Interview with Frank Funk, August 14, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Interviewee: Funk, Frank. Interviewer: Jones, Carroll. Date of Interview: 8/14/2007. Series: SENC Volunteers. Length: 60 minutes.
Jones: Today is Tuesday August 14th, 2007. I am Carroll Jones with Chris Malpass for the Randall Library Special Collections' Oral History program. And our guest this afternoon is Doctor Frank Funk, who came to Wilmington with his wife, Doctor Ruth Christie Funk, from Syracuse, New York, where both were highly respected educators at Syracuse University. Good afternoon Doctor Frank, and I call you this in order to give you your own ID.
Frank Funk: Okay, that's a good idea.
Jones: All right. This story of very methodically tracking the needs and wants that you both have for you retirement home, let's say, is fascinating, and described by Doctor Ruth Funk. And it was a case of such deliberateness, instead of saying, "Oh well, we just went all over the place and this is what we found." Give us your thoughts on how you did it, and why Wilmington.
Frank Funk: Well, we, as higher educators, believed in research, so we researched it a little bit. I remember looking up the Retired Person's Almanac, with their recommendations, and they rated various places on all kinds of factors, including health services, crime, economics, etc. And we had visited the North Carolina coast on vacation. We were determined not to go to Florida, partly because of a number of things.
Jones: Land of the Living Dead.
Frank Funk: Yeah, that's right. But also, we wanted some minor change of seasons. Now we'd lived in snow country for years, but we weren't enamored of that any more. But we wanted some change of seasons, and the megalopolis of Virginia, northern Virginia, Washington, Delaware and all of that was too much for us. So we began focusing in on North Carolina. Because we both were from universities and we knew that any university brings some lectures, cultural activities, amenities that are useful whether you're on the campus or not. So we actually circled every university on the map. So we were very methodical about it. We had some criteria in mind. Then we met a real estate man, who was a pretty good salesman, and he said, "You all ought to live on the beach." And we found out later, "the beach" in this town is Wrightsville Beach, because we wound up on the poor man's beach, Kure Beach.
Jones: At that time.
Frank Funk: At that time, yeah. But it was a relatively undiscovered part of the coastline, and in the years we were there, we were there nine years, and we were so confident that we wanted to live in this area, that we built a house, instead of renting and trying things out. We built a house in Kure Beach in an area that was called Kure Beach Village, and we were number seven. There are now 250 of them. They used to call people like that mud trackers. But anyway, so that's how we picked the place. But after nine years, we had gotten the novelty certainly, of living on the sand--
Jones: With the hurricanes.
Frank Funk: And we'd gone through two or three hurricanes. And while we didn't have extreme damage, we were not on the water's edge. We were about a row or so back, 1,500 feet from the water line. But every time we had a hurricane and evacuated over the bridge and so on, we couldn't get back for three days to even find out how we were doing. But the other thing was, the novelty effect had worn off. I suddenly realized that it had been months, literally, that I'd walked the beach. And people of our age don't do a lot of sunbathing and so on, on the beach, but in the beginning, we'd take little net bags and collect shells, and do all the things that were new and exciting. But after nine years-- the other thing that was important to us, Ruth may have mentioned this, the first year we had both not only worked at a university, but had volunteer activities, a lot. I remember the back seat of her car had three piles for three different volunteer activities. So this first year, we said to ourselves, "Isn't this wonderful?" We were standing on the balcony of Keenan Hall, looking down at the lobby and saying, "Isn't this wonderful? We don't know anybody down there, and they don't know us." And so we had a chance to sort of recharge our batteries and--
Jones: Now this was how far into the time you lived here?
Frank Funk: This was 1989. But gradually we found that we were-- we got involved in all kinds of things which we can talk about later. So that's how we got here.
Jones: So that's what happened. Well, that's pretty much what she told me.
Frank Funk: I don't mean to--
Jones: Did you both have any idea of what you wanted to do, once you came to this foreign part of the country, so different from upstate New York, or from the cold, or from anywhere? Did you talk about perhaps doing volunteer work along the lines of what you'd been doing up there? Mentoring, getting involved in education at all?
Frank Funk: Yeah, we thought we would be doing those things. We didn't know precisely what. We wouldn't have predicted, for example, that I was once president of the WHQR board, and a couple of years later, she followed me as president of the board. We've loused up a number of organizations round here.
