Refugio J. Franco Sr.

July 16, 1942 - January 12, 2023

Refugio Jose Franco Sr. (Joe)

July 16, 1942 – January 12, 2023


Refugio Jose Franco Sr. (Joe) was born to Domingo Lara Franco and Ruth Beltran Franco on July 16, 1942, in Billings, Montana. He went to be with the Lord on Thursday, January 12th, 2023. Joe Sr. grew up most of his young life in Toppenish, Washington. At a young age, he worked hard in the fields with his parents, and as he got older, he worked for farmers with his father and two older brothers. He was an impressive football player, playing right tackle and linebacker throughout high school. Many didn’t know about another hidden talent he had, which was singing. As a joke, his buddies challenged him to enter a Christmas singing contest, and to everyone’s surprise, he won first place by singing the classic Christmas song, “O, Holy Night.”


For many years Joe Sr. was a part of a gang called the Rowberry Bandits, named after a pool hall in Toppenish, WA. During this time, unknowing to young Joe Sr., God had his hand of protection over him. Many times he came near death but walked away unharmed. Joe Sr. was big, brown, handsome (added by Frances), and tough. Many said he resembled a BEAR, which then became his new name. When local gangs would rumble against the Rowberry Bandits, they made sure “the Bear” was involved. In their minds, it was a guaranteed WIN!


In March 1968, Joe Sr. encountered an experience that would forever change his life. His brother-in-law, Baltazar Villanueva, challenged him to come to church that very night. Joe laughed at him and said, “I don’t hang with Hallelujah Holy-rollers!” He was called a “chicken,” and Joe replied, “No one calls me a chicken!” He went to church that night, and something supernatural happened. Every addiction and violent behavior was gone, and he found himself at the front altars weeping and accepting Jesus as his Savior.


That same year, Joe Sr. met Frances Cabrera, who was home from La Puenta Bible College in California on summer break. Three years later (1971), they were married.


Joe Sr. and Frances helped pastor a small Spanish church in Yakima, Washington. He was a licensed minister with the Pentecostal Holiness church. He also traveled throughout the Northwest in a gospel band called, The King’s Messengers. Joe Sr. accompanied the group by playing bass and was also the Preacher. He loved to preach the Bible, and God anointed him to do it. Many gave their lives to the Lord.


In 1986, Joe Sr. and Frances moved their family, which consisted of three kids, Refugio Jose Jr. – (Joey), Heidi, and James, from Toppenish, Washington, to Portland, Oregon. Joe Sr. started a “Monday Night Basketball Outreach” that lasted ten years. This outreach allowed troubled youth in the Southeast Portland area to play basketball in a safe environment. They weren’t allowed to play anywhere else due to their behavior. But, Joe Sr., after a hard day’s work, opened the church gym doors and believed God’s protection was over him. He made a deal with them to play basketball; they had to listen to him preach for 10-15 mins and there could be no “wheeling and dealing.” They listened with the utmost respect, and many youth came to know the hope and love Joe Sr. talked about. Several hundreds were a part of the outreach.


Joe Sr. worked at Emanuel Hospital in Portland, Oregon, for 23 faithful years. He endured many ailments throughout his last 22 years, with diabetes, triple heart bypass, congestive heart failure, and three different cancers. Yet, God was faithful through it all. Towards the end, God still opened opportunities for Joe Sr. to share his powerful testimony in prisons and Teen Challenge-type organizations.


Joe Sr. is survived by his loving wife, Frances C. Franco, his sons, Joe Franco Jr, James Paul Franco, and his daughter, Heidi Franco Zweifel. He has 13 fabulous and talented grandchildren, which he always bragged about. His living siblings are Manuel Franco (brother), two sisters, Mary Reyes and Margaret Villanueva, and many wonderful nieces, nephews, and cousins.


Joe was preceded in death by his parents, three brothers, and four sisters; Domingo Franco Jr., Frank Franco, John Franco, Herlinda Franco, Rosa Rameriz, Cruzita Franco, Margaret F. Gonzalez.