We've got more news about Fran Heitzman, the 83-year-old bundle of perpetual motion who started with one donated crib 22 years ago and now gives away $1 million worth of furniture a year to needy families through Bridging Inc. We wrote about Heitzman a few weeks ago and were inundated with phone calls, e-mails and letters from people attesting to his can-do spirit.

Shortly after the article ran, he won a 2009 Local Legend award, a public-service recognition program sponsored by the United Negro College Fund and the General Mills Foundation. He was presented with the award on Martin Luther King Day, timing that turned out to be wholly appropriate -- although few people at the ceremony realized it.

When he returned to Minnesota after World War II, Heitzman opened a dry cleaning business in Bloomington. That part of the story we know, but there was a wrinkle that even people who have known him for decades aren't aware of because he never mentions it.

His son, Tom, filled in the blanks: "One of his first employees was a man by the name of Edwin Carr. Fran hired him because he was qualified, had a heart of gold and a laugh that came straight from his soul. There was one problem. Edwin was black."

A petition was circulated through the all-white neighborhood demanding that Carr be fired. Heitzman refused, saying that if people didn't like it, they could take their business elsewhere.

He ended up running the dry cleaning business for 26 years, and he and Carr ended up being lifelong friends.

From Obama to Fridley

Last week, Ingrid Mattson was rubbing elbows with President Obama, who personally tapped the first female president of the Islamic Society of North America to speak at his inaugural prayer ceremony. Next week, she'll be delivering the keynote speech at a dinner hosted by the Islamic Center of Minnesota.

The speech is titled "Religious Co-Existence and Challenges of the 21st Century." The Islamic Society of North America describes itself as "the nation's largest mainstream Muslim community-based organization." Mattson, who was elected its president in 2006, is a professor of Islamic studies at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Conn.

The event begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday and is open to the public for $15. The Islamic Center is at 1401 Gardena Av. NE., Fridley. Reservations are recommended. Call 763-571-5604.

Purpose-driven publication

Despite nothing but bad news coming from publishing circles, the Rev. Richard Warren, author of several bestsellers including "The Purpose Driven Life," has chosen to launch a new magazine. The launch is being watched closely -- not so much in religious circles, where Warren has proven to be a goose with an unlimited supply of golden eggs, but among secular publishers, who are wondering if he has found a way to pump new life into their ailing businesses.

The intrigue hinges on the format of the publication, which is called the Purpose Driven Connection and is scheduled to reach newsstands Feb. 15. It's not just a magazine, promoters insist. It's a "multimedia platform" that includes the magazine, DVDs (the first of which is titled "40 Days of Love"), workbooks and access to an Internet networking site called Christian Facebook.

The first press run, published through a partnership with Reader's Digest, is for 500,000 copies, but Warren is setting his sights on reaching a circulation of 1 million by the end of the year. A 10-page preview of the first edition is available at www.purposedriven.com.

Holy hip-hop

One of the driving forces behind the recent growth of Christian hip-hop, Minneapolis performer Xross, is hosting a free release party today for his new CD, "Tell 'em tha Truth." The party starts at 6 p.m. at Shiloh Temple International Ministries, 1201 W. Broadway, Minneapolis.

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392