THE MISSOULIAN Wednesday, October 1, 2008
MISSOULA - Early in the morning on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2008, after a lifelong struggle with chronic illness, Frank got his wish of delocking the 324 cubic inch engine of his beloved 1954 Oldsmobile Super 88 and burned rubber down the dragstrip of the Great Beyond and thereby blended his love of the Montana landscape and its health into the spirit that animates us all. His old friend, the artist, Jay Rummel, once said of him, “Frankie’s out mulching eastern Montana.”
MISSOULA - Early in the morning
on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2008, after a lifelong struggle with chronic illness,
Frank got his wish of delocking the 324 cubic inch engine of his beloved 1954
Oldsmobile Super 88 and burned rubber down the dragstrip of the Great Beyond
and thereby blended his love of the Montana landscape and its health into the
spirit that animates us all. His old friend, the artist, Jay Rummel, once said
of him, “Frankie’s out mulching eastern Montana.”
Frank was born Jan. 21, 1948, at Mrs. Braddock’s boarding house in Chinook, during a blizzard that made it too tough to get to Havre and Sacred Heart Hospital. Upon his birth, his father, Lloyd, danced a German jig with his Aunt Marie (Bill) Miller.
Frank grew up on the old Blackstone Place, Paradise Valley, North Fork School District, Blaine County. He enjoyed the home place and northcountry grazing land of his grandfather, John Tilleman, on bikes, horses, scooters and, of course, his Olds. He claimed to know every coulee, spring, cross fence and lone tree of that ranch and most of the neighbors, too. He attended country school and then Chinook High School, graduating in 1965. During his high school years brucellosis struck his parents’ herd and put an end to his ranching dreams and made a college education more attractive. While in high school he also became a charter member and officer of the Eliminators Car Club and held the distinction of being the only member to win trophies at Lewistown’s King Kam dragstrip.
After high school, Frank attended the University of Montana, working his way with the Food Service and helping out with the Grizzly football team training table. While at the university, Frank was diligent in his studies but also active in the anti-war movement focused on ending the Vietnam War. News of the death of his friend and fellow car club member, Ronnie Ewing, in Vietnam, led him to desire to take a more active role in the events of the day and he moved to Bremerton, Wash., to live with his beloved sister, Myrna (Max) Hayes. Frank said he’d had four mothers, Lena, Juliette Archer, Myrna and his pinto mare.
Medically unfit for service, he became a counselor for poor black kids working in a program at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. He was chosen by the Navy for this position because of his ability to communicate with disadvantaged people and understand their concerns, such as the statistically high number of blacks killed in Vietnam. As he worked with the kids, he gradually came to understand that thirty percent of them could not afford an alarm clock and became part of a group that persuaded prominent Seattle natives like rock star Jimi Hendrix to donate money for clocks and ferry tickets so the kids could cross Puget Sound and be on time for work. He also worked to improve their nutrition. He was always proud that this program, sponsored by the Navy and Job Corps, played a part in keeping Seattle calm during a summer when riots exploded in Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles and Newark, N.J.
During this time, Frank also had major surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, which resulted in a six week stay at the Methodist Hospital there. He remained deeply grateful to the citizens of Chinook for the huge blood drive they held on his behalf and regretted not being able to thank them in some substantial way.
Frank eventually returned to the University of Montana and graduated with a degree in political science in 1971.
Frank worked in the cooking profession as a student and later, after attempting other employment, graduated from the culinary arts program at the UM College of Technology. He then worked as cook and manager at various Missoula area establishments, including the Florence Hotel, Perkin’s (now Finnegan’s), The Silvertip Lounge, and The Rocking Horse (now The Mustard Seed) and at one point, owned and operated Wild West Pizza in the basement of Luke’s Bar (like mother, like son). He left The Rocking Horse to join the faculty of the culinary arts program at the College of Technology as an instructor. He became chairman of that department and a certified master chef and earned an M.S. degree in vocational education from MSU-Northern. His cooking career spanned 36 years, the last 16 at the College of Technology before his medical condition forced him to retire.
He was very close to his two sons, Chris and Max, and loved them dearly. He coached them in Little League and Kiwanis Quality Supply basketball. He loved to take them out in the woods to explore and hike, often in areas he had researched for their geographical and historical aspects and that were due to be logged, mined or subdivided. He wanted them to share his love of the land and be aware of its fragility. Something he also shared with his friends on river floats, car camping trips and Penguin parties (“Quack!”).
He also had a keen appreciation of art, music, automobiles and the history of Montana.
In his later years, Frank became interested in genealogy and updated the Sonnenberg/Miller family tree to 2008. In doing so he renewed acquaintances with relatives and discovered half of Wisconsin seemed to be Sonnenbergs.
Frank was preceded in death by his father Lloyd; his mother Lena; and his sister Myrna.
He is survived by his sons, Christopher (Krista) and Max; and grandchildren, Caleb and Berlyn; and a host of relatives in Blaine County and around Montana and many friends who will miss his quick wit and big heart.
Cremation has taken place and a service is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 1, details to be announced later.