Sunday, November 19, 2017

Centenarian

Centenarian

My father, Kenneth Loeffler Frank would have been 100 years old today. He was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Arthur August Frank and Margaret Elsa Loeffler Frank on November 18, 1917. I have written often about his childhood without his father who died tragically by his own had when my father was just nine years old. He was watched over by his mother and an uncle Oscar who enabled his education through Brown University.

When WWII broke out in Europe my father entered the draft and was immediately sent to officers training because of his college education and aptitude for math, something my brother and his son John have now taken to extraordinary heights. After artillery training at Fort Sill in Lawton Oklahoma he was married to Genevieve Alice Horswell of Estherville Iowa in Muskogee Oklahoma by an Episcopal Priest on November 21, 1942, along with his now good friend and fellow officer Richard Dewey to Jen’s sister Joyce. Marriages of Necessity because of the war were then common. 

My father fought with the Wisconsin 32nd Division in Africa against Rommel and then up into the Sicily and then the boot of Italy. It was in Monte Cassino in the winter of 1944 that he was hit and severely wounded by a German 88mm artillery shell. His gunnery Sergeant James MacGillis found him in a crater under an overturned jeep and rescued him through enemy lines to a British field hospital. He would suffer 18 months in hospitals and an equal number of operations because of shrapnel wounds. He earned the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his sacrifice and bravery for the country he loved. It is by no coincidence that some thirty years later, as an artillery officer in the same 32nd Division that I sat in the now Colonel MacGillis’s office my Brigade Commander. It was a tearful and poignant reunion honoring my father’s service. I have had the opportunity to hear other harrowing stories from now deceased former fellow officers who served with my Dad.

Because of his war disability he was no longer able to participate in athletic activities he had once loved, playing collegiate football at Brown and skiing with the Dartmouth Ski team. Because his father had been a two sport All American at the University of Wisconsin, he also encouraged me to pursue sports, which I did through college, lettering in hockey, soccer and tennis. I served on the National Ski Patrol for 25 years as well thinking of how he would have enjoyed that. My sons also love sports and Chad medalled in the NCAA Golf Championship for Concordia University.

Even though my father was disabled he still was able to teach and take me fishing up north to Dairyman’s Country Club and to Canada. I have many photos of walleyes and ocean fish from Florida. As well, he loved boats and kept one either at our Beach Drive home where storm waves had its way with it, or at a Lake Michigan marina. We fished kings and cohos for years out of Milwaukee or Sheboygan. Duck and pheasant hunting were also favorites wherein he included Rick and I. He hunted from Canada to Arkansas with friends and shared a duck blind on Lake Winnebago with us for years.

My father started working in Milwaukee for the then Red Star Yeast Co. after his rehabilitation. He rose from the manager of the frozen egg department to Executive Vice President and Director over a 38-year career that included world travel and acquisitions of many new companies until Universal Foods Corporation was a Fortune 500 company. Forced into early retirement at 62, my dad and mom traveled to every continent of the world enjoying fine cuisine and wines, which was an avocation of theirs. In between and for all his working life, my father also served on many non-profit boards. He became a Paul Harris Fellow, the highest award of Rotary International during long tenure in leadership. He was also a founding board member of the Performing Arts Center and superintended the merger of Milwaukee Country Day, Milwaukee University School and Milwaukee Downer Seminary into the now prominent University School of Milwaukee. Our family had attended these schools and even the predecessor German Academy for six generations, including my own sons.

His love of advanced education started by the generosity of his Uncle Oscar Loeffler caused him to encourage and pay for my brother Rick’s and my college education, as well as for that of our two sons. We have taken this same gift and generosity to help our three grandsons with a college fund. That doesn’t mean that they won’t have to work also, it is just a foundational tradition of our family.