Jones: I don't think so!
Frank Funk: But we weren't that specific about what we wanted to do. The other--
Jones: Why did you get involved with the railroad museum?
Frank Funk: Well, at the time I retired, I got into model railroading as a hobby.
Jones: Oh, that is-- yeah.
Frank Funk: And how did I get into that? I have a very bright wife who thought I ought to have a hobby, and she went out on--
Jones: Did she realize how all encompassing and expensive that would be?
Frank Funk: Well, we can blame her for that. But anyway, she came home one Christmas with this huge, complete Lionel set. I can't remember, it must have been 300 or 400, $500. And I had had Lionel trains as a little boy, when I was nine, ten, 11, 12, something like that. And I always thought that the third rail didn't look right. So here she gives me a Lionel set, and it got to be embarrassing. It was in the corner, and she'd said, "Now don't open it all up, because you can exchange it if you want something else." So it sat there, and finally I said to her, "I think I would like to look, go to the dealer and see what else they have." And I turned it in for what was HO, which is still the most popular size.
Jones: It takes up a little less space.
Frank Funk: So I built a train room over the garage in Kure Beach, the whole room over a garage. I have all kinds of junk. Anyway, that's how I got into that. Well, then when we moved to town, I knew that we'd have a lot of things to do besides putting up a new set of trains, so I put the trains in storage, and then after we settled in, I now have another room full of trains in my house. So somebody from-- one of the early directors of the museum called and said, would I like to work on the model trains at the museum? And I thanked her and said I was pretty busy with my own, thanks a lot, and turned her down. We were serious about saying no to some things. But eventually I did, and I got involved with the museum that way. Then Frank Conlon was on the board. Frank, as you all know, was city councilman and had been director of the battleship. He talked me into going on the board, and I've teased him ever since about getting me in trouble. So eventually, one thing led to another, as they do, and I would go weekly to help clean track and do all kinds of things. And board meetings, and then you'd get more and more involved, and pretty soon, I was president of the board, from '99 to 2001. And then I got off the presidency and remained on the board, and by gum, pretty soon, I'm back on as president, and the last time was like five years. And I just resigned this year.
Jones: Did you really?
Frank Funk: Well, time for somebody else. We're in the middle of a move, and the move has been successful, and so this was a good time for me to step down, and just be immediate past president. So I'm now doing-- I'm still on the board. I'm on a committee. I'm doing oral history taping for the museum.
Jones: Now that's interesting. What type of people would you do oral histories on?
Frank Funk: You look for survivors. The museum was really founded by three ladies. Two of them, their husbands had worked for years at ACL, Atlantic Coastline, and one of them was actually an employee. And the lead person was a woman by the name of Hazel Morris, and her husband Cornelius had been an official of the railroad. And she was an energetic, powerful person, persistent, you know, that kind of thing. Somebody who really could make this happen. Well, she's deceased. She's a member of our church, First Presbyterian, and we got to know her a little bit. But she's been dead about seven, eight years now. The woman who was the employee is in a nursing home, and unfortunately a victim of Alzheimer's. So I tracked down the third woman, and Ruth interviewed her with me not too long ago, so that we could build some archives of how the thing was developed.
Jones: Could you tell us now a little bit-- let me go back and tell you why I'm saying this. I've heard it said by two people, one being Wilbur Jones, that you have practically single handedly saved the railroad museum, and I think Bill Hope would agree with that.
Frank Funk: I don't know.
Jones: So I know that for many years, we'd pick up the paper and talked to people and say, "Well, it just might not last," etc., etc. Give us an idea of how important that is to Wilmington. I know about the Atlantic Coastline, which was the life blood here for so long, but also from an historic point of view.
