LITTLE CURRENT—Way back in 1997, The Expositor was pleased to introduce Manitoulin Island to “its 1997 Wedding Planner couple. In those days, each spring, as summer wedding bells were getting set to chime this paper would recruit a couple to help highlight all of the local businesses that, together, could fully serve a couple on their most special day. Brenda Manitowabi, daughter of Doris and Daniel Manitowabi of Wiikwemkoong, and Kerry Francis, son of Kenneth Francis and the late Rita Francis of Little Current, were the chosen couple who agreed to take up the mantle.
It was with some delight and certainly fitting that, nearly 25 years later The Expositor was once again able to recruit these “lovely young people.” This time to be The Expositor’s 2022 Valentine’s Day couple.
First introduced to each other by a mutual friend at a conference in Sault Ste. Marie in the late summer of 1994, they were engaged in June of 1996 and married at Holy Cross Mission in Wiikwemkoong, reception following at what was then the Little Current Howland Recreation Centre.
“It was exciting,” recalled Ms. Francis of being selected as the Wedding Planner couple. Featured in the annual Wedding Planner supplement, the couple good-naturedly posed for numerous photographs to be featured in several Island businesses whose products and services were just what the couple ordered for a successful wedding day celebration.
The couple would go on to raise two daughters, Emily (23) and Kali (16).
The then Ms. Manitowabi was employed as executive assistant to the director at a still-nascent Kenjgewin Teg in M’Chigeeng (still known as West Bay at the time) and Mr. Francis had taken up the position of co-ordinator of community support services at an also recently emerged Kina Gbezhgomi Child and Family Services in Wiikwemkoong. Both have since gone on to great success in their chosen fields; the now Ms. Francis climbing the corporate ladder at Kenjgewin Teg where she is now the director of human resources and Mr. Francis making a series of similar though lateral moves to the top of his field, now CEO of Nogdawindamin Family and Community Services, serving seven First Nation communities with some 400 employees.
“I left Kenjgewin Teg briefly, for a couple of years, when we moved to Thunder Bay where we had Emily,” recalled Ms. Francis. “But we were both really happy to be able to return to Manitoulin to raise our family.”
“It was really important to us to be able to raise our children with all of their family close by,” said Mr. Francis. “I have a very large family and we wanted them all to get to know their grandparents, their aunties and uncles, their cousins.” Also of increasing importance over the years was the ability to nurture their children in their Anishinaabe culture.
Family is critically important to the Francis couple and engaging with family, at Mr. Francis’ brother’s camp in Birch Island or Ms. Francis’ family camp in Wiikwemkoong. “We spend a lot of time at Birch Island,” said Ms. Francis. “With our jobs, downtime is very important.”
“Our jobs can be mutually exhausting,” agreed Mr. Francis, “so it is really important to keep that balance.”
Keeping balance has been one of the key elements in the Francis’s successful marriage. So, downtime has been almost exclusively family time.
“It was only two years ago that we actually took our first ‘adult’ trip,” laughed Ms. Francis. “We went to Las Vegas. One of our friends was having a 50th birthday party and we went with a group of friends. It was the first time we went with just the two of us.”
“Kerry’s work kept him on the road a lot,” said Ms. Francis. “We are both early birds; we are up around 5:30 in the morning, so that is our ‘together time.’ That’s when we visit with each other.”
“I think that what we got better at, as we got older, was finding that balance in personal life and professional life,” said Mr. Francis.
As to the things that have sustained their marriage and love over the past quarter century, the couple was in strong agreement.
“We have a really small social circle,” said Ms. Francis, “but that circle is very supportive—they lift us in spirit and in mind.”
“I have to echo Brenda’s words,” said Mr. Francis. “I have come to concentrate a lot on my culture and especially the Seven Grandfather teachings. It is so important in a relationship and if you follow those teachings, you can never go wrong.”
Those teachings of wisdom, love, respect, honesty, bravery, humility and truth transcend the borders between any culture to stand foundational in any marriage. “We have tried to transfer those teachings to our kids,” said Mr. Francis. “I didn’t have that when I was young, but as a married couple, we want to make sure that our children have those foundations to build their own lives upon.”
The Expositor’s conversation with Mr. and Ms. Francis highlighted another key element that has likely helped to cement their lives together. From beginning to end, the conversation was filled with laughter and good humour—and those too provide great foundations for a happy and romantic relationship. Cupid’s arrow truly found its mark in the union of Brenda and Kerry Francis, this year’s Expositor Valentine’s Day couple.