Frances Malina Tucker ‘02 and her St. Michael’s classmates walked through many struggles together in high school, which instilled a deep sense of community that is still evident at their 20th reunion. At the same time, St. Michael’s teachers and theology coursework ignited a deep interest in world cultures and religion. This understanding of the importance of community, along with a passion for understanding the world, became powerful forces in her career and life. We are honored to announce that Frances Malina Tucker’s commitment to living the mission was recognized by her peers in her selection as the 2022 Alumnus of the Year.
Life at St. Michael’s was a family affair for young Frances Malina. Two of her sisters graduated from St. Michael’s: Mary Malina Eaton ‘94 and Alexandra Malina ‘98. As a kid, Coach McCabe dubbed her Little Mowgli, after her sister, Mary (aka Mowgli), because she attended each and every sporting event, cheering on her sisters in volleyball and basketball. Her dad, Joe, was an ever-present fixture at those games as well, always up in the corner of the bleachers, filming each game so the girls could “watch film” to improve their game.
After high school, Frances attended The University of Texas at Austin in 2006 graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Communications and a minor in English. During her senior year of college, Frances was diagnosed with cancer. She emerged from that experience with a true understanding of the power of positive thinking; laughter is an incredible medicine. After graduation, Frances moved to Portland, Oregon to attend Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute. Soon after, she began her career as a professional pastry chef, which gave her the opportunity to see the world. She worked in luxury resorts in Jackson Hole, Aspen, and Turks & Caicos. In 2009 she moved to Page, Arizona, to help open the famed Amangiri resort in nearby Utah. While at Amangiri, she was sent to train the pastry chefs in the country of Bhutan, located on the eastern Himalayas. It was there that she received one of her most amazing honors as a pastry chef: cooking for His Majesty the King of Bhutan’s birthday.
While living in Arizona, Frances was set up on a blind date with her future husband Abe Tucker. They married and Frances became a full-time mom to Emma in 2011 and later Noah in 2015. During the early years with her young family, Frances kept busy. She was commissioned to open a bakery, and then became a substitute teacher. Frances had never planned to be a teacher, but while subbing for a 6th grade math class, she encountered a struggling student. When she helped him, she saw the “lightbulb” go off, as he sat up a little straighter, she was hooked on teaching. She said, “It’s an unreal feeling when a kid starts to understand, and they know they can do it.” In 2013, Frances officially began her teaching career while simultaneously attending graduate school in order to receive her Masters in Elementary Education around the time Noah was born. Throughout her career as an educator, she has been a 4th and 5th grade teacher, as well as a library media specialist.
While working in Page, Frances became immersed in the Navajo culture, where 90% of her students were of Navajo or Native American descent. She was honored to be indoctrinated into their traditions and feels blessed that she has been embraced and accepted by her Navajo family. This love of learning about world cultures and religions was first instilled in her in St. Michael’s in her World Religion theology class. In this class, the teacher encouraged questions and supported students learning other cultures, faiths and beliefs, while strengthening her Catholic faith. This background helped open her eyes to see how the Navajo lived: many had no electricity or running water because there was no infrastructure. Many people on the Navajo Nation must transport their water by truck not only for livestock but for their homes as well. As a teacher she didn’t assign homework because some of her students would have to do it by candlelight. Many students traveled two hours to school and two hours home, often with no parental support. In spite of these hardships, Frances witnessed the richness of the Navajo culture and the deep pride in their accomplishments. This experience taught her a lot about being grateful for what she has and also the importance of giving of herself to her community.
Relying on her community became extremely important when Frances’ husband Abe got sick and passed away in May of 2019. Frances said, “it was out of the blue and unimaginable.” Her community in Page rallied support and was incredibly generous and kind. The group of students she taught in 4th and again in 5th grade became part of her family. The kids and their parents truly helped her get through one of the hardest times in her life. Frances moved back to Austin, TX in June 2022 to be closer to her family, but Page will always be a part of her.
Even as Frances worked as a teacher, she continued to explore her creative outlet by making beautiful pastries. Now that she is back in Austin, she is setting up a new kitchen and will soon be baking again. Frances is teaching 5th grade at Mott Elementary in Pflugerville and is looking forward to reconnecting with St. Michael’s alumni. Frances’ mom, Ida, is enjoying retirement, and Frances thinks her young spirit is helping her age in reverse. Frances is also an avid runner and hiker and enjoys being outdoors as much as possible.
Frances has lots of fond memories of St. Michael’s. George Waguespack, aka Mr. Wag, was her Philosophy teacher. She remembers giving him a hard time by writing an entire Philosophy essay of questions. He paid her back by making her write answers to all those questions. Coach Schiraldi let her ride the mule tractor, and she fondly remembers hot two-a-day volleyball practices in the unairconditioned gym. Most incredibly, she still uses her sophomore poetry anthology from Ms. Paula Priour’s C-block class, pulling out the faded purple folder for her elementary students to use as inspiration each year.
Frances says her class had some powerfully good times and some powerful struggles. As a freshman in high school, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor that grew quickly. She remembers going to Mr. Klousia’s portable, and being comforted by Jessica DeAngelis after one of her not-so-good doctor’s appointments. Friendships like that helped Frances know that “no matter what, everything would be OK.” Friends came to the hospital, decorated her room, and gave her sunglasses. She vividly remembers Annie Mooney, Sofia Leon, Niamh Porteous, Katie Wooley, Katie Gravley, Holly Wencel, Jessica DeAngelis, and Paula McCaul (from the St. Michael’s athletic office). She was very grateful for their support and has stayed in touch with many of her classmates.
She was the basketball team manager for Coach Zimmerman when alumnus Brendan Mooney passed away her senior year. His brother, Ian, was on the team, and their whole basketball family came together to grieve and heal. Despite all this, she proudly remembers the team beating Jesuit and almost winning State! Frances stays in touch with many men from the basketball team. In fact, classmate BJ Shults still checks in every so often since her husband passed away.
As we celebrate Frances Malina Tucker ‘02 as the Alumnus of the Year for 2022, she offers some final thoughts. “I’m speechless and honored that my classmates thought of me in regards to this honor. This means a great deal to me. No matter what obstacles have been thrown my way, I am a firm believer in the power of positive thinking and treating others the way that you wish to be treated. I am grateful that I found my passion in teaching, and it’s a big testament to all the teachers I had while growing up at both St. Austin’s and St. Michael’s that I chose to follow their path. I have very fond memories of all my time there, and it feels great to be back at home!”
See Frances Malina Tucker’s ‘02 cake, pie, and croissant creations on her Facebook page at Fkconfections.