Frank Funk: As I got more and more involved with the museum, I learned more and more about how it started and what it was about. And the fact that this had been the headquarters of a major southern railroad that ran through six southern states, and at its peak had 5,849-- that's an impressionistic figure-- but a lot of rail, and was the major employer in this town. It was a railroad town. It was a port and a railroad town. So this was certainly worth preserving. In 1955, the board, which met in New York City, declared that it was geographically illogical for the railroad headquarters to remain here. See, in the earlier days, they would be willing to back into the coast, and then go out to a main line or south line. And eventually, enough bypasses were done, so that you had to really want to come into the coast, and they thought it was illogical in terms of their freight business to have the headquarters here. And I'd have to agree, from what I understand. So in 1955, they declared they were moving the headquarters. Well, that end of town was dependent on the number of employees, and it was a shock. And the newspaper called it Black Thursday when that was announced. Fortunately, forward looking people, like our friend Dan Cameron, who was-- I kid him-- was the boy mayor. He was in his 30s. Dan Cameron had enough smarts to have developed the committee of 100 the year before that. And so immediately they started looking for other industry and so on, and successfully after a while. Well, it was five years, because while they declared they were leaving Wilmington, they weren't certain where, and they eventually built this headquarters in Jacksonville, Florida. So in 1960, they moved, and when you move a railroad, you've got all these boxcars and things to move with, so it was one of the longest trains they'd run. But it had quite an effect, and as I do oral histories, I try to get people to talk about this. The newspaper said, if you didn't work for ACL, a friend or relative did. It was so pervasive. And so here, the railroad's going to move. Are you going to move with them, or are you going to early retire? Are you going to leave your friends and family and move all the way to Florida? And as I say, there's five years. So some people retire early. And Chuck Reese, who as you know, is our editorial chief at the newspaper, his father worked for ACL, and we had him write a piece for the newspaper about his personal reminiscences. He was in high school here, but hadn't graduated yet. And he went to Jacksonville, and he so disliked the high school there, that he talked his folks into coming back and finishing. I can't remember if it was New Hanover or Laney--
Jones: It had to be Hanover. They hadn't built the other two yet.
Frank Funk: Okay, so it was New Hanover, and stayed with some relatives or something. So it was very disruptive of a lot of families.
Jones: My father in law was president of a bank, savings and loan, and a real estate brokerage, and they would wring their hands, saying "Coastline's leaving, Coastline's leaving. We're dead." And it was a big change for this town. But they survived.
Frank Funk: In retrospect, if you'd rather have a variety of sources of economics than one major industry. And so in the long run, it was a good thing that happened.
Jones: Well it was, because before the Coastline railroad came through here, it was simply an agricultural thing. I used to wonder-- I'm not from here, but my husband is though-- I used to wonder how in the world these people make their money, how they eke out a survival at all. They sell to each other, you know, but anyway, it's an interesting topic, and it deserves--
Frank Funk: And why should we preserve it? Because we have young mother and fathers who bring their children, who none of them have ever ridden on a train in their whole lives. And so we need to preserve this important piece of history of this town and its impact, not only on economics but on architecture and all kinds of cultural things that developed because of railroad officials being here in town.
Jones: Do you find that the number of visitors has increased?
Frank Funk: Yeah, I think it has slightly. We would run I would think about 18,000 visitors a year through our museum. We keep track of course. We've had people, I think we're up to 37 foreign countries and all 50 states, including Alaska and Hawaii and so on. And let's talk about moving for a moment if you don't mind. We were in the three story freight office, built in 1900, and some folks before us had helped save that. That was going to be torn down at one point, and that was saved. But we had a new landlord who gave us one year leases. I use the plural, more than one, and it was difficult to get grants for the one year lease. And the building had real problems. We'd have a rain shower, and almost all of the-- no matter which side of the building our end, wet stuff, windows leaked and so on, and all kinds of problem. We decided that we ought to go elsewhere and we looked at a number of options. And at one point we thought, if they get going on the multimodal station some place, that maybe that would be a good place to go, but we decided that was going to take too long. And so we began to focus on the warehouse across the parking lot. Now we're actually in that warehouse now, and that's an 1883 warehouse. And that and the freight office, and a little tiny building totally under the tracks-- no sides, no roof, because all you see is side, right behind the old police station. The only three buildings left of a huge complex, which included a six story headquarters, beautiful building, all kinds of things. Urban renewal: we tore down lots of stuff in this country in the name of urban renewal. So I think we are now totally moved, and totally out of the freight office. And in addition to the fact that we're no longer in a three story building, we're handicapped accessible. There's a handicapped ramp, we're on one floor. We don't have any ceilings. We have no ceilings, so it's airy, and we've been able to refurbish our exhibits, and we're rebuilding the model railroad things. You can't move them. I mean, you can't just pick them up. So I invite both of you to come see us. It really has made a difference. We had to raise money to move and renovate. And so we've had a campaign going to do that. In order to do that, we hired somebody to help fundraise and so on. But for example, we got a gift from a former railroad official, who lives in Landfall, who wishes to be anonymous and shall remain anonymous, $25,000, but it cost us $26,900 to move the 1910 locomotive, the boxcar, the caboose, adjacent to the warehouse. And so now, for the first time in years, you've got a locomotive and a boxcar sitting where they naturally would be next to a warehouse. And the caboose, we moved into the front. It's our best sign that we have, a red caboose sitting in front.
