During the 1980s, residents of the small town of Traunik, Michigan, often were treated to a curious sight – Frank Bartol driving his 1984 Buick Skylark through the forest in search of yet another tamarack tree that he would eventually transplant to his property. What made this event so remarkable was that Frank was in his 90s, an age when most people aren’t around at all, few are alert enough still to be driving and digging trees out of the ground, and probably none are dedicating what energy they have to the nurturing of tamarack trees. In his later years, Frank enjoyed a deep love for the forests in which these wonderful trees call home, but his early years in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula were a different story …
Frank H. Bartol was born on August 8, 1895, the son of Frank and Marija (nee Knaus) Bartol.
He came to the United States in 1913 from Loski Potok, Slovenia, at the age of 18. Like so many of his countrymen, he headed for the forests of this country to cut sawlogs, pulpwood, and cordwood, and to peel the hemlock bark that was then so much in demand by tanneries. It was work that came naturally to Slovenian men from his community, who were accustomed to leaving Loski Potok for seasonal employment in the woods of Croatia and Hungary. But Frank was not quite prepared for what awaited him in Bonifas, Michigan, when he arrived there.
For one thing, in Europe he never had to deal with the hordes of mosquitoes and other flying insects that made woodswork in the U.P. almost unbearable during the spring and early summer months. He often told of how he alternately cried and swore in frustration at his inability to do anything about them. Getting out of the woods and into the bunkhouse at night didn't produce much relief because bedbugs simply took over the biting and bloodsucking chores from their mosquito cousins.
Nor was there much social life to make him forget his miseries. He had come to the United States to join six uncles, John, Jacob, Joseph, Anton, Louis, and Max Knaus, but in spite of the presence of these relatives and others, he was so lonesome for the way of life he had left behind in Slovenia at first that he could hardly stand it.
But, like most young people, he adapted to his new environment fairly soon and found enough diversion in it to make those long hours of work in the woods tolerable. He told of being in the Limestone tavern one night in 1914 in the company of a couple of Slovenians, one of whom had a hair-trigger temper. He couldn't recall who or what pulled that trigger that night, but he remembered the man stepping outside the tavern and returning with a wooden yoke in hand with which he proceeded to break up the place. Swan Anderson, co-owner for a brief time of the saloon with Louis Mandockx, hid Frank, who was under-aged and looked even younger than his 19 years, behind the bar, and when the fracas was over, took him home with him for the night.
After four years of working in the woods of Boniface, Limestone Township, and Newberry, Michigan, he went to Cleveland, Ohio, because he knew he would find large numbers of fellow Slovenians to be with and some of the Slovenian culture that was missing from the logging camps he had worked at. He did, but he also found that the hot, smoky fumes in factories did not compare favorably in his mind with the fresh outdoor air of the Upper Peninsula, mosquitoes and other pests notwithstanding.
So after less than a year in the Cleveland area he returned "home" to the central U.P., helping to form the nucleus of a Slovenian community that was given the name of "Traunik" after a village in the Loski Potok area that was the birthplace of a number of its residents, including the young lady, Angela Lustick, who became his wife in 1925 and worked shoulder to shoulder with him to shape the property just a few hundred yards north of the village center.
Angela and Frank's life wasn't always easy, but they made it work, and when the Great Depression came along just four years after their wedding day, they were ready for it because they had a house, though not a very fancy one, and 40 acres of land on which to cut wood to keep that house warm in the winter and to provide food to keep their insides warm all year long.
Frank had a talent for carpentry, and he had a hand in building more than half the structures in the Traunik area. He also became a very successful farmer, specializing in poultry raising, the fine points of which he learned from the folks over at the Michigan State University Experiment Station in Chatham, just 9 miles away. By the end of World War II his poultry operation was the largest in the central Upper Peninsula. Customers were often heard to remark that F.H. Bartol Poultry Farm eggs were the best they'd ever tasted.
Labor was not much of a problem because Frank's four children pitched in to do what needed to be done. Angela, too, helped with just about every phase of the operation except sales, which Frank handled by removing all the seats but the driver's from his old 1936 Chevrolet, stuffing it with as many crates of eggs and chicken carcasses as he could get into it, and heading for Marquette and Munising twice a week to make deliveries to grocery stores and other business establishments.
Frank retired, sort of, at the age of 65 but nonetheless kept active at many things, among them tending to his part of the garden. No one knows how the division of labor was decided, but Frank took care of the potatoes and onions while Angela had the rest. For those not accustomed to truly fresh produce, nothing could satisfy as much as a salad from their garden. Like many of his fellow Slovenians, Frank had a talent for fixing most anything and his garage was covered wall-to-wall with bailing wire, pieces of pipe, scraps of sheet metal, nuts, bolts, hinges and all manner of tools – all there because he often would say, “You never know when they might come in handy.” It was a talent, no less, born of necessity during those years of the Great Depression.
Frank’s summer months were dedicated to entertaining the many children who descended upon Traunik for their annual taste of country life. He often could be seen driving his 1946 Ford tractor with a smiling (and lucky) grandchild sitting on his lap "helping grandpa steer." To this day, that tractor still delights the many great-grandchildren who visit Traunik, thanks in part to the care it receives from his son, Frank, and perhaps the notion that back then things really were built to last.
In his retirement, he also could sit on his front porch, where there was much within his view that was important to him over the years: the Traunik hall where he celebrated his marriage to Angela; Mickuliches' store on the corner; his brother's house just north of his; the farms of two of his uncles; the Traunik school where all the Bartol kids began their education. Most of those places had changed ownership and function, of course, but he needed only to close his eyes to bring them back to what they were way back when.
In 1995, Frank celebrated his 100th birthday surrounded by family and friends at the Traunik Slovenian Hall, which he helped build 75 years before. There he danced the polka, drank beer, and ate "Kranjska klobasa," Slovenia smoked sausage.
The "Traunik Stone," located outside the hall where he celebrated his birthday, was dedicated to those like Frank who founded the community:
"To this place they came, beginning in 1912, and when enough had come to form a community, they named it 'Traunik,' which means 'meadow' in Slovenia, the country they left in search of a better life.
They brought with them a willingness to work and a determination to succeed, and out of the forests they shaped fields, homes, and a good life for their families.
This monument has been placed here in memory of these Slovenian settlers by their children and grandchildren, now scattered about the world but tied by invisible bonds to this spot, where once the night air was filled with Slovenian melodies and an ethnic community pulsed with life."
Frank died only a few months later at Munising Memorial Hospital at 10:17 a.m. on Wednesday, March 13, 1996. He had been in the hospital only a day.
He was preceded in death by a son, Donald L. (Louette) Bartol in 1987; his four brothers; and his two sisters.
Survivors include one son and daughter-in-law, Frank and Judith of Traunik; his two daughters, Margaret of Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and Kathryn (Don) Galin of Hinsdale, Illinois; his 12 grandchildren; and his 17 great-grandchildren.
Visitors to Traunik today may have a difficult time picturing the vibrant community that once existed, but careful examination will reveal the mark that Frank Bartol and his contemporaries left on this part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Portions reprinted from "Alger Footprints," with permission from Frank's son, Frank R. Bartol