Love Notes: Paul and Mickey Franson

Paul and Mickey Franson on the rooftop, in front of their chimney. (Alex Garcia, Tribune Newspapers photo / July 25, 2012)

Mickey and Paul Franson do not seem like the law-breaking type. They are church-going folks. She, 55, teaches special ed. He, 54, is a high school PE teacher, football coach and deacon.

But on a recent sunny morning, the Deerfield newlyweds propped a ladder against a dinky old shed in La Grange's Gordon Park, intending to climb to the roof, to their chimney, to deface property.


That is, until the fire chief arrived.

"Uh-oh," Mickey, who was halfway up the ladder, giggled down to her husband, who was holding the base. She scrambled down, and the fire chief informed them the roof was off-limits; they conducted practice burns in there, and it wasn't safe.

The couple nodded and apologized, sheepish like kids, like they might have reacted had they been caught 35 years ago, which was when Paul first stood on that dinky shed's roof and scrawled across the chimney bricks, with aluminum paint that still reads clear as day: "MICKEY YOU ARE THE GREATEST."

That was in 1977, during a summer break from college when the 20-year-olds first fell in love. Mickey and Paul have returned to the chimney several times since. It's where Paul wrote "Will You Marry Me?" in black marker and, on the brick below, Mickey responded "Yes!" It is where they got married three weeks later, in a rooftop ceremony that so surprised the neighbors that they called the police.

But several decades passed between the first chimney graffiti of their youth and their chimney engagement on June 26, 2011. They each married different people, had children, got divorced.

Gazing at each other, which they do often and adoringly, Mickey and Paul seem astonished that they were led back to one another.

"How many of us get a second chance to do it again?" said Paul, who teaches at Downers Grove North High School and is a deacon at Hobson Road Community Church in Downers Grove.

The pair met at Lyons Township High School, where Paul considered Mickey Gervase "the nicest girl in school" and Mickey thought Paul Franson "the most handsome kid in the class," though they never dated then.

Home from college one summer break, Mickey was working at her father's gas station when Paul pulled in. She asked if he'd go with her to a wedding that weekend, saying her date had canceled (a white lie; she had in fact been debating between several potential dates). Paul agreed to go.

They dated for eight months of heady first love. That's when Paul, working for the park district, lunched on the roof of the old maintenance shed at Gordon Park and, with a can of aluminum paint he was supposed to be using to paint a fence, scrawled his first ode to Mickey.

But back at college, he at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston and she at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis., the distance became a challenge. This was a time when college students shared one phone at the end of the residence hall. And, for Paul, there were other girls much closer by.

Paul called Mickey and told her, "I love you, but I can't do this." She was heartbroken. He still feels guilty about it.

"I feel like I betrayed all the niceness that she was," he said.

They barely spoke again.

More than three decades later — after Paul had been married for 26 years, had two daughters, and divorced; and Mickey had been married 19 years, had two sons and a daughter, and divorced — time came for the Lyons Township High School Class of 1975's 35th reunion.

Mickey was co-chair of the reunion committee and happily single. Paul, weighed down by depression since his divorce, did not want to go. But a friend kept pestering him and he caved.

On the drive to the Oct. 2, 2010 reunion, the friend asked if there was anyone he was afraid of seeing.