Oregon lost one of its greatest champions when Gerry Frank died at 98

 

 

Gerry wore many hats during his long 10 decades of life. Like actress Betty White, who passed away New Year’s Eve just a few weeks before her 100th birthday, it’s sad Gerry couldn’t add centenarian to his pedigree.

Because it is an impressive pedigree, nonetheless.

A fourth-generation native Oregonian, Gerry was a legendary businessman whose family founded the chain department store, Meier & Frank, in the Pacific Northwest, later sold to the May Company.

Gerry opened the first branch store (of two) in Salem in 1955, and it was likely this action that led him to call Salem home. He was involved in the community for nearly 70 years. He also co-owned the celebrated Konditorei restaurant and bakery in Salem with Barney Rogers, which opened in 1982. Gerry become the sole owner in 2012 and then sold it in 2017 to a group of partners including his 3-decades-long manager Linae Sielicky. An agreement to keep his name on the bakery remains to this day. 

Gerry was a storied world traveler, having attended Cambridge University in England for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees after first attending Stanford University in California. He dined at Thanksgiving time 2000 with Queen Elizabeth II of England and her husband, His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburg – a surreal moment if there ever was one.

He traveled to London, Paris, and Rome to scout merchandising ideas for his family’s stores in Oregon, and made too many trips to count to Washington, D.C. when he served as chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield. But he counted visits with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India among his most treasured memories. 

Gerry became heavily involved in Oregon’s politics. But the tanned man preferred working outside the limelight and was content to work behind the scenes as longtime chief of staff to the U.S. senator from Oregon, Mark O. Hatfield. He’d worked for Hatfield during his terms as Oregon governor as well, and his efforts on behalf of Hatfield paid dividends. Gerry was often referred to as Oregon’s “third senator.” Many tried to convince him to run for office himself, but he rejected those pleas.

While Gerry was comfortable working around the world and in our nation’s capital, he made Salem his home. He firmly established himself as one of the community’s premier philanthropists. He was on the boards of directors of multiple nonprofits and organizations including the Salem Rotary, the Oregon State Police Foundation, and the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce to name just a few.

Gerry is widely credited with leading the funding effort for the North Salem Salvation Army’s Kroc Center (Salem was competing against other cities nationwide for Joan Kroc funding) by donating $1 million of his own funds and urging others to dig deep, too. Other campaigns he lionized included those of the American Cancer Society, Oregon’s World War II Memorial (on the state Capitol grounds), the Salem Family YMCA, the United Way, the Oregon Garden, the Oregon Symphony, and more.

To recognize those civic efforts and countless others, various chapters of the Salem Rotary honored Gerry with a new amphitheater bearing his name at Salem’s Riverfront Park mid-summer 2021. The invitation-only guest list was a who’s who in Salem and included many of the state’s most prominent dignitaries including former Withnell Dodge owner Dick Withnell, Gov. Kate Brown, current Oregon gubernatorial candidate and then-state Sen. Betsy Johnson, Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett, Gary Epping, former Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski, and others. They were honoring one of their own.

“Mr. Oregon” as Gerry was known, had the Gerry Frank | Salem Rotary Amphitheater dedicated to him in July 2021. Alert and attentive when attending the dedication ceremony last summer, Gerry demonstrated his penchant for being a fashion maven. He was well known for sporting brightly colored and bold-patterned sweaters, pastel-colored shirts, loud ties, and brightly colored tennis shoes. He didn’t disappoint last year.

His clothing usually beat him through the door at social events and civic functions where he was pretty much always the star. He was a beloved patron at the Court Street Dairy Lunch when it was owned by Marlene Blanchard and frequented by the likes of Krina Lee, Scott Casebeer, Michael Davis, and Paul De Muniz (former head of the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation, the owner of Capitol Auto Group, former executive editor of the Salem Statesman Journal and former Oregon Supreme Court justice respectively). He was famous (some might say infamous) for his love of chocolate, too.

So much so, that he alone judged the Gerry Frank Chocolate Layer Cake Contest at the Oregon State Fair for 60 consecutive years. Only the pandemic could interrupt his legendary judging.

The man was also an author, having written multiple editions of a couple of bestselling guidebooks. “Gerry Frank’s Oregon,” which was close to being revised a fifth time and remarkably, a guidebook to New York City entitled “Gerry Frank’s Where to Find It, Buy It, Eat It in New York,” currently in its 20th edition. The guidebooks are popular must-reads for both Oregonians and tourists alike.

A World War II veteran as well, there wasn’t much more than Gerry Frank wanted out of life that he hadn’t already achieved. He was conscious of efforts to bring new life to the city and state and embraced them. He supported them whenever and wherever he could.

According to a news obituary written by Capi Lynn in the Salem Statesman Journal, there is only one item on his bucket list that gnaws at him, according to an account told to a friend at the Oregon Department of Transportation, and that’s to have a portion of the Interstate 5 freeway between Portland and Salem named the Gerry Frank Highway. 

 

Here’s hoping Gov. Brown can
honor the man and grant him this one final wish.

Share What's Good

More News

Local burger restaurant grows to seven locations serving fresh food and beef
Local burger restaurant grows to seven locations serving fresh food and beef

Nancy Jo’s Burgers & Fries has made a name for itself serving wholesome burgers, fries, and delicious shakes.

The Willamette Valley grows a lot of the state's hazelnut crop
The Willamette Valley grows a lot of the state's hazelnut crop

Farmers grow several different kinds of hazelnuts here in the Willamette Valley...

By Emma Davis | Best of the Willamette Valley

Must Read Articles

Getting away to the coast
Getting away to the coast

Whether it’s a quick weekend getaway or an extended vacation, there is comfort, convenience and just plain exhalation to be had at the Three Rivers resort by the sea.

By Three Rivers Casino & Resort