SUBMITTED NOVEMBER 2016
I first met Frank at Collected Works Bookstore in Santa Fe the middle of October, 2013. We were both there to meet Forrest and listen to him talk about his new book, Too Far to Walk. The store was milling with people… I knew no one, but took a seat in the first row below the stage where a chair and microphone had been placed for Forrest. Frank sat down beside me, and we began chatting. As I look back, I recall it was an instant friendship. You know, sometimes you meet someone and immediately like them…no particular reason that you can pinpoint. When Forrest finished speaking, we hung out together, met Forrest, had our pictures taken with him, and made plans to go on a treasure hunt together the following year. He was from the Phoenix area and made two trips a year to New Mexico to search.
Fast forward to July 2014. Frank had studied his maps throughout the winter and had some good ideas about where we should go. I was accompanying him; I was his partner but I had agreed to go with him whereever he chose. We headed to San Pedro Parks Wilderness where there were plenty of waterfalls (heavy loads, water high). We found a few but never did find Echo Falls and planned to meet again the following day and hike the fishing streams in the Valles Caldera.
The biddies behind the desk that morning were not friendly for two people carrying large cameras and asking for permits to go to the fishing streams. They said there were no vacancies…we tried to get a hiking permit. Nada, not that day. I knew the area well so drove to the Las Conchas Trailhead (outside the Valles Caldera boundary) where the plan was to walk back that canyon to Alamo Bog.
Frank and I didn’t find Fenn’s treasure trove that day, but I think those couple days together were the bonding moments for us. I realized that day what a real trooper he was…he was about to turn 72 years old the following month and had just had a second hip replacement a few months prior and still had the determination to get out into the wilderness and smell the sunshine.
Three years have passed since our first meeting at the bookstore. He and I searched at least half a dozen times, spent several days together making my movie in July 2015, attended two Fennborees, and chatted anxiously on the phone once a month or more, catching each other up on our daily activities but mostly discussing where we’d search next.
The last time I saw Frank was in Santa Fe in July where Sacha and I had met him and his wife at La Fonda for drinks and dinner. Over the course of the evening, Sacha and I made plans to attend the Santa Fe Opera and tried talking Frank into going with us. It was comical listening to Frank deliver all his excuses why he couldn’t go…mostly because he hated operas. None of us knew then the horrible news that would be delivered to Frank in late September…he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
I received this horrible, extremely disturbing news just last month…his wife left a message on my voice mail that Frank was not doing well, and we needed to talk, not voice-message, not email. We finally connected…it was not good.
Over the course of the next three weeks, I thought of Frank constantly. I wanted to call him but didn’t know if he wanted to talk. I wanted to email him but didn’t know what to write. Finally, Sunday night I decided I absolutely had to send him an email and reach out to him…to let him know I cared, thought of him constantly, and was here if he wanted to talk or write to vent to me…I mean, if I thought I was healthy only to hear I had pancreatic cancer, I would be MAD. I would need someone to vent to, to cuss to…
I received an immediate reply from his wife…Frank had passed away five days prior. I was devastated…
So, Frank, if you can “see” this… I am so sorry I never made more effort to call you… I didn’t think you’d be able to understand my words through my tears.
I am so sorry I never made myself email you… I didn’t think I could find the right words to console you.
But mostly, I am so sorry I never got to say good-bye. You were a true friend, a fellow Fenn-treasure hunter who believed in Forrest and the adventure he created for the Indiana Jones in all of us.
Frank was surrounded by family when he passed away. Hopefully, he is now hanging out with his younger daughter who died in a car crash a few days after her 16th birthday, many decades ago. Maybe he’s sharing his search stories with Randy, or Renelle…
All I know for sure is that he will be missed!
Here is a link to a brief tribute to Frank: