Respected Native leader and elder, Richard Frank, 85, died Thursday morning at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.
A Fairbanks funeral service will be held at noon Monday at Chief David Salmon Tribal Hall, with visitation beginning at 11 a.m. A final funeral service and burial will be held Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012, in Minto.
Richard Frank was born Aug. 2, 1927: a time when a nomadic subsistence lifestyle was paramount for survival; a time when his family moved across the lands of Rampart, Stevens Village and Minto, the homeland of his parents, Justin and Lucy Frank; a time when elders trained youths on the skills and technique of using a bear spear; a time when grandmothers paddled their canoes from Old Minto on the Tanana River to fish camps on the Yukon River; a time when dog teams were the primary means of transportation; a time when he hunted to feed the family and the entire community.
This early training set the path and philosophy that Richard followed throughout his life: a strong work ethic, a sense of place, service to his community, and fierce independence and a competitive spirit that he gifted to his children, grandchildren and those fortunate enough to have known Richard Frank.
The youngest of 10 children, Richard became involved in community projects at a young age. He participated in a local youth club, similar to the Boy Scouts, where he assisted the elders by cutting their wood, hunting for them, hauling their water, and helping the elders any way he could.
He understood the value of hard work, and at age 13, he chose to join the workforce. He walked from Old Minto to Nenana, a distance of 30 miles, to look for work. He got a job with the Alaska Railroad working between Nenana and Cantwell. Richard once recalled how he would sometimes quit working for the day so he could play cops and robbers with boys his own age.
By the time Richard turned 18, America was embroiled in World War II. He did not hesitate to join military service. He enlisted into the Army Air Corps and served in the Pacific theater. This experience further solidified Richard's character and philosophy of service to his people.
While in the military, Richard took advantage of the opportunity to train as an airplane mechanic He worked as an aircraft mechanic for Wien and Boeing, and later worked lucrative assignments on the North Slope. Richard also worked on the "steamboats" that plied the Tanana and the Yukon River carrying freight to remote communities.
The winter months found Richard training and racing sled dogs with his good friend and mentor, Gareth Wright. His competitive spirit exposed him to many of the legends of sled dog racing. His love for sports was larger than self recognition as a "winner." Richard gave back to his community by coaching softball teams for many years. Many young adults today credit Richard with their success; he was the coach who encouraged them to do their best in life, not just on the ball field.
Richard's commitment to community and place was challenged in the 1960s with concern for Native rights and Alaska Native land issues. Once again he took the teachings of his people to guide him in well-articulated advocacy for Alaska Native rights and the Alaska Native land claims. He served as chief of the Minto Tribal Council, president of the Minto Village Corp., on the Board of Tanana Chiefs Conference, where he served as an elder statesman for many years.
Richard is survived by his wife of 57 years, the Rev. Anna Frank; daughters Roxanne and Robin Frank; sons Parker and Darrell; sister Sarah Silas; grandchildren Linda Warren and her children, Fran Denham and children, Gilbert, Mark, David Amanda, Clinton, Alicia, Dylan, Briana, Gordon, Boe Holly, Maureen, Adrienne, and Ryland; great-grandson Dax; and a large extended family and many friends.
He was preceded in death by his parents; brothers Jason, Jeff, Alfred, Mike, and Arthur,; and sisters Hazel Charlie, Mary Frank and Lorrain Tennison.
Arrangements are entrusted to Chapel of Chimes Funeral Home.
Published by Daily News-Miner on Sep. 23, 2012.