Jones: Have you visited the railroad museum in Salisbury?
Frank Funk: Yes.
Jones: And they've come down here, I'm sure. At least I heard. I went to an event up there and was very impressed with what they were doing. It was a one day event. They had history speakers.
Frank Funk: Yeah, they're much larger and they have a train that you can ride on, and then you can sometimes go on the timetable, and it's really a transportation museum, not just railroad.
Jones: Well that's true. I think it's evolved into that.
Frank Funk: It's an NC transportation museum. But I know some of the people, and we've had some things back and forth with them. And they're larger than we are.
Jones: Has anybody-- is it feasible at any time, for example-- I think way back, some years ago, I feel that I had seen some place pamphlets or something that were raising money for the railroad museum, and dickering with the idea that children could have birthday parties there, that people could use it for multi-spaces and such. Not only to draw attention to it, but here we are, this is part of history. Has that been happening?
Frank Funk: Yes. We have a large number of happy birthday places in our red caboose and we have a way of contracting it. That works out well, and part of it is also admission to the museum, so that's worked out well. I'm on a committee now to be willing to rent this place, with very tight controls, for other events.
Jones: Is there anything under discussion for the future of the museum? Any additions, any changes?
Frank Funk: Well, I ought to tell you that we have negotiated with the city to purchase the warehouse for lease for us. And we wound up-- I've got to admit, a pretty good negotiation. They said, "If we buy the place, we aren't going to also give you money to renovate and move." And I said, "I understand that, but would you give us a token rent for the first year?" And then said, "Okay, we got on. Ten dollars a month." Now that's about as token as you can get. And then we decided in the negotiation to tie our future rent as a percentage of our income, and then we even got persnickety about gross versus net sales in the gift shop. We said, if it's gross sales, there's no incentive for us to do it at all, and so we got that. And going from a one year lease, we now have a 25 year lease with the city. The first five years, and then four additional five year periods. So we have done a lot to make this a more permanent part of this place's history.
Jones: I'm glad to hear it, because so much of that downtown area has been neglected. I've heard Wilmingtonians say, "Some buildings are worth saving. Others we might just as well raze," and there's always that specter constantly hanging over. "Let's build a parking lot, let's do this, let's do that." How do you feel about-- you're down toward the end of town where the convention center will be built, if and when. Have you got any thoughts about that?
Frank Funk: We're all for it. I've gone to any number of meetings over some period of time, and at one point, one of the architect groups directly behind the warehouse would be a huge parking garage. And this one architect made a stainless steel side and a picture of a freight train by drilling holes in the stainless steel. And I remember talking to Spence Broadhurst and Bill Saffo and others, and saying, one of the interesting things of having a convention center there is, right near the entrance, we ought to have two things that tell visitors that we were once a very important port, and we were once a railroad city. And if we can help you develop a little display, we'd be pleased to do that. So we're all in favor of the convention center. My wife may have told you in her interview that she was on an original committee back when Sam Hicks was mayor.
Jones: No, she didn't mention that, but I don't understand the thinking of some people as to why it shouldn't be done? It's a great boon, and I don't care what the thought is that it's going to lose money. Not here in Wilmington. We're a destination place to play. And I think too, when your wife-- and are you also involved in ARCH with her?
Frank Funk: Yes, and I had made a little list of my volunteer activities.
Jones: That would be tremendous year round building.
