By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
BOWLING GREEN — When Harry Frankfather graduated in 1926 from what is now Bowling Green State University, he was remembered as a strong athlete and an active man about campus.
But for generations of students-to-be, he’ll be remembered as the man who helped pay for their education.
The university will announce today that Mr. Frankfather, who died in 1998 at the age of 98, has left the university $2 million. It is the largest single gift in the university’s history.
Unlike many large donors, Mr. Frankfather wasn’t a champion of industry or a man of inherited wealth. He was a high school teacher who saved money over seven decades.
“To me, that’s what’s so heartwarming about this,” said Marcia Latta, the university’s director of development and associate vice president for advancement. “This is anybody’s neighbor, the man next door. This gift isn’t from a corporate CEO. It’s from a teacher who wanted to invest in education and leave a legacy to students.”
The gift will be used to fund $3,000 scholarships for sophomores, juniors, and seniors who have 3.0 grade point averages or better. The students will have to be employed at least 10 hours a week to be eligible.
Born in 1900, Mr. Frankfather grew up in McClure in Henry County. As a student at what was then Bowling Green State Normal College, he was active in several campus groups, including the Five Brothers fraternity, which evolved into Sigma Alpha Epsilon. He played almost every sport, including football, baseball, and track.
“He was a blue-collar athlete, not an All-America, but talented,” said Dr. Ron Zwierlein, BGSU’s former athletic director who is senior associate vice president for student affairs. “He had a heart as big as all outdoors.”
Mr. Frankfather became a teacher, starting out in Waynesfield, O., in Auglaize County. Eventually, though, he moved to Lorain and started work in the Elyria schools.
He taught mathematics and science at several junior highs and high schools, eventually spending some time as an assistant principal and a principal before retiring in 1965.
After that, Mr. Frankfather became more interested in the university, particularly its athletic department. He became an active member of the Varsity BG Club, the association of former athletes at the college.
“He was a very strong fan and wanted to do anything he could to boost the university,” Dr. Zwierlein said. “He attributed a lot of his success to the discipline he learned here in athletics.”
Decades earlier, in the depths of the Depression, Mr. Frankfather had begun investing in the stock market. A series of wise investments left him with a very significant sum. Mr. Frankfather married and had a child, but his wife and their daughter preceded him in death by several years.
The money didn’t change him, Ms. Latta said.
“He lived on a quiet street in Lorain, in a modest house,” she said. “He didn’t flaunt his wealth.”
In the last few years of his life, Mr. Frankfather began to discuss a possible gift with university officials.
“He said, ‘I want to do something for Bowling Green that makes a difference for students,'” Ms. Latta remembered. “He wanted something that helped good, hard-working students who maybe weren’t at the very top of their class, but worked hard and looked like they had a bright future.”
“That description sounds a lot like Harry,” said Tom Vogtsberger, a former president of the Varsity BG Club. “He was a bright man, but he was also a very hard worker.”
One of the highlights of Mr. Frankfather’s association with the university occurred in 1997, Mr. Vogtsberger said, when he received the Letterman Award, which is granted by Varsity BG to three people who have contributed to the school community in some way. The winners are honored during a football game in a ceremony at Doyt L. Perry Stadium.
“He had a baseball hat on,” Mr. Vogtsberger said. “He was introduced last to the crowd, and he took off his hat, twirled it up in the air, and had this big grin on his face. He got a very nice ovation.”
Mr. Vogtsberger remembers being impressed by Mr. Frankfather’s physical condition. Then well into his 90s, he had little trouble climbing the long flights of stairs to the top of Perry Stadium before the ceremony. Ms. Latta said he continued golfing into his 90s as well.
“He appeared to be a very modest, very humble man,” Mr. Vogtsberger said. “I had no idea he had such great wealth. All of the people we honor are very special, but I can tell you that Harry really struck a chord with a lot of people as someone who really appreciated that day.”
More than 50 per cent of Bowling Green State University students are in the first generation of their families to attend college, Ms. Latta said, and many of them are responsible for paying their own way through college. For those students, Mr. Frankfather’s money will be of enormous help.
“The number of lives this man is going to touch in perpetuity is going to be amazing,” she said.
Ms. Latta said that the first few Harry V. Frankfather Endowed Scholarships will be given out for the spring semester of 2001. By fall, 2001, 33 scholarships will be offered. That number will likely grow over time as the size of the endowment increases, she said.
The previous largest single gift given to the university was from James Good, a 1951 alumnus who left almost $1.3 million at his death in 1989 to improve the university’s offerings in international business.