Menlo Hosts Bethany and T-Bird

Photo by Fran Cochran

The 16-2 Menlo vs Bethany baseball game on Sunday, Jan 30 might have been challenged by rain, but that didn't stop the Bethany College baseball team from gathering around a vintage hometown show car before the downpour. The 1961 Ford Thunderbird owned by Menlo Park resident Fran Cochran has a history connecting 5 generations of her family with Bethany College and Menlo College.

Raised in Kansas

The Thunderbird was purchased new by Fran's 84-year old great-grand uncle, Dr. Emil O. Deere (1877-1966) for his niece, Fran's grandmother, Nina Sohlberg Fry (1898-1974), who was 63 years old at the time. The car was purchased from a Ford dealer in their hometown of Lindsborg, located in the Smoky Valley of the Central Plains of Kansas. Lindsborg is a Swedish-American farming town rich with Swedish old-world charm.

In 1961, at Bethany College, a Swedish Lutheran institution founded in 1881, Swedish was still spoken. In their Thunderbird, Nina chauffeured her uncle, a retired professor affectionately known at the College and in the community as “Pop Deere.” He chaired the biology department for 5 decades; he was curator of the Bethany College Museum and he was dean of the Liberal Arts and Sciences department. Due to his life-long commitment to Bethany College (1902-1966), a new college building Deere Hall was named in his honor a few years before the purchase of the Thunderbird.

20 Years in Sales

After Dr. Deere passed away and his wife no longer drove the car, it was sold to an auto parts businessman who displayed the car in the storefront window of his store on the corner of Main and Lincoln Streets in Lindsborg for the next 20 years.

When Ms. Cochran and her sister inherited their great-grand uncle's Kansas wheat farm, they found out that the car was for sale. They bought it in 2004 and arranged for the car to be delivered to Fran's home in Menlo Park. The car had only 37,200 miles on its odometer.

When Fran heard the news that Bethany was visiting Menlo College for the baseball game, she contacted Menlo with a suggestion, “I've got a unique photo opportunity for you.” Thumbs up, Fran!

See Photos of the T-Bird