For about the past eight years, Fran has served as the executive director of Senior Softball-USA (SSUSA), which is the nation’s largest senior softball organization. With that job, she travels from coast to coast.
Despite her current position, Fran, 61, said that she was actually never a softball player, if one does not count her brief time playing the game when she was attending Kit Carson Junior High School (now Kit Carson Middle School), which was then located at 1324 54th St.
“At Kit Carson, I played on a tournament (softball) team,” Fran said. “It was just a thing on ‘Play Day.’ I have a picture of myself on my wall in my office (from that day).”
In recalling her years of growing up in East Sacramento, Fran, who was born in Sacramento, said that she enjoyed spending time with her friends. And she added that she has maintained several of those friendships in her adult life.
Since Fran was raised in East Sacramento, she attended schools in that area. Those schools were David Lubin School at 3575 K St., the aforementioned Kit Carson Junior High School and St. Francis High School at 6051 M St. She graduated from the latter school in 1971 before attending Sacramento City College.
Fran’s life went in a new direction after she met Dave Dowell in Phoenix, and they were married on July 31, 1976.
Together, Fran and Dave, who worked for a certified public accounting firm, lived in Phoenix for the following eight years, during which time they had their three children, Kelley, Matthew and Christopher.
The family next resided in Denver, where Dave had been hired to work as the financial officer of a construction company.
In 1987, Fran, Dave and their children became residents of the Pocket area, since Dave had accepted employment as an accountant in Sacramento.
During her earlier years of living in the Pocket area, Fran, who was officially recognized as a distinguished alumna of St. Francis High in about 2007, was a member of the St. Francis’ board, a room mother at Genevieve Didion K-8 School, a catechism teacher at St. Anthony Parish and a “soccer mom.”
When Kelley went to college in about 1996, Fran decided to go to work, becoming a part-time teller at Wells Fargo Bank at 5660 Freeport Blvd.
Fran explained that, in 1998, she left her banking position for another job that was recommended to her by a local resident.
“I was getting my haircut in the Pocket and some lady said that there was a company (SSUSA) looking for a part-time bookkeeper,” Fran said. “So, I went out on an interview and I was hired on spot.”
Ultimately, after excelling in work with the company, Fran became a full-time employee.
SSUSA was founded by Bob Mitchell (1930-2010), who established the company in his garage in the Pocket in 1988. Mitchell sold the organization to Terry Hennessy and Bill Ruth in 2002.
SSUSA, which provides softball playing opportunities for men and women, ages 40 and older, had its headquarters in a duplex on Pocket Road for many years, before moving to its present headquarters at 2701 K St. in about the early 2000s.
Around the same time, Fran began her move toward her current position with SSUSA when she became the business’s marketing director.
In 2006, Fran accepted an offer to become the company’s executive director, and in doing so, she explained that she made history.
“I was the first lady executive director in the history of the sport,” said Fran, who often refers to softball as a country club without the membership. “It turned out to be really great, because I listened to the players, their complaints, and I treat them with the utmost respect. We’ve been able to grow and grow and grow, and I think it’s because we’re such a great partnership – Terry and myself. He and I both are really great visionaries. And I think customer service has been the thing that has made us absolutely do so well, and I really truly believe in customer service.”
After being asked to discuss some of the responsibilities of her job, Fran said, “We have about 60 tournaments across the United States in a year. There are 20 (tournaments) that we physically put on from the Sacramento office, and they’re all over the country. So, I set up with the cities, I set up with all the fields, I set up all of the contracts with all of the hotels. I have to set up and make sure that all the field preps are ready, do the awards and the merchandise. I get to do it all.”
Because of her expertise at her position, in 2009 and 2012, Fran was named as one of the top 12 sports promoters in the United States by SportsEvents Magazine.
In a SportsEvents Magazine report, Hennesy was quoted as saying, “Fran Dowell began with us in 1998 and greatly exceeded our expectations in every job we gave her. She flat out earned the position. She has become one of the best known people in the sport in America and one of the most respected.”
The magnitude of Fran’s respectability in her position is better understood when considering the size of SSUSA. The organization consists of about 1,700 teams.
In addition to creating an entertaining and competitive environment for its teams, SSUSA annually generates millions of dollars in economic impact for host cities of its championship tournaments.
For instance, according to SSUSA, its Western Nationals Championships in Sacramento last year had an economic impact of $3.4 million.
Furthermore, the organization has taken on a global approach, bringing international tournament teams to Europe, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Australia and New Zealand.
Fran, who was anticipating the birth of her fourth grandchild while she was meeting with this publication last week, said that she has enjoyed her career with SSUSA.
“I’ve enjoyed my career in senior softball,” said Fran, who foresees herself working for many more years with the company. “I’ve enjoyed meeting people across the country and I’m thankful that I’ve had this opportunity.”