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Fran Houle leaving area, says it ‘breaks her heart’

by Linda Hiller

“What is this thing called love, this funny thing called love? Just who can solve its mystery, and why should it make a fool of me?” songwriter Cole Porter wrote, and Frank Sinatra crooned, more than 40 years ago.

After six divorces, that must have been a question Fran Houle asked herself sometime during 1982, the year of her sixth divorce, this time from house painter Andre Houle.

How could someone who had been married and divorced six times know about love and relationships and all the things we associate with Valentine’s Day?

“With Andre, I figured I’d finally gotten it right. I really thought that was it,” she said. “It broke my heart to divorce him.”

Houle and her sixth husband did end up going through some challenging periods, but – to tell you the ending to the story right up front – there is a happy ending

– Hello, I must be going. After nine years of living in the Carson Valley, the Houle will be relocating to New Mexico next month.

Houle’s stepfather of 53 years, Samuel Dazzo, her only “Dad” since she was very young, died in November and her mother, Francis, 93, confined to a wheelchair and still living alone in Albuquerque. Her family is the force that has compelled her to move out of Nevada.

“After losing my dad, I decided I didn’t want to ever look back and say I had shirked the opportunity to be there for my mother,” Houle said.

– Southwestern beginnings. Born June 4, 1937, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the youngest of four children, Houle attended private Catholic school.

Houle’s grandfather, Boleslo Romero was the first state senator in the first senate formed in New Mexico.

After graduating from her Catholic high school, she and a girlfriend went to San Diego to “get out,” finding work there and also an enticing article in Life Magazine.

“The article was ‘Oil in Wyoming,’ and it was about all the single men in Casper, so we decided to go there,” she said.

The friend didn’t stay in Casper long, but Fran eventually got married and had her first child, Gregory Curtis Cooper.

– To Nevada. The family of three found their way to Las Vegas in 1960 and divorce followed. Needing employment, Fran worked her way into the casino industry starting as a change girl at the Showboat Hotel and Casino off the strip.

A few husbands later and many rungs up the casino ladder, Fran became the first female craps “boxman” at the Aladdin on the strip and a cushy job in the side cage at the Sahara, also on the strip.

“I met the neatest people in Las Vegas – Rowan and Martin, Jerry Lewis, Buddy Hackett and I just loved Don Rickles,” she said.

One person she met there, after a 1975 fire in her residence requiring repairs and painting, was a painting contractor named Andre Houle.

Little did she know he would be the love of her life for more than 20 years (and counting). Little did she know they’d ultimately divorce and remarry.

Andre just happened to have a connection to Lake Tahoe and had planned to move there. He told Fran she might like it, too.

“At that time I was ready for a change,” she said. “I thought, ‘What the heck, my kids are raised … why not?’ Besides, I decided I wanted to be around a tree before I died.”

So, in 1977, they both moved to South Lake Tahoe and in 1978, Andre became Fran’s sixth husband. He’d been married, too, had four grown children and in addition to Fran’s son Curt, she had the company of two stepsons.

Fran had no trouble getting a job at the Sahara Tahoe Casino, and was eventually offered a job at the newly-formed Nevada Banking Co. in Tahoe.

In 1990, she came to work at the Carson Valley branch as a manager, and here she found a place that would both change her life for the better and also bring her tremendous sorrow.

n There goes number six. After four years of marriage, Fran and Andre divorced. He, being the “old world French Canadian” that he was, and she, being an independent woman, couldn’t find a middle ground.

“I hated to divorce Andre, but I had to. He wanted me to be a certain ‘old world’ type of wife, but he couldn’t have pickled someone more further from that possibility. I’m not good at rules,” she said. “I’m one of those birds that needs to fly. I’m tremendously loyal, though, and I’ll always come home.”

Still friends after the divorce, Andre wound up renting a room in Fran’s duplex at South Lake Tahoe. Son Curt lived there, too.

As the family lived together, although there were no marriage papers, there was a bond. They found their eventual happiness knowing that the other was there, waiting at home. It was so simple. And, in the end, that was everything.

Perhaps it was then that Fran found what she’d been missing all the other times she’d said “I do.”

“He was always there for me. And, over the years it dawned on him that I meant what I said about always coming home to him,” she said. “My world was very social, and it was always hard for Andre to share me, but he finally was able to accept it and believe it, because I did, I always came home to him at night.”

One day in 1992, Andre said to Fran, “I know I’m going to be with you for the rest of my life. What do you think, should we get married again?”

“I told him, ‘I might as well marry you, you’re still my husband.'” she said. “I had told myself this was my last chance. I won’t get married again.”

So on August 10, 1992, at the age of 57, Fran Houle took a seventh surname – Houle (again) – and was married for what she says is the last time.

“He is my rock,” Houle said. “He is as loyal a man as I’ve ever met. He has the patience of Job – he’d need it to take on a flit like me. I could never have done what I did without him. Our relationship is truly a relationship of the spirit. With me or without me, I always knew he was there. I would defend him and he would defend me. He’s a good man.”

– Tragedy turned productive. But finding blissful closure in a seventh marriage didn’t keep the pains of the world away. In June, 1995, Fran’s 14-year-old grandson, Anthony “Tony” Lloyd Cooper was hit by a pickup as he was crossing in a Gardnerville crosswalk near Woodette’s Restaurant. He died on the way to the hospital.

The deep grief she felt at that time was coupled with a growing sense of frustration and outrage at the laws which might allow someone who killed a pedestrian, in a crosswalk no less, to not only get off lightly, but take months to come before a judge.

“That year was gone for me,” she said. “I went into ‘lala land’ and quit my job at the bank. Within about four months, I started the BOSS Coalition (standing for Be Overly Street Safe). I was so crazed over the laws and how they read – it took one year to bring the person who killed Tony to court! I was so frustrated.”

The BOSS Coalition caught Houle’s passion and succeeded in changing laws through the state legislature, as well as getting a blinking warning light over the crosswalk where Tony was hit. When she leaves the Valley, she said, Houle hopes those who have been at the core of BOSS with her will carry on its mission – to make the community a safer place for everyone.

– Breaks her heart to leave. “The thought of leaving the Carson Valley has always bothered me,” she said. “Now, as it has become a reality, I look around and wonder, ‘What will I do without this Valley?'”

Houle said she’ll miss the feel of the Carson Valley and the look of it, but she says it’s the essence of the Valley – the people – that she’ll miss most.

“They’re independent, they’re stubborn as hell, they fight like cats and dogs, but the generosity of spirit is so evident here. It is a shame that some places change so much that people don’t have time for each other. I don’t see that happening here,” Houle said.

– She’ll be missed. Houle served two terms as president of the Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Authority, and most recently served as the executive director of the Douglas County Building Industry Association.

In less than nine years, she worked her way into the heart of this Valley by just being Fran. She is bawdy and tells it like it is, and has one of those low smoker’s voices that gives pause when you hear her on the phone and can’t see her face. She is also a pixie with a frequent twinkle in her green eyes, she does her business in person and always has a good word or a joke to share with friends as well as strangers.

But it’s something at the core of this woman that reaches out to those who meet her – it is the bawdy, yes, it is the friendly, yes, it is the energy, yes, that pulls you (and six husbands) in.

It is also the fact that at the center of Fran Houle is goodness and ultimately, love.

Tomorrow, she and Andre will celebrate their 21st Valentine’s Day together.

Not bad for a seventh marriage.

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