teacher.
The yearbook signing was a bright light, as were all of his Romeo Club encounters over the years.
DeFrance retired to the Bethany Beach, Del., Area, where he was close to his sister and extended family. He lived at the intersection of North America’s main bird flyway, the best fishing and the best crabcakes in the country.
At his 80th birthday party, he said his greatest achievement was his family. “We miss him terribly and remember him as a kind man who gave others everything he could; a gentle man with a wicked sense of humor and an easy laugh; a man who stood up for his constituents no matter what it cost him; a man who always puts others before himself; a man of strong faith; a man who beat cancer and faced Alzheimer’s disease with the determination to enjoy life on his terms, and the best friend a girl could have.
He finds his wife, Jo Ann Allen DeFrance, his parents, James A. DeFrance Jr. and Bertha Simpson DeFrance, and his little twin brother, whom he will meet for the first time. He is survived by his daughter, Margot DeFrance; his sister, Lorraine DeFrance Logan; and many beloved cousins, nieces, great-nieces, great-nephews and friends.
A memorial service was scheduled for Friday, May 13, 2022 at Bethel United Methodist Church in Mariner, Ocean View, Del. His family has requested that, in lieu of flowers, donations in his honor be made to the Caesar Rodney Institute (due to his fears that the massive offshore wind farm will cause severe damage to migrating birds and sea life), and the MERR Institute (which saves local marine life). The Caesar Rodney Institute has created a landing page in his memory – https://www.paypal.com/donate/?hosted_button_id=WJXC2523BYJKJ. Donations to the MERR Institute can be made through the PayPal system at www.merrinstitute.org and then by emailing [email protected] indicating that the donation was made in memory of DeFrance . Details and online condolences can be shared at www.melsonfuneralservices.com.