The Student News Site of Mercer Island High School

The MIHS Islander

The Student News Site of Mercer Island High School

The MIHS Islander

The Student News Site of Mercer Island High School

The MIHS Islander

Fran Call: Always Seeking Adventure

Maddie Gaspers

When many of the parents of Mercer Island High School students were still in junior high, a legend walked their hallways. Fran Call was nearly picked as the female teacher to be on the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, was the leader of a bike trip that made it to the president’s office, Citizen of the Year in 2013, and was a long standing Mercer Island School District teacher. 

Call moved to Mercer Island in 1970 and became a Language Arts and Social Studies teacher at North Mercer Junior High, where Northwood Elementary is now located. 

“I grew up on the East Coast,” Call said. “My dad was in the army so we moved around a whole lot, but mostly East Coast. He retired from the army and then moved out here, and I came with the family and went to Seattle University, so that’s why I’m in Seattle. And I would never leave it.” 

Toward the beginning of her teaching career, the principal of North Mercer asked Call to start a Physical Education class called Outdoor Fitness. 

“I didn’t draw the athletic stars. You know the football players, basketball players, volleyball players, track stars. I drew sort of ordinary kids. And that was the satisfaction for me, because ordinary kids can do extraordinary things if you present them with the opportunity.” Call said. 

Call’s class was one of a kind, incorporating several fitness tasks that were unique to the course.

“We canoed around Mercer Island, we called that the PaddleMates. We walked around the lake as BlisterMates,” Call said. “We hiked around Mount Rainier, which is the Wonderland Trail, [that was] called TrailMates. So we just came up with these sort of unique things to do and the kids jumped at it. They really didn’t like to be in a gym so much and playing these games, they [liked] to be outdoors.”

One of Call’s students spoke on her experience in Outdoor Fitness. For example, she remembers going on a camping trip with limited resources. 

“Every month or so she would have these challenges where you could get extra credit and you were graded on it … One of them, I mean, there were lots of them, but one in particular that I did. I think you were with a friend; you’d have a partner and it was called ‘Survival’ and you had to fit everything you possibly wanted for the night in a Folgers type coffee can and it was small… and then anything you had on your body was all you’d have for warmth and to sleep in. So you slept on the dirt.”

Throughout the course, the students were able to experience unique challenges with a variety of trips, such as biking, running, and camping. Call’s journeys were difficult but stimulating. They pushed students to grow. Before and during her career teaching Outdoor Fitness, Call ran several bike trips for students. This was called CycleMates and was not directly sponsored by the school.

“On weekends I would take kids on bike trips and I would just [ask], ‘anybody have a bike?’ And several did … and we’d ride around Mercer Island or go to Bellevue or Issaquah and almost every weekend I took them on trips,” Call said. 

Call’s first cross-country bike trip took place in the summer of 1970.

“So these kids that had been riding with me [every weekend] could apply to go across country and I chose 15 of them–seven girls and eight boys–and we rode our bikes leaving North Mercer,” Call said. “We rode all the way to New York City and I was the only adult. I was 29 years old then and we rode 3,500 miles across the northern tier of states like from here over to Stevens Pass and Spokane and Glacier Park and North Dakota and Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and then down through New York, to the Hudson River, and New York City. It took almost 2 months, we rode 85 miles a day and about every sixth day or fifth, we’d take a day off and do laundry.”

The students were also on a strict budget. “It’s hard to believe in this day in age, but they lived on $3.50 a day. They had to earn half the money for the trip themselves,” Call said.  

The school year after the trip, Call’s new students wanted to go on another bike trip. The next summer, they rode their bikes to Washington D.C. 

“A lot of times the reporters would show up because of their little weekly newspaper …they needed a story so they would talk to us and interview us,” Call said.

On this second trip across the country, the students met the president.

“We got to see President Nixon, we were invited to the White House,” Call said. “We rode our bikes right up. President Nixon came out of his Oval Office and we got to go in and that was a big thrill.”

The third CycleMates trip was the longest one, they went to Canada.

“CycleMates three, that’s 1972, we rode our bikes up over Stevens Pass in the north into Banff and Calgary, and went across the Canadian provinces all the way to Halifax, Nova Scotia,” Call said. “That trip was 4,600 miles and still 15 kids.”

The fourth trip took the students to Williamsburg, Virginia, where they celebrated the Bicentennial, the 200th anniversary of our country–1776 to 1976. 

“The same routine we kept.” Call said. “We’d eat at grocery stores, I did too… they had to maintain their bikes so that we didn’t have problems … so you know, you [had] to be responsible to take care of your own equipment.”

After this fourth trip across the country, Call didn’t do cross country trips anymore. But there were 23 summers where she took students around Washington, to California and to Canada. In the middle of downtown Mercer Island right behind the Starbucks drive through, Fran Call’s bike is bronzed, sitting on a hill. The plaque contains several street signs, each naming many of the locations she visited during her cross-country CyclesMates trips.

In 1986, Call was one of the 11,000 female teachers who applied for a position on the Space Shuttle Challenger. She finished in 11th place and was fortunate to have not been chosen due to the Challenger’s explosion after being launched, which killed all seven crew members. 

After Call retired in 1993, she started a program of around 50 seniors which she calls SoleMates. She still runs it now, for they go on walks every Wednesday. She also takes them on hikes every Thursday, which she calls TrailMates.

Ultimately, Fran Call is an icon of Mercer Island who has strongly impacted her students and community by exposing them to the beauty of exploration and the ability to push oneself to work harder. 

“Throughout my life in all the places I’ve traveled and different hiking I’ve done and biking and running I have her voice in my head a little bit, you know, sometimes.” Call’s previous student said. “She sort of exposed me to working harder, and maybe seeking adventure. She’s just somebody I remember very clearly. I don’t remember all my teachers very much, but I remember her.”

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About the Contributor
Maddie Gaspers
Maddie Gaspers, Photography Editor
Maddie Gaspers (she/her) is a junior at MIHS and is the photography editor for The Islander. She enjoys reading, listening to music and taking photos in her free time. Outside of school, she plays tennis and loves hanging out with her friends.

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    Allen J DoepelFeb 26, 2024 at 10:09 pm

    She is what mentors are made of!