For a young Francie Dittrich, her dreams of college were precarious at best. It was the early 1960s, and she wasn’t ready to be on her own at a large university in her home state of Michigan. Her mother, Lydia “Lee” Forster Dittrich ’38, encouraged Francie to start at her alma mater, Christian College.

Dittrich completed an associate degree in art in 1963, honing her skills under her beloved art professor Sidney Larson.

“He was always an inspiration,” Dittrich says, as she recalls the delicacy at which he introduced the class to drawing a live model and the wonder of traveling to Kansas City for a Van Gogh exhibition. A pen and ink sketch she drew on a field trip to Arrowhead Lake in Columbia hangs in her studio today.

Dittrich speaks of her early struggles with education and her gratitude to Christian College for “taking a chance” on her. With this in mind, she supports aspiring artists with regular gifts to the Sidney Larson Student Art Scholarship Fund.

Francie Dittrich ’63 competed in the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating midwestern adult sectionals at age 75. Her free solo performance was to music from Chicago the musical. “Skating is my passion,” she says. “I’m still at it!”

“Sidney was a wonderful advisor, we lived in a small community and students got all the help we needed,” she says. “Because of that, I was able to get into my state school and get a teaching degree. I had a 33-year run teaching elementary school art, and it’s all because CC believed in me.”

Dittrich has also joined the St. Clair Society in recognition of a planned estate gift that endowed The Dittrich Family Scholarship Fund to support students majoring in Art. She believes it is her place as an artist to help new artists.

Since retiring, Dittrich spends much of her time in the studio and is inspired by a style of Japanese black ink painting called sumi-e. She is also a competitive ice dancer and trained in the art of the Japanese tea ceremony. A true artist, she finds a simple beauty in everything she does.

“Sidney always said it’s not the final product that’s important but the journey in getting there,” Dittrich says. Just as she is reminded of these words, the Dittrich family’s legacy will ensure the same academic foundation for generations of artists to come.

This Labor Day Weekend, Dittrich will be the featured artist at the Hiawatha Sportman’s Club annual art show. She has been longtime member of the private club in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and for 10 years, she ran the show and served as president of the art club. She’s now ready to share a very special piece several years in the making.

What began as a pontoon ride with a friend to watch the cranes on Lake Michigan has become a work of art. Enamored by the view, Dittrich created a sketch and waited for the right medium to speak to her.

Last year, she chose a 4-foot square piece of plywood to serve a backdrop for a painting of the cranes. She follows the natural movement in the woodgrain to guide her strokes and chose gold fluorescent paint to illuminate ripples in the water. When she returns to her summer cabin, she will add the finishing touches, including sand from the lake for the cranes to march on an authentic Lake Michigan coastline.

The St. Clair Society honors the valued contributors whose generosity benefits Columbia College through planned and estate gifts. St. Clair Society membership can be reached through a variety of estate planning tools including bequests, charitable gift annuities, gifts of life insurance, charitable remainder trusts and retirement accounts. Creating your will is one simple way to protect your loved ones as you establish your vision for the future – and Columbia College is here to help. Courtesy of our partners at FreeWill, you can now define your own legacy quickly and easily by creating your legal will entirely for free online. Get started at To discuss how you can include the college in your estate plans, please contact Missy Montgomery ’06 at (573) 875-7576 or