AUG. 16, 1935 - OCT. 17, 2006
Chico lost one of its most beloved citizens when Franz Cilensek suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage at his home on Monday and died early Tuesday morning, Oct. 17, 2006, at Enloe Hospital. Locally famous as the Santa who meticulously calligraphed kids' wish lists every Christmas season at Magna Carta, Franz was just as likely to be mistaken for Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead.
Born in Harlem in 1935, Franz grew up in both New York City and rural New Hampshire and joined the Marine Corps. after high school. He proudly served as a cartographer during the Korean War and afterwards attended the Art Students League in New York City, studying with George Grosz and working as an artists's model to help pay his way. Later in life he became deeply disillusioned with America's war-mongering and as recently as a few weeks ago wrote the editors of local papers criticizing the policies of President Bush.
Franz moved to California in 1963 and worked for several years as a set designer at UC Berkeley, immersing himself in the culture of the Beats and forming a literary motorcycle group whose emblem was a large vulture. When later he moved to Chico, he quickly established himself as store artist and one of the wittier employees of Tower Records, joining the Books division after store was remodeled.
In 1987 he married Kate McCracken at the Ring of Bone Zendo in the Sierra foothills and the couple has made their home on 2nd Avenue ever since. Never one to take himself too seriously, Franz in recent years joined the Almost Dead Poets Society, a group of mature poets who meet regularly to discuss their writing and that of other poets. He generously gave time to his community, reading aloud to residents of local senior centers and volunteering on the City Arts Council. At the time of his death he was working on the illustrations for a children's book he wrote for his granddaughter Raina called Tiny Otto.
Franz is survived by his wife Kate McCracken; his son, Alex Cilensek; stepdaughter, Laura Carr and her daughter Raina; his brother, Walter Cilensek; as well as a Welsh corgi named Oskar and three cats: Waldo, Zelda, and Annabelle.
Friends and family will celebrate Franz's colorful life on Sat, Oct. 21, 2006, at 1 P.M. in the Oak Grove Picnic Area at One Mile. In lieu of flowers the family requests that donations be made to the Chico Cat Coalition.
Published in Chico Enterprise-Record from Oct. 20 to Oct. 21, 2006.