Donald and Karen Fracassi pose outside the newly named municipal center on Sept.11, 2020.

Donald and Karen Fracassi pose outside the newly named municipal center on Sept.11, 2020.

Photo provided by the city of Southfield

Remembering ‘Mr. Southfield’

City mourns longtime former Mayor Donald F. Fracassi

By: Kathryn Pentiuk | Southfield Sun | Published July 12, 2023


SOUTHFIELD — Beloved former Southfield Mayor and Councilman Donald F. Fracassi passed away peacefully in his home on Sunday, June 25, on his 63rd wedding anniversary with wife, Karen.

Fracassi was 88, and he dedicated over 50 of those years to the city of Southfield.

Southfield City Council President Michael “Ari” Mandelbaum reflected on Fracassi’s lively character.

“His personality was passionate,” Mandelbaum said. “No matter what he was talking about, even if it wasn’t something about Southfield.”

Mandelbaum added that Fracassi kept a library of boxes in his garage containing agendas and minutes from City Council meetings dating back to the 1970s that he would refer to when similar issues arose so that he could figure out how the situation was handled in the past.

To Mandelbaum and many in the city, Fracassi was a mentor. In a press release addressing Fracassi’s passing, Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, stated that “Don was ‘Mr. Southfield,’ leading the city as Mayor during a dramatic period of growth — ‘from farmlands to skyscrapers,’ as he would say. I was the youngest member on a council of elders when I was elected to City Council in 2011, just like Don was more than four decades prior, and he really looked out for me during our term together. He often pulled me aside to provide counsel and encouragement.”

Fracassi was elected to the Southfield City Council in 1967 as one of the youngest individuals ever on the council. He was council president and acting mayor 1969-1972. He was officially elected mayor 1973, serving in that capacity until 2001. He returned to City Council in 2003 and served as acting mayor again in 2015. He then served as a councilman until 2019. Prior to his city positions, he owned “Don’s Town & Country Market” in Southfield.

Fracassi is not only remembered for his dedication and service to the city, but also for his greatest legacy — his family values and Christian faith. Before Fracassi became “Mr. Southfield,” he was born in Hamtramck on March 21, 1935, to Ray and Sonia Fracassi. He graduated from the 1953 class of Cranbrook High School. Seven years later, he married the love of his life, Karen, on June 25, 1960. The two raised a beautiful family in the city of Southfield: David, Patti (Ernie) Taber, Roderick (Jennifer), Tim (Heather), Philip (Stephanie Simard), the late Donald, and daughter-in-law Donna Fracassi. Donald Fracassi was the grandfather to 14 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Yolanda Haynes, the president of the Friends of the Southfield Public Library, remembers Fracassi as one of the first people she was introduced to when she moved to Southfield.

“He immediately adapted to my family,” Haynes said, and she fondly remembers their families watching fireworks together.

“From then on, any problem that I had, and not just me, but any problem other people had in the community, I know Don would personally drive to their house, see what’s going on and investigate it. He did a lot for the city. I can truly say that he really cared for the city. And you may not have agreed with everything he did, but I think his intent was meaningful. And he was doing his best to look out for the best interest of the city.”

Haynes said that even in his last days, Fracassi was thinking about Southfield. She shared that at his funeral, which was held on Thursday, June 29, at Highland Park Baptist Church on Lahser Road, that his daughter mentioned that Fracassi was considering running for mayor again, to which his children joked that they would not vote for him.

Some of Fracassi’s many highlights, among many others, in Southfield include:

• Implementing the first 911 emergency system in Michigan and one of the first EMS systems and paramedic programs in the United States in 1972.

• Bringing curbside recycling to the city.

• Being named the honorary chair of Mayors for United Negro College Fund;

• Founding the Eight Mile Boulevard Association.

• Establishing Southfield as a SmartZone technology area.

• Assisting in the first senior citizen developments in the city, the McDonnell Towers and Woodridge Apartments.

• Assisting in the development of the Burgh historical site in 1976.

• Negotiating the joint contract between Southfield, Japan and LTU to build in Southfield the first composite bridge in the United States.

• Being nominated in 2002 for “Michiganian of the Year.”

• Establishing the east-west route for I-696 and its sound walls.

• Achieving the status of “White House Millennium Community” for Southfield in 2000.

• Winning the Diversity Award from the National Black Caucus.

• Being named Eccentric Newspaper’s “News Maker of the Year.”

• Being named the Jewish War Veterans’ “Man of the Year.

Fracassi’s legacy was enshrined on Sept. 11, 2020, when the city of Southfield held a dedication ceremony to officially name the Southfield Municipal Campus, 26000 Evergreen Road, the “Donald F. Fracassi Municipal Campus.”

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to the Southfield Goodfellows,