I spoke of travel that generated my Dad’s purchase of a travel agency in order to be able to access the world’s finest 5-star properties for very reduced cost. Did I mention that he was a smart man? This took them to castles and chateaux in France, including the Clos de Vougeot, part owned by La Confrerie du Chevaliers du Tastevin, a wine and epicurean group of which my father was Grand Senechal.  As a former member, along with my brother, I have learned a lot of world history by following the wine.

My parents bought a home in Ponte Vedra Florida where they spent many relaxing retirement years. We visited when we could. Eventually, my mother became sick with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, exacerbated by alcoholism. Her illness made life for my father nearly impossible at times as he tried to live normally in an abnormal circumstance. My brother and I eventually interceded and caused my mother to be institutionalized, which kicked off a traumatic journey to nine separate facilities until she landed in a locked dementia unit. This was my wife’s and my crazy lot for a number of years.

My dad was a very loyal man and struggled greatly with his dissolving life. He had been loyal to a company for 38 years that in the end discarded him. He even came to believe that his sacrificial volunteer work had been a waste as a result of his life coming down around him. His anger was palpable, exacerbated by long held anger against the Germans for crippling him and murdering millions.

Now his own body continued to fall apart as he needed more orthopedic surgery. He was lonely, but just could not stay in Milwaukee to care for my mother. She was no longer the wife of his youth, but violent and difficult. His own health deteriorated until he became suicidal. We interceded and helped him, including encouraging his desired goal of finding a new life again in Florida. This he did, his health and life outlook being renewed with vigor.

I had mentioned that an Episcopal priest had married my parents, but I am uncertain what kind of a spiritual background Dad had as a child. When I was in kindergarten we went to Sunday school at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Downer Avenue close by to his boyhood home. This lasted a couple of years until my parents social schedule prohibited it is my guess. At any rate, church or religious things were not part of our upbringing. I know that my parents became members of St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in River Hills after I had left home for college and marriage.

My mother was deteriorating and my father seemed to be doing much better, except for his joints. I had the opportunity to visit him a couple of times in Florida. We were by then living in their previous home in Mequon, which we purchased from them in 1993. There are still many antiques that they collected. However, even before my father’s death he asked that my brother and I divide up their collections. My parents loved collecting as it gave them projects and it engendered a sense of American history for my father, as he was a Patriot. My brother Rick and I now have many historical Currier and Ives lithograph prints portraying life in America from 1860 through the end of the century. Also historical china representing major or interesting events caught his attention.  We have tried to work around much of the furniture, as it is not comfortable or practical. We sadly know that our children do not want any of it. However, we did give some of Dad’s few remaining old American postage stamps to our oldest grandson Connor. Excitedly, they may be of more than “histerical” value, as my mother would have said.

After one of Dad’s surgeries on his shoulder, I visited him. We had a chance to really find intimacy for perhaps the first time. In this wonderful respite we talked of family, war, anger, Religion and life meaning. Over a couple of bottles of good burgundy we came to some watershed moments. He was able to forgive the Germans thus removing the chains that had so long bound him. He was also more importantly able to come to a place of repentance and confession that led to his desire for a personal faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord. We prayed and wept together, hours passing through decades to a bright, renewed and new joyful presence in his life. This was the most important day of my father’s life, as it meant eternal life, whole and healed in the presence of God.

He would undergo another surgery shortly thereafter, a hip replacement. It went well, but complications, including a probable blood clot led to his death while sleeping in March 1994.

His legacy for me is as a man of the “Great Generation” who served unselfishly in everything he encountered. He was dedicated to learning and loyal to family and all peoples he served, whether work, military or service organizations. He had a sense of humor that carried sway with a loyal and long-term group of friends. He loved the outdoors, even though he could not participate to the level he desired. He was generous giving time, talent and treasure in all his relationships. He was trusting, although he told me not to trust stockbrokers or insurance salesmen. Moreover, his trust now is in the only One who is meaningful and eternal, Jesus Christ his Savior and Lord with whom he lives now whole and healed in his eternal light and presence.  Thank you Dad and thank you Jesus for this great man of faith.





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