With a population of around 7,000, the town of Franklin (named after Benjamin Franklin) depends heavily on a small group of people to help it sustain growth and preserve history. Native Franklinite Diane Wiltz is one of those people, and she’s doing all she can to restore her hometown into a vibrant place to live – one building at a time.
Wiltz and her physician-husband Gary were recognized by the St. Mary Chapter of the Louisiana Landmarks Society with the Historic Preservation Award in 2019. The honor celebrated their work renovating historic, dilapidated buildings on Franklin’s Main Street and turning them into thriving businesses. The first to benefit from her work, over ten year ago, was the old Western Auto building, which they transformed into what is now a bustling reception facility. Since then they have renovated a second building, in which they opened Lamplighter Coffee House & Bistro, and are working on a third, where they plan to open an ice cream parlor.
“I don’t participate in negative talk. My thing is, if we can make this happen, let’s make this happen,” says the retired educator. “I always wanted to be a part of the solution, in anything that I’m involved in.”
The Chamber of Commerce named Wiltz St. Mary Citizen of the Year, as well, but you won’t get Wiltz to list the reasons why. “When you’re doing stuff and working hard, you really don’t have time to keep track of everything you’re doing,” she explains. “The lift is heavy, but it can happen.”
Wiltz had a short stint in New Orleans, when her husband was in medical school, and she was glad to come back. “Franklin has a charm and intimacy to me – that muddy water that flows through the Bayou Teche right behind Main Street. There’s something about the smell of that water. It’s part of me,” she says.
As for the effect she hopes her efforts will have on the community she loves, Wiltz says, “For those who feel hopeless [about Franklin], I’d like to think they now feel hopeful about the possibilities.”