Donald T. Franke, 92, of Naples, Fla., formerly of Rochester, passed away Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013.
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He was preceded in death by his parents, Theodore F. and Maybelle E. Franke, and his sister, Elaine M. Lematta.
Don is survived by his wife of 69 years, Helen E. Franke; sister, June Clark of Racine; his children, Gail L. Wellner (Gary) of Brooklyn Park, Kent D. Franke (Julie) of Santa Barbara, Calif., Bruce D. Franke (Christina and her daughter, Grace) of Naples, Fla., Scott D. Franke (Meg Dueber) of Hood River, Ore. He is also survived by three grandchildren, Wendy A. Woodley (Mike), Todd M. Franke (Kate), Ryan C. Franke (Lauren); and seven great-grandchildren.
Don was born and raised in Eyota. After graduating from Eyota High School, he earned his A.A. degree from Rochester Community College, his B.A. degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota, and later his LL.B degree (law) from the University of Minnesota.
After serving in World War II as a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps, Don and Helen moved to Ellensburg, Wash., where he taught journalism at Central Washington College. However, their love of Minnesota and family ties lured them back to Rochester, where Don joined his father in the real estate business for several years prior to, and while attending, law school. Following graduation, Don practiced law in Rochester from 1953 to 1964. During this time Don also served in the Minnesota State Legislature as a member of the House of Representatives from 1957 to 1962. His numerous legislative accomplishments included authoring Minnesota's first Fair Housing legislation.
In 1964, Mr. Don Franke was elected to serve as Minnesota District Judge - 3rd Judicial District. In typical Don Franke fashion, he campaigned tirelessly during the summer months at 11 county fairs and stumped on street corners in small towns throughout southern Minnesota to win a very competitive election. After becoming "empty nesters" at age 55 and serving as "your Honor" for 11 years, Don and Helen, decided to move to Naples, Fla., where Don returned to his chosen career of practicing law for the next 25 years until his reluctant retirement.
To all who knew Don, he was the consummate giver and he donated his time and energy to many community and charitable organizations in Rochester and in Naples. While in Rochester, Don co-founded and served as President of P.O.R.T., a Community Corrections Half-Way House to rehabilitate and train probationed offenders. He also helped build a beautiful new Rochester YMCA and served as president and executive committee board member for 14 years. He also served as an executive committee member of the board of the Rochester Methodist Hospital for 13 years. After moving to Naples, Don co-founded the Community Foundation of Collier County in 1985 and both he and Helen worked tirelessly to create a large and lasting endowment to fund special community needs. Don served as president of the Collier County Bar Association received the Florida Bar's President's Pro Bono Award for performing the most pro-bono work in the state of Florida. Don also provided support and assistance to many of the organizations that his wife, Helen was actively involved with including, the Naples Shelter for Abused Women, the League of Women Voters, the Girl Scouts and he also served on the board of Southwest Heritage Inc.
Don wore many hats. He was a lifelong learner, frequently initiating conversation, seeking the opinions and viewpoints of those he encountered. Don wrote a weekly column in the Rochester Post-Bulletin during his years in the Minnesota State Legislature, informing his constituents of the issues being considered in the House of Representatives. He was a voracious reader, be it biographies, novels, periodicals, or newspapers, particularly if the subject involved history, law, or politics. Don enjoyed building and remodeling and landscaping his numerous homes and lakeside cabins, "making them his own." He particularly enjoyed relaxing with his trusty pipe in hand after a busy day and enjoying the company of family and friends. And while at the cabin, if one of his favorite loons should happen by and call out from the lake, he was ecstatic.
The four Franke children were always a high priority in Don's life. He made sure they experienced the wonders of the USA via automobile, taking in battlefields, historical monuments and national parks wherever they vacationed. He would often drive into the wee hours of the morning and camp along the roadside just to maximize the experiences for his kids.
Don was fortunate to live a full, happy and productive life and will be truly missed by family and friends.
Memorials may be made to the Community Foundation of Collier County, 2400 Tamiami Trail N., Suite 300, Naples, FL 34103 - please designate either the Don & Helen Franke Fund, the Franke Leadership Seminar established to inspire excellence in non-profit management, or the General Fund.
To leave an online condolence, please visit fullernaples.com.
Fuller Funeral Home, 1625 Pine Ridge Road, Naples, Fla., 34109, 239-592-1611.
Fuller Funeral Home
1625 Pine Ridge Road Naples, FL 34109
Published in The Post-Bulletin on Apr. 19, 2014