Frank Funk: Yes, ARCH, she probably told you, started what, nine years ago in somebody's living room, and is really a grassroots effort. We deliberately, from the beginning, used the word regional, and that's the R in ARCH. And we shifted eventually from a concert hall to a performance hall with many purposes for several reasons and it has to do with the structure as well. The ideal concert hall is like a long shoebox for acoustics. But a performance hall has to be different to handle different kinds of things. So we've worked along and my wife is devoting her life almost to try and bring together money and people. And we had a five architect competition, and we spent $45,000 or $50,000 on a national consultant who has done a needs assessment. Right now, we're in the business of settling on a site, and we're looking heavily at a site on the river. I can't say where, because it's all under negotiation.
Jones: I think I know where it is.
Frank Funk: And my wife is an excellent organizer, so she not only has the board, and some of the board, three or four of us, are from the original meeting in somebody's living room nine years ago, but she has what I call a corporate counsel. She calls them advisory counsel. And they're movers and shakers and bankers and money people, and so on. And then she has a community group, a lot more women than men, but a community group that helped as well, so that's where we are on that.
Jones: I didn't tell her this, because that particular phrase didn't come up, but many of the-- you see more women than men in your money group--
Frank Funk: No, I meant in the community group, because their purpose will be to set up luncheons and publicity meetings for fundraisers.
Jones: Well just FYI, with the exception of a few on one hand that I can think of, many of the large businesses today, which are carryovers, family business and so forth, and start up businesses, and attorneys and people in banking, are women.
Frank Funk: Yes, I know, I know. And I know about the glass ceiling, and I lived with-- she used to make me wear a button that said "uppity women unite." No, she didn't. I understand that.
Jones: One of the interesting things I have found is in seeing how many daughters, not sons but daughters, of second, third, fourth generation families who are continuing business here, have taken over the family business, and I'm doing a whole segment on that. It's amazing.
Frank Funk: Betty Anne Sanders is chairing this third group. And, you know, she's a dynamo. All right. I want to talk a little bit more about WHQR. I said I was president at one point, and so was Ruth.
Jones: You're a board member now, right?
Frank Funk: No, I'm no longer on the board. She no longer is either.
Jones: That's what she said.
Frank Funk: But anyway, I'm related to WHQR by Reading for EARRS. Eastern Area Radio Reading Service. And I think this is the seventh year, and I'm one of the original readers. So I've been doing it seven years.
Jones: What do you read specifically?
Frank Funk: We read specifically the Star news, and we say "and other local newspapers." So sometimes we clip things out of Parade magazine and Sunday, or whatever. But we say we read for the print disabled. We used to say, carelessly, "for the blind." And that implies you've got to be legally blind. If you stop and think about it, if you have palsy or Parkinson's, you can't hold a newspaper steady enough, so print disabled covers more of the group. The board of EARRS has raised money to buy specialized sets that are tuned to only that frequency, and that frequency is a side band of WHQR that is donated by the station to EARRS. So if you knew somebody that was print disabled, we will loan them a set that costs us $100, and will have some responsible party also sign so that we can get it back, should they be deceased or move or something. And I can't remember the exact number of people we have reading. It's in the 100s. I mean, listening. And we probably have 65 or 70 readers. And this morning, I read in the second hour, or second period. The first period goes from 9:00 to 10:15, and then I read this morning from 10:15 to 11:30.
Jones: Would you read the entire paper, or selected parts?
Frank Funk: No, we clip local and state news especially, and feature stuff. And one of the interesting things, I like to read second hour, because I'm retired and I don't want to get up early enough to be there. Anyway, I read this morning, Annie's Mailbox. We read Annie's Mailbox letters first thing in the second hour. I read the horoscope. We read the police blotter. On Wednesdays we read the grocery ads. I read television programs for tonight. Feature stuff. So we feel that we provide something other than national news and things they can get just by listening to television. So that's what we do.
Jones: Do you ever get feedback from these people?
Frank Funk: Oh yes, and we have several periods during the year where we invite them to come out and they tell us. So they'll tell us, "No, we want to hear it. It's a downer, but we want to hear the police blotter."
Jones: Do you do the obituaries?
Frank Funk: And yes, we read some weddings and engagements, you know, so it's interesting. So we sat there this morning, and somebody from the first hour had clipped and there was a pile of clippings. And I do the engineering and get us on the air, and we're broadcast live at that time, but we're being taped. We're taping ourselves to repeat later in the day, and when we're not on, a Raleigh station covers it. So it's something that gives you satisfaction to know that these are people who couldn't keep up with all this stuff unless they heard it.
