Committed to local history
Any time an old person dies, it's like a library burning down.
"We just had our library burn down," says Rick Steber, a Prineville author and friend of Frances Juris.
Juris passed away Sunday at age 100.
According to her niece, she died of complications from influenza.
Steber says it was Juris' outgoing personality and knowledge of local history that made her so well-known in Crook County.
"Anytime you had a question about local history, she knew it, and so that's a resource that's gone, and all we have is what she wrote down," he said.
Juris was one of the founding members of the Crook County Historical Society.
"She's now best known for being the matriarch of our historical society," said Bowman Museum Director Gordon Gillespie, noting that she also authored several books about local history. "But most people won't remember that she was the city recorder for quite a few years."
Carl Frances Coons Juris was born June 5, 1917, in Sugarland, Texas, the eldest daughter of Charles F. and Edna (Reames) Coons. In 1925, the family, which by then included twin daughters, moved from Louisiana to Pine Ridge, Oregon, where her father took a job as office manager of Forest Lumber Company. The sawmill town was just north of Chiloquin in Klamath County.
By 1940, she had married Larry Juris and moved to Prineville, where her father had gotten a job at the new Ochoco Lumber Company. The mill needed a bookkeeper, and Juris became the first woman to work for the company.
After eight years there, she and Larry adopted a son, Jeff, and she quit working to be a full-time mother, fulfilling the adoption agency's wishes.
But by April of 1951, Ochoco Lumber's office manager Stuart Shelk, whom she had worked for, asked her to lend a hand at Prineville City Hall. Shelk, a city councilor and finance chairman at the time, knew Juris could help fill in for the previous city recorder, who had left abruptly.
From 1951 to 1969, Juris was the city recorder and treasurer, overseeing many changes within the city.
"At that time, there was no actual city manager," Gillespie said. "It was just run by the city council and the city recorder. So, she basically ran the city for quite a few years, and I think had quite an influence on the development of the city."
Juris was responsible for elections, legal papers, bond measures and city records. She was secretary of both the planning and railway commissions and was matron and dispatcher for the police department. Juris was also the bookkeeper and dealt with the public.
She and Larry divorced in 1958, and after retiring from the city in 1969, she returned to Ochoco Lumber Company, wrote articles, and worked as a self-employed income tax consultant and bookkeeper, finally retiring in 1991.
Juris helped found the Crook County Historical Society 50 years ago and was a member of the Crook County Genealogical Society, Soroptimist International Club, Scribblers Writing Club, and Pioneer Memorial Hospital Auxiliary.
Having suffered from macular degeneration since the early 1980s, she was nearly blind, but it didn't keep her from writing her autobiography in 2016 at age 99.
Gillespie fondly recalls meeting Juris in 1992 when he first started working part-time on Saturdays at the museum.
"Not more than a second or third Saturday, she came in to visit with me, and we had a good long talk, and then she just asked if it would be alright if she dropped in on Saturdays and just hung out with me," he said.
Over several Saturdays and several months, Juris shared Crook County's history with Gillespie.
"It was like a sped-up education program on the local history, having her around," he said. "We were still calling her a couple of times a week to ask her history questions, both myself and Steve (Lent) and other members of the staff, right up until even just a few weeks ago. I'm going to miss the encyclopedic memory she has of the local history, and I'm going to miss her a lot as a friend."
Even a few weeks ago, when Gillespie visited her, where she was bedridden in her apartment, she asked him about his family.
"The wonderful thing about Frances, she was so knowledgeable and yet when you would sit with her, talk to her, she seemed really interested in you as a person," he said.
Steber, who grew up in the Klamath Basin where Juris had lived, said it feels like he's known her forever. He enjoyed visiting with her, reading to her and spending time with her.
But a couple of weeks ago when he last visited Juris, she was starting to get sick with the flu.
"She wasn't really able to do much," Steber said. "She was tired."
He said she had really wanted to make it to 100 years old, and she did last June.
"One of the bright local candles went out," Steber said. "I knew that it was coming, and I knew that it was going to happen, but still, when it does, it hurts."