By Brian Hitsky
Some people are born to help others, it’s in their soul, a part of their being.
Cuenca resident Franny Hogg Lochow is one of those individuals, who finds time between writing books and mentoring other writers, to give back to the community through pro-active fundraising, organizing events, producing art projects in support of various causes, and generally being a counselor and friend to those less fortunate.
She recalls when she was growing up her prowess was toward collecting money for causes. “At 11 years old, I put on a back-yard carnival that made $23 for cystic fibrosis. At 17, I organized a concert for Bangladesh that raised $127. I was hooked.”
Franny started the “Dally in the Alley,” an inner-city Detroit art and music street fair that is still thriving after 30 years. “I’ve found I’ve always liked to figure out ways to use my skills as a writer, an artist and an organizer to help others,” she said.
After graduating from law school at Wayne State University in Detroit, Franny began working as a legal aid lawyer, eventually as managing attorney of free legal aid clinics for Wayne County Neighborhood Legal Services, and Lakeshore Legal Services. She practiced mostly consumer law, protecting the poor and elderly. Though she loved her work and loved Detroit, after 22 years Franny started to receive warning signs that her life needed to change. “My job was being closed out. My foster children were able to return to their mother, one of my housemates died and the other was going to move away,” she said. “When my house caught on fire, I figured it might be time to leave Detroit.”
But to go where?
Around that time, she was invited to a wedding in New York City. She had remained in close touch for 18 years with a friend, Robert Lochow, and the two went together to the ceremony. After the event, Robert said out of the blue, “You know what, we ought to get married!” It was something she had never even contemplated, but it made sense. Franny moved to Beacon, New York, bout 60 miles north of New York City, and she and Robert were married the next year. “It was the smartest thing I ever did,” she said.
After transferring her law license from Michigan to New York, Franny began looking for work, but wasn’t able to find a long-term legal job. Instead, she devoted herself to volunteering, working for various animal shelters, working with literacy groups to help adults to read and assisting the musician and social activist, Pete Seeger, with fundraising events for his environmental group, Riverkeepers.
“Pete held environmental fairs on the Hudson River every summer where I painted kids’ faces and pumpkins. I admired Pete very much and I want to be like him. I try to be the supporter, not the star,” she said.
In 2012, Robert’s work was taken over by a new management group, which forced the couple to confront retirement and living elsewhere. They considered Mexico, Turkey and Ecuador. “Ecuador won and Cuenca won so we decided to move here,” Franny said.
“It was like standing at the door when you leave high school or college,” she recalled. “You get to decide what you want to do with your life.” Robert wanted to read his books, so he packed 6,000 of his collection of 10,000 books and brought them to Cuenca. Franny wanted to do what she always had done — help people and write.
She began to look for volunteer opportunities in Cuenca and found CETAP-Lucy, a support program in a rural suburb that works to improve educational opportunities for disadvantaged and learning-disabled children. “I became a volunteer teacher and began helping with reports and fundraising,” she said. Franny is proudest of her projects to renovate the program’s building, including painting murals and obtaining an emergency water-supply system, and helping locate a donor to build “Casita de Chloe,” an office for the program’s child and family psychologist.
Rocio Illescas, Director of CETAP-Lucy, says, “Franny is a pillar of CETAP-Lucy, the one who connects children and families with sponsors. She also develops art projects and provides the supplies for the children to make items to sell in the ferias in order to raise money. She is so familiar around CETAP-Lucy that all the parents know her. In addition, she and Robert sponsor a child.
“She is the coordinator of the summer school program and organizes projects. She is my support because she helps me writing the profiles and reports on the children for the sponsorship program,” Illescas added.
Franny is also a key volunteer with Hearts of Gold, the Cuenca foundation that assists other non-profit organizations to sustain themselves as well as provide financial and educational assistance to Ecuadorian women and children.
“Franny has been incredibly supportive of our team and hands on always in connecting our work with children of our partner foundations,” said Colleen Eschenburg, development director of Hearts of Gold. “She has been a primary volunteer with CETAP-Lucy and helped establish and sustain their child sponsorship program. With her incredible crafting talents, she also leads the decorations committee for our galas! She’s an impressive woman, no doubt about it.”
When not involved with foundations, Franny is a leader in the city’s writing community. She is the founder of the Cuenca Writers Collective and the Cuenca International Writers Conference, and produces the Spoken Word, where writers perform their works. She also moderates a weekly writers’ critique group.
Franny has written a mystery series that takes place in Detroit, as well as What’s Cookin’, Cuenca? A gringo guide to buying and preparing food in Ecuador.
“About 10 years ago I submitted a horror story to a magazine, The Dark Moon Digest. Apparently, they liked it because they offered me an editorship,” she said. “Horror wasn’t a genre I was crazy about, but I realized I could write better scary stories than the ones I was editing.” Last October she celebrated the launch of the first two volumes of her disturbing stories series, Poisonous Morsels.
Franny has been in Cuenca for nearly seven years. Having married late in her life, Franny and Robert don’t have their own children, but they have developed a family here. “People open their arms to us to invite us to join in their celebrations of first communion, marriage, birth and even death. I love children and I have dozens of wonderful, funny grandchildren now! We are so fortunate to have found our Ecuadorian family. They show us their love and acceptance at every moment,” Franny said.
It’s no mystery, even for a mystery writer. When you give so much of yourself as Franny does, there’s reciprocal love that is boundless.