Jones: I want you to do me a favor, so that I get this absolutely correct. Please, once again, give me the exact words that the EARRS initials stand for.
Frank Funk: Eastern Area Radio Reading Service. That's what I say. Thank you for listening to the Eastern Area Radio Reading Service.
Jones: You have a good voice.
Frank Funk: Then I want to talk about GWACA. Do you know what GWACA is?
Jones: No, I don't.
Frank Funk: Isn't that a terrible sounding thing?
Jones: It is. It sounds like a disease.
Frank Funk: GWACA, GWACA. I say I'm the chief GWACAmole. The clown.
Jones: And how do you spell GWACA?
Frank Funk: Greater Wilmington Arts and Cultural Alliance. G-W-A-C-A. GWACA. Now, in a nutshell, when this town had its council of the arts disappear, there was a vacuum. And I don't remember how many years ago now, about four or five, Harper Peterson, then mayor, got a group of us together representing museums, to see if we could do more collaborating and working together. And eventually that evolved with the arts coming in, and sometimes overshadowing the cultural. I would be part of the C, cultural alliance, as is our present president, Ruth Haas, who's director of Kay Pier museum. You know Ruth. So we've struggled to some ways emulate another arts council that folded, and at the same time, to expand and look in different directions. We have a board, and we've gotten the 501c3, not for profit, and we've gotten ourselves incorporated, and we've been struggling along with all kinds of things. We go with grassroots grants for artists and so on, and we've been running monthly events, and we're talking about whether we should-- we have a website, and whether we should also have a printed directory of artists and cultural activities and so on. So that's what GWACA is doing.
Jones: You should have a printed directory of what's happening, and if you get somebody to donate their time and the print.
Frank Funk: Yeah, well, we've been back and forth on that for a long time. These days, younger people are so used to websites.
Jones: I'm thinking of, for example, the chamber of commerce or even the downtown Wilmington groups. They place an awful lot of these things in the motels and hotels for people.
Frank Funk: Ruth Haas has just assumed the presidency. Our previous president, Tom Cunningham, is with the chamber, and so he knows the distribution of that directory you're talking about. So we've had meetings with collections of artists and so on, and it's hard to get all these folks to collaborate. Many of them are prima donnas in the arts, and they're so focused. What we want you to do is get us some money. Go away and don't bother us unless you can give us some money.
Jones: You're speaking of the artists themselves.
Frank Funk: Yeah. So we keep working on trying to develop some cohesive thrust, and we're also trying to get our local governmental bodies to support the arts on a regular basis. And some communities, 1 percent of their total budget is automatically for the arts, and arts and culture.
Jones: Let me ask your opinion on something, because I hear this often, because of personal involvement and the family, and also involved with many people who are-- do you feel that there might be just too darn many groups in town, either not maybe doing the same thing. But if put together, it could be a big group, a big bonanza. I have a very strong feeling that there are so many groups asking for money-- they're all good deeds. They're all-- from impoverished children, to education, to medicine, to research, to music, to this, to that, it's too much. And people get turned off by it, I think.
Frank Funk: Especially true, like in some theater groups. There's an amazing number of small theater groups in this town.
Jones: Yes, there are quite a few. I supposed perhaps this is such an all inclusive term--
Frank Funk: Also on my list of activities, if you don't mind. We've hit WHQR, GWACA, railroad museum, EARRS and ARCH, is my church, First Presbyterian. And my own activity has been in these areas: I've done mentoring with what we call confirmands. Young people, 13, 14 who are going to be confirmed. And our system is, you are to get acquainted with them, and have at least three visits outside of church activities. And so it's interesting to get to know these young people, and talk about faith journey, and a lifetime of what you're doing, and so on. I also spent four years as clerk of session. Now if you know Presbyterianism, you know that session is a ruling body of elders. So as an elder, I was appointed clerk of session, which means you take minutes. Every Sunday you meet briefly before the 11 o'clock service and you have a monthly decision making policy meeting every month, and so you take minutes on all of that, and you handle the church's official correspondence. And so I spent four years doing that, and finally said, "enough." And Ruth and I have been involved in some of the other activities. For example, we belong to Interfaith Hospitality Network of 12 or 13 churches that have a homeless family living in for a full week. And that's a good service, because Interfaith Hospitality tries to get them jobs, find more permanent housing, and do all kinds of intervention, not just get them out of the cold and give them a mattress to sleep on.
