A modest man. An enormous commitment.

50 Stories for 50 Years

is presented by New Leader Manufacturing

Carl Franks volunteered in numerous capacities at the Nature Center beginning in 1974, including as a member of the board of directors from 1974-1981. Beginning in 1974, a newly retired Carl Franks was essentially an unpaid, full-time staff member at the Nature Center. He was among the earliest teacher-naturalists; fixed or made things desperately needed; took photos; and did anything possible to help and cheer staff and other volunteers. His involvement in garden clubs attracted new volunteers to the Nature Center. Carl’s wife, Delores, was a dedicated Guild member. Carl received a Jack-In-The-Pulpit Award for exceptional volunteer service in 1984 — the same year the award was established. 

From ICNC’s first director, Curt Abdouch, in 1993:

Carl Franks was the greatest hands-on nature center volunteer I ever had. His remarkable construction and audio-visual abilities really helped spice up our exhibits and made them far, far better than I could have hoped for. Thanks in great part to Carl, our exhibits matured and attracted people, and they were both fun to look at and fun to play with. I remain one of Carl’s greatest fans. He did an immense amount – more than I could have ever expected from a volunteer. He was out there (at the Nature Center) nearly every day.  

Carl was one of the most faithful people the Nature Center probably has ever had in terms of involvement. You can thank Carl for some of the trails at the Nature Center. He spent long, long hours with me, walking trails with Steve Ovel, and in the early days with the Men’s Garden Club, or helping organize volunteer work parties to do minor clearing. We couldn’t have asked for anything more that one could do for the Center. Carl built a lot of the permanent furniture that we had at that time, including a slide-sorting console and several other exhibit furnishings that we used and recycled over and over again with various exhibits. We just couldn’t have done without him. 

Carl’s words of wisdom (from a 1993 interview with Rich Patterson):

Carl and his wife, Delores, never had children, but over the years Carl came to admire kids. “I’d had some experience taking pictures of kids. I taught classes in photography for years, to adults. I always told them, ‘Don’t talk down to kids. I don’t care how smart you think you are, they’re going to be ahead of you. You’re going to be behind them.’ Of the first and second graders he taught at ICNC, as a teacher-naturalist, he remarked, “Those kids were like little sponges. They don’t forget anything. We (adults) are going to live and die by those kids, not by their parents.”

In addition to his many other contributions, Carl Franks also documented early ICNC exhibits and programs as the unofficial nature center photographer.

From Rich Patterson:

At a single board meeting Carl Franks saved the Nature Center.  

It was a tough time — the early 1980s, when the local economy was in a deep slump. All nonprofits felt economic pain and the Nature Center, as a newcomer in town, saw a drop in income even as attendance rose. We were within a month or two of insolvency.

Carl was an unusual board member. All others had college degrees and represented a range of successful businesses and government agencies. They enjoyed comfortable incomes. Carl never graduated from high school. He ended a career as a printer and as a part-time Gazette photographer in 1973, the year the Nature Center started. His personal wealth was submodest.

Carl’s greatest impact happened at a monthly board meeting. The treasurer had just given a bleak report. The board’s mood was gloomy and the staff were … scared.

Carl stood up and handed a piece of paper to the treasurer. It was a personal $500 check. He said, “I’m here a lot. I see the delight in kids’ eyes. I see how hard the staff works. I see energized volunteers. I see citizens enjoying the trails. This place is too important to disappear, so my wife and I are giving $500.”

The board and staff were briefly stunned. All knew this was a massive personal financial sacrifice for Carl and Delores. The board rallied. Perhaps never in the history of the Nature Center have they worked so hard to find money. It worked, and the Center has been strengthening its finances ever since.

Carl and Delores had no relatives. He died in February 2001 and Delores followed him that summer. They left half their estate to the Nature Center and half to the Salvation Army. At the time of their deaths their total net worth, including their home, was $90,000. The Nature Center endowed their bequest with respect and appreciation.  

Their personal assets may have been modest, but their impact was enormous.  

Previous Post
A Doorway to the Natural World
Next Post
When 1 volunteer gig leads to another …

Related Posts

No results found.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.