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Published: Thursday, 6/16/2011

Carl L. Frank. 1928-2011: Firefighter served with department for 33 years

BY JIM SIELICKI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

PETERSBURG, Mich. -- Carl L. Frank, 83, who fulfilled a childhood dream of being a firefighter and remained with the Toledo Fire Department for 33 years, died Monday in his Petersburg home.

Mr. Frank, known since childhood as "Banjo," apparently hit his head on a cabinet when falling Monday, stepson Art Garn said.

As a teenager, Mr. Frank was frequently present at three downtown fire stations, where firefighters let him tend the furnace, assist crew members with odd jobs, and occasionally ride to a fire alarm.

"He always wanted to be a fireman as a child growing up," his stepson said.

John Repp, a boyhood pal who joined the fire department at the same time and retired on the same day in 1981, said Mr. Frank took the civil service test several times before passing; Mr. Repp passed on the first try.

Though he was considered a rookie, Mr. Frank used his familiarity with the various fire stations and their crews to teach his buddy some of the ropes.

"When I started, he took me over there to the fire station on Stickney and Ketcham and introduced me to everyone," said Mr. Repp, who is curator of the Toledo Firefighters Museum on Sylvania Avenue.

Mr. Frank was active with the museum and was part of a crew of current and retired firefighters called "cellar dwellers" who meet in the basement of the museum each Tuesday. On Saturdays he would help lead tours.

Until recently, Mr. Frank was the only person who had the knowledge to drive the antique Buffalo fire rig in parades, his stepson said.

Born in Toledo, his first job was delivering milk from a horse-drawn wagon for Babcock Dairy. He also delivered prescriptions for Erie Drug Store on Lewis Avenue. The drugstore owner gave him the nickname "Banjo" because he was dependable and "always doing what he was supposed to do," Mr. Garn said.

According to a 1953 story in The Blade detailing his first day on the job, Mr. Frank said he served in the Navy and drove a gasoline truck until he could join the fire department. His first station was the former No. 23 on West Central and Oatis avenues.

During his career in the fire department, Mr. Frank moonlighted as a truck driver for various firms; his last employer was a petroleum distributor. He retired from driving trucks at age 72, his stepson said.

Mr. Frank was known for his charitable work of obtaining potatoes from an Erie, Mich., farm and distributing them to soup kitchens, rescue missions, and other charities. He did that for more than 40 years.

"[The charities] would always call him the potato man," Mr. Garn said.

Mr. Frank was first married to Rita Corcoran, whom he dated while hanging out at fire stations. He married Harriett Holder in 1970 and she died in 2000.

Mr. Frank was a Mason and was active in the Zenobia Shrine Drum Corps until his late 70s when he found it difficult to play the drums and cymbals. As a Shriner, Mr. Frank drove sick children to Shriner Hospitals until he was 78, Mr. Garn said.

He is survived by his son, David Frank; daughters, Diane Johnson and Kim Wolf; stepson, Art Garn; brother, Howard; sister, Sharon Greene; six grandchildren, and a great-grandchild.

Visitation will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday and after 2 p.m. Friday at Walker Funeral Home. A "Last Alarm" service will be at 7 p.m. Friday and his funeral will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, both at the mortuary. Memorials are suggested to the Toledo Firefighters Museum or West Ida Immanuel Lutheran Church, Ida, Mich.

Contact Jim Sielicki at: jsielicki@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.



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