Jones: Does that work?
Frank Funk: It works well. So we have very often been what they call dinner hosts, where you-- one of the directors once said, "These people are homeless and helpless," so you don't have to be their waiter and feed them, but you socialize with them without being too forward and asking a lot of questions. And you chat with them and play with their little kids. A lot of them are one parent families with young children. So we've done some of that. So we've been--
Jones: How did this come to your attention? Are they selected? Do you have a service that gives you names of them?
Frank Funk: Well, yeah, there's a centralized office, and then each church has certain one week periods. Our church has about every three months, has a family living in for a week, and we provide food and volunteers during those weeks. Anyway, those are some of the activities that we're involved with.
Jones: You are not letting any grass grow under your feet. You're the kind of people we want to talk to.
Frank Funk: Can we talk about World War II a minute?
Jones: Please do.
Frank Funk: I once took a course with your husband at the library on World War II.
Jones: A course?
Frank Funk: Yeah, he taught a course on World War II.
Jones: Yes, he's always teaching something.
Frank Funk: As a World War II combat vet, I decided I would go. And what was interesting to me is that while I had experiences during World War II, but I had a narrow view of a war, because of my own experiences., flying out of Italy in a B17 bomber as a navigator. But Wilbur's course gave me more of a global sense of that total war, including the Pacific as well as European war and all that.
Jones: He just returned from leading a group for two weeks. They started in Malta and went up the coast of Italy, the invasion of Italy, up to Anzio Beach.
Frank Funk: I flew out of Fogia, which is north of Naples, as I say, in a B17 bomber. After three missions, I think, our plane went down in Czechoslovakia. We were captured by the old guard and taken to prison.
Jones: In Czechoslovakia?
Frank Funk: No. They took us to an interrogation camp where they tried to squeeze what they can out of you. It was an interesting experience, because they understand, if you get isolated and nobody talks to you, then you can play the good cop, bad cop. Bad cop suggests you might leave feet first. And good cop says, "For you, da var is over. Ve is flyers together. Ve understand these things, und have a zigaretten." And I said, "No thank you." So an interrogation camp, and then to an officers' camp. See, under the Geneva Convention, officers were not supposed to have to work, whereas enlisted me had to be in work camps. And so I was in Stalag Luft I north, about 60 miles from Sweden, north of Berlin, for seven months I think, seven or eight month. We eventually were liberated by the Russians, believe it or not, and they were very unhappy with us, because our high command had decided that the would keep us locked in, because if they let us scurry around the countryside, people would get in trouble, easily. We were half starved, and if you overate, you could actually die from acute gastritis and stuff. Anyway, I'm coming up to my favorite World War II story. So we were finally, after drinking vodka with the Russian high command and radioing frantically to France, we were flown out from a nearby airport to Marseilles in France. So here we are, ex Krieg Gefangeners, was the German name. Krieg for war, war prisoners, on a chow line, watching German POWs go through the line with their trays piled high with food, and we'd eaten sawdust bread and scooped maggots of the top of stew and so on. So that was not a very good thing for us to see, but we had tried to understand. And there was a commotion at the end of the chow line. You could tell from retinue that somebody important was coming along. By gum, it was Ike Eisenhower.
Jones: Really? Now this was after the war had ended, and you were liberated, but--
Frank Funk: We were about to be flown out back to the States.
Jones: And you're still in Berlin, near Sweden?
Frank Funk: No, we were in Marseilles, on the French cost.
Jones: I'm sorry, I'm sorry.
Frank Funk: Yeah, we were in Marseilles, on a chow line, ready to be shipped out. And usually, by boat, which gave them a chance to fatten us up on the way over to the States. Anyway, the story goes like this. We noticed this commotion, and here comes Ike Eisenhower and a whole retinue of people with him. And he stopped and it sounds like I'm making this up, but I swear, I'm not. He stopped the guy next to me and he said, "Where are you from, son?" And the guy said, "Kansas, sir." "Oh, the hell you are. You know, I'm from Kansas too," and they both laughed. And he says, "Got a question to ask you," says Ike. "Would you rather go home quickly, or in style?" And this kid, without missing a beat, said, "Both, sir." And he laughed and moved on. And that's a wonderful memory of a world renowned figure and humanizing. And he was that way with the troops, and it was genuine. You know, it wasn't phony. "Oh, the hell you are. I'm from Kansas." You know, it was like-- it made him very human and special. That's my World War II story.
