FAIRBANKS – By early afternoon Saturday, the home of Richard and Anna Frank at the end of a quiet Aurora Subdivision street was a bevy of activity both inside and out.
Cars lined both sides of the street, with people busily unloading and carrying in stockpiles of food, some in large boxes and others in covered foil
The family garage was serving as a staging area for provisions for the nightly meals that are being held at Chief David Salmon Tribal Hall in honor of Native leader and elder Richard Frank, 85, who died Thursday morning at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.
Inside the home, Richard’s widow, Anna, known affectionately as “Tadge” was sitting and visiting with a continual stream of friends and relatives stopping by for “tea,” an Athabascan tradition of comforting and supporting those who lose a loved one.
A large pot of moose soup warmed on the kitchen stove, and the dining room table was overflowing with food set out for all.
The open dining/living room, its walls covered with family photos and mementos, was filled with elders seated in the most comfortable chairs as younger people saw to their needs and refilled cups of tea.
“That’s our Native way of encouraging each other, holding them up to show our love,” said Sarah Silas, 87, of Minto, Richard’s only surviving sibling from the original family of 10. “Traditionally, our grandparents and great-grandparents passed that down to us.”
Although mourners were quietly grieving for a man they greatly respected and admired, they also took the opportunity to share stories and laughter.
When Sarah arrived from Minto on Tuesday to visit her brother at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital two days before he died, she said the first thing Richard said to her was, “Remember when I chopped my sister’s high heels off?”
The childhood memory made them both laugh, she said. Richard was a young teen at the time and didn’t think high heels were needed for village life.
A family friend greeted Anna with, “Richard just gave us a beautiful sunrise this morning,” following it with a colorful description of its beauty.
Anna listened, then laughingly answered, “He was probably trying to tell me, ‘Tadge, get up and get the morning paper.’”
During the past two years, weakened from Parkinson’s disease and on a feeding tube, Richard kept up his favorite pastimes such as reading the daily newspaper and attending Native meetings and gatherings. This past summer he attended the Village Fast Pitch baseball games, the Powwow and danced at WEIO with the support of good friend Reggie Joule, a former WEIO athlete and retired state legislator.
Growing up in Old Minto and traveling seasonally with his family for fish and game, Richard only attend school to the fourth grade. But his natural intelligence and work ethic kept him learning and succeeding throughout his life.
“He was an articulate, wise man,” said the Rev. Scott Fisher, who has known the Frank family for many years.
Richard’s memory and understanding of Athabascan genealogy also was exceptional. “He could remember and explain complex familial relationships,” Fisher said.
Richard served in the Army Air Corps during World War II and served in the Pacific theater as an airplane mechanic. In Alaska, he worked on steamboats along the Tanana and Yukon rivers and was active racing sled dogs during the winter months.
Richard’s many admirers assert it was his support and influence that inspired them to pursue leadership roles in the Native community and/or continue and extend their educations.
“He was a pretty modest individual,” Steve Ginnis said. “When he spoke before the Tanana Chief Conference, AFN or Doyon, you would hear little of his accomplishments or the lifetime impact of his contributions.
“During the 1960s when the state was selecting lands in the area where Minto people have hunted, fished and trapped for centuries for a recreation area, he petitioned the Secretary of the Interior to halt it, which in later years led to a land freeze. I give him a lot of credit that through that action we were able to select our lands as they are today,” Ginnis said.
In Fairbanks, Richard helped in the formation of the Fairbanks Native Association, worked as an employment specialist finding jobs for Native workers, and served six years as vice president of Tanana Chief Conference, and many years as its elder adviser.
“He was there to keep the board mindful of their culture and represent Athabascan culture,” Ginnis said. “He also inspired young people to continue their education, and many have graduated.”
In addition, Richard and the late Isaac Juneby started up the Alaska Native Veterans Association, to ensure Native veterans were getting a fair share.
Following his military service in 1949, Frank returned to Alaska and Minto.
Richard and Anna David were married in 1955 and were active community members in Minto for many years before moving to Fairbanks in 1975.
Richard served as chief of Minto, was president of the Minto Village Corp. and was involved in and supported the Alaska Native Land Claims.
The Franks raised four children, Roxanne, Robin, Parker and Darrell, and today have many grandchildren and adopted grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.
According to daughter Roxanne, if her father had any unfinished business in this life, it was never being able to locate the grave of his brother, Mike, who became sick in the 1940s with TB and was sent to a health facility in Seward where he died.
“Dad tried, but he was never able to find out where Mike was buried,” Roxanne said.
Separated by a dozen years in age, Anna was just 16 when she and Richard married.
“He was good to me,” she said. “He even taught me how to cook.”
“Richard was a good father too,” she said. “When he came home after work, if there was a little dirt on their faces, he’d clean them up. It was important to him that the kids were clean and looked after.
“He taught all our kids good work ethics and how to present yourself to the public.”
The Franks loved dancing, especially to music after Elvis became popular.
“When we were alone, he’d put records on the Hi-Fi and we’d dance.”
They also shared a love of actively mushing dogs and baseball, with Anna playing and Richard coaching.
Richard always was there supporting Anna as she studied to become an ordained Episcopal minister.
Near the end, Anna said, “He told me he had ‘a good life, a very good life.’”
Funeral services will be held at noon Monday at Chief David Salmon Community Hall, and at noon Wednesday in Minto, at the community hall. Both will be preceded by visitation at 11 a.m.
Contact staff writer Mary Beth Smetzer at 459-7546.