ELYRIA TOWNSHIP - Frank J. Gall, known for decades as "the Gazda" of city politics in Lorain, was called Saturday from his home in Elyria Township for a more important meeting elsewhere. He was 96.
A veteran of World War II and the Korean War, Gall spent more than two decades as city clerk of Lorain, earning the Hungarian title meaning "master" or "host" among city politicians for his role in guiding new city officials and members of the press through the ins-and-outs of City Hall.
Without Gall, a past president and chairman of the American Hungarian Citizens Club, Lorain's International Festival may never have become a reality. In news reports from April 1967, Gall was credited with organizing the meeting that brought together 40-some different cultural heritage groups that set an agenda for the event. Three months later, the first festival was held, coinciding with the Fourth of July holiday.
Gall also had a role in organizing the annual "Night in Budapest" celebrations held in the city and was outspoken about his heritage, even bucking his stalwart Democratic Party allegiance in 1977 to criticize President Jimmy Carter's announced plans to return the Holy Crown of Hungary to the country's Communist government after three decades on U.S. soil.
"The next thing you know, he'll (Carter) want to give the Statue of Liberty back to France or Plymouth Rock back to England," he was quoted in The Chronicle-Telegram as saying.
In addition to his involvement with the Democratic Party in Lorain, Gall became an advocate for causes related to helping the disabled after a car crash left his son, Jeff, a quadriplegic while the younger Gall was serving in the Air Force.
But as clerk, Gall preferred to keep his personal opinion separate from his duties to the city. Only as his tenure drew to a close in 1981, did Gall unleash a criticism on some city politicians:
"(Some councilmembers) either vote for votes or they vote for progress. Those that vote for votes are political hacks," he said to Chronicle-Telegram reporter Beth Boyd in an article that appeared January 31, 1981.
Gall's connection to Lorain city politics reverberates to the present day. He was campaign chair for Fred Ritenauer, then a veteran Lorain city councilman, during Ritenauer's run for Lorain County commissioner in 1968. Ritenauer won that election, the first of four terms he served until 1984.
Ritenauer's grandson, Chase, is current mayor of Lorain.
Born in Lorain on March 4, 1917, Frank Gall was a child of the Great Depression and worked a number of jobs to help support his family including hat boxing and shoe shining. Gall himself personally recounted hoofing it three miles down both sides of North Ridge Road from Elyria Avenue down the hill to Gulf Road delivering the Lorain Times Herald and Lorain Shopping News.
After graduating from Lorain High School in 1936, he was enlisted into the Army on March 13, 1941. He completed basic training and became an officer.
On New Year's Eve, 1941, Frank married Audrey Reising while on leave from the Army. Their loving union lasted 55 years and they had five children.
Back on duty in the Army, Gall eventually rose to commanding a tank in the Philippines, New Guinea and elsewhere in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
In one of his favorite war stories, he was able to skirt a court martial after a run-in with a military police officer.
Upon returning from leave with some fellow members of his company, the overeager MP was manning a roadblock and fired shots at the Jeep that Gall was driving, he said.
Gall took the MP to task for shooting at him and his men, and his men flipped the MP's vehicle over into a ditch. The officer reported the incident to his superior and papers were filed for disciplinary action against Gall, whose unit was in advance of the base camp.
"We were too far in for them to serve the papers," Gall said, often with a hearty laugh.
His tank was attacked by the enemy during the war and exploded, resulting in shrapnel being lodged in his arm. He received a Purple Heart for his service.
After returning from WWII, he had the misfortune of getting malaria stateside when he quit taking pills. He admitted that was not one of his most pleasant experiences.
Gall ended his military career after serving as a trainer in the Korean War.
He worked at U.S. Steel for 37 years and was very active as a member of United Steel Workers Local 1104, which led to his becoming head of the Lorain CIO. He resigned that post in December 1957 before establishing the connections that led him to embark on his city government career, during which his tenure was renewed often with unanimous votes by Council.
"It's hard to find a man of Frank's caliber," said then-Councilman and future Lorain Mayor Alex Olejko in January 1972 when renewing Gall's job as Council clerk came up for discussion.
Frank and Audrey eventually moved to New Port Richey, Fla., in the 1980s after his retirement from city politics, where he got to practice his golf game year round and together they avoided the Ohio winters.
Audrey was stricken by cancer and died in 1996, and Frank met Virginia Lybrook in 1997, with whom he met on a plane flight and began a relationship until her death in May 2013.
After a number of health setbacks, Gall relocated in 2010 to the home of his daughter, Jane Nagy, a retired nurse, to be closer to his family and the city he served.
He enjoyed watching all sports on TV, especially the NBA and golf, and, ever unafraid not to take the popular opinion, actually defended LeBron James' departure to Miami to family members.
As far as the Cleveland Browns went, most games he watched with family were punctuated by frequent incredulous exclamations of "what the hell?"
Gall was a former member of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Lorain and the Knights of Columbus. In New Port Richey, he was a member of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church.
He is survived by sons Allen (Dorothy) of Port Richey, Fla., and Frank of Tucson, Ariz., and daughters Jane Nagy (Gregory) of Elyria Township and Mary Ransom of Lorain; nine grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by a granddaughter, Lorrie Krasienko, in 1991; Audrey in 1996; Jeffrey in 2005; and granddaughter Amanda Ransom in 2007, and a companion, Virginia in 2013. Also preceding him in death were grandsons Keith and Alan and his parents Andrew and Mary (Bodzash) Gall.
Calling hours will be 10 a.m. to noon Wednesday at Misencik Funeral Home, 36363 Detroit Road, Avon before burial in St. Mary Cemetery in Avon.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Wounded Warrior Project, www.project.com.
Misencik Funeral Home is handling arrangements.
Published in The Morning Journal on Dec. 3, 2013