Jones: When did you finally get back to the States?
Frank Funk: I think this was late 1944, and we were sent-- we had a quick home visit and then went to a convalescent hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida. And they had ex prisoners of war go there. They thought that we might have post traumatic stress syndrome. And so they gave us what is called truth serum, to have us talk about horrible things that happened and so on. Well I read recently, that don't assume that everybody has automatically post traumatic syndrome. I don't think I had a lot of it. I saw a guy get shot through the window, because we weren't supposed to be near the windows during an air raid. And somebody was drawing his picture and wanted him near the window for light. I saw a guy get shot because he went after a ball, and he thought the guard had nodded to say, yes you can get it, and the guard didn't. So, you know, and we were starving and all kinds of things. And we were shot at, as we went over targets and saw planes go down and so on. But anyway, then we talked earlier. We came back and got the GI Bill. I'd gotten out of high school in 1940, and you could tell the war was coming. You know, the march into Poland and all kinds of things. And Britain was in it early and so on. So I was saving money to go to college. Nobody else in my family had gone to college. I have four sisters.
Jones: Where are you from originally?
Frank Funk: Jersey City, New Jersey. So we-- what was I saying?
Jones: You were talking about the GI Bill.
Frank Funk: So I didn't go to college. I went to work for a valves company and did all kinds of other things. Eventually, after Pearl Harbor, all young men wanted to get into the service, and most of us wanted to be a hot pilot [makes engine noise]. I went to get a physical and was rejected because of a deviated septum. I went and got it operated on and went back the same day. And I remember the doctor looked at me and pulled the cotton out and said, "I can't even see, but I can tell you've had an operation done on your nose. Accepted." And then you went to basic training, Atlantic City, then to a classification center in Nashville, where you had all kinds of tests. Then you'd go to the bulletin board, and if your name was on it in the right way, you'd go to an officer's school. If it wasn't you'd go to a gunnery school and be a noncom, or an enlisted man, a gunner. I evidently made it to navigation school at Monroe, Louisiana, and the government spent about $87,000 on each of us and taught us to navigate by the stars, celestial navigation, and then they sent us to Europe. And my sextant to do the star sighting was in a polished wooden box at the corner of my muddy tent in Italy. But if they needed to, they could have sent me the Pacific, you see. So that's the way it was.
Jones: After the war--
Frank Funk: After the war, I used-- yeah, I went back to Syracuse. Oh, I forgot. When I first got in the service, as so many men were going in soon after Pearl Harbor that the classification center was jammed. So what they did was to send you to a campus in a college training detachment, and I went to Syracuse University. And so, I wanted to go, I knew it, and it was a beautiful city, and I wanted to go back to it, and I did. And eventually, you know, got my undergraduate degree there, on the GI bill. Went to Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania as an instructor, working on a master's. Finished my master's, went to Purdue University to get my doctorate in 1955.
Jones: And your field of study?
Frank Funk: Was speech communication. And business and industrial communication. I did a doctoral study on ALCOA foremen and their communication.
Jones: That would be very interesting. Well, I'm told that our time is about up.
Frank Funk: You got a talker, I'm afraid.
Jones: It's marvelous. That's a plus, and I'm glad that you made notes, so that we don't have to pull things out of you. But it's been a pleasure, it's been very informative. I'm glad you're here. I'm glad you're both here. And doing good work. And you're definitely the kind of people that most of us enjoy. You're not sitting around playing bridge or on the golf course all the time.
Frank Funk: Or rusting. A certain amount of rust, you know. If you're focused on the past-- we'd talked about this before the camera came on-- if you live in the past, that's sad.
Jones: It is sad. You've got to embrace the now and look forward.
Frank Funk: I'm looking forward to doing an oral history with a 90 year old who worked for ACL for years and years next week. There are always things in the future.
Jones: I wish you luck on that. I have found that a couple of 90 years olds, or one 94 year old, who are as spry and up to date and have great remembrances better than people 30, 40 years younger, so enjoying life too.
Frank Funk: Good.
Jones: Thank you very much.
Frank Funk: Thank you for your kindness.