A Tribute to Frank McCray, Jr.
Frank McCray, Jr., who passed away early in 2011, grew up in the rural hometown of Chiefland, Fla.
As years passed, Frank never lost his passion. He was often caught hiding from chores by reading novels in the cool shade underneath the house. Most weekends, you could find him walking barefoot in the Florida sun from house to house, where he would read the newspaper to elderly neighbors who’s vision was failing them, or more often to the many able-bodied adults who had never been taught to read.
Frank couldn’t afford the bus, so every day he would walk from his job in downtown Duluth vacuuming floors and cleaning offices to his classes on the UMD campus. Frank rationed what little income he had for cans of tuna, noodles, and fuel to heat his bedroom. When the crisp Duluth fall would turn to the bitter cold of winter, he would often describe the feeling of “blood freezing in my legs.”
Another fixture in Frank’s life was Dr. Chris Christensen. Introduced by a classmate, Christensen’s son Anders, Christensen would become honorary grandfather to Frank’s children. Christensen’s wife, Dory, and their six children took Frank into their hearts and into their home as they did many exchange students and disadvantaged youth. Christensen was known not only for his medical expertise, but most importantly for always being there for anyone who needed him, regardless of whether they had the means to pay for his services. He had dedicated his life to the Hippocratic Oath and became a mentor to Frank. His patience and kindness much like Bob’s, affected Frank in a profound way. His wisdom would give Frank pause in difficult situations, and long before there was a catch phrase, Frank would ask himself; “what would ‘Grandpa C’ do?” Grandpa C, as Chris became known to Frank, Frank’s wife Judy, and their two children, was family in every meaningful sense.
Frank’s academic record was stellar. His contributions as a resident advisor gained him life-long friends. He learned what Minnesotans meant by “the cabin” and “the lake” on weekend visits with his classmates. Academic and student life prepared him well for life after graduation. He received his B.A.(’67) and M.A.(’71) in English and after graduation, he worked for Duluth Mayor Ben Boo while taking classes for his Ph.D.
In this new position, Frank genuinely cared about all of his clients, listened to and understood their needs, and was able to continue to be an educator. He enjoyed teaching clients how to protect their families and assets from disaster and all the trials life can bring.
Frank’s motto was to treat people with genuineness, empathy and regard. This motto of generosity extended to the kitchen. While Frank didn’t eat desserts himself, he made banana cream pies and fresh raspberry pies to give to clients, friends, and neighbors. Each year, he made over 100 jars of strawberry jam, all of which he give away. He was known for his friendship bread, which was equally distributed. For all of his culinary delights, Frank was most famous for his ribs. Known throughout the Twin Cities, southeastern Minnesota and Phoenix, everyone knew when Frank had lit the grill and the ribs “were on”.
Coming of Age at UMD
An essay by Frank McCray in UMD Comes of Age: the First 100 Years (1996)
I have many vivid memories of UMD, but even those that are less clear still afford delight and shed light on my coming of age at UMD. A native Floridian, I remember the spectacle of people hurrying to Lake Superior to net thousands of little fish. I also remember my first winter, the requisite snipe hunt along the North Shore, and friends who routinely left for the weekends to go to “the lake” or “the cabin.” I often wondered where “the lake” and “the cabin” were. Names like Long Lake, Round Lake, Big Lake, and Big Fork inspired little confidence after the first snipe hunt, but these forays with friends from UMD formed the beginning of lifelong friendships that still sustain me.
Some of our friendships have become extended family. Kenner, Donnan, Odin, and Anders Christensen — students at UMD — became “my brothers” and their parents, Chris and Dory Christensen, opened their home to me. I remember trying to explain to our young daughter how grandma and grandpa Christensen became her grandparents, when, out of nowhere, she wanted to know why they were Danish-Americans and we were African-Americans. After a circuitous explanation, which ended near Hinckley, she said “That’s nice.” Years later, lightning struck with our son, who wanted to know if Bob and Mary Jane Owens were on my side of the family or his mother’s. Before I could explain that Bob Owens was my mentor at UMD and that his and Mary Jane’s enthusiasm for East Africa led to my teaching in Uganda, our then twelve-year-old daughter said knowingly, “It all started a long time ago at UMD. . . .”
The impact of a good, liberal arts education on my professional life has been as important as the friendships developed at UMD. As an undergraduate I learned many things that still hold me in good stead. Particulars are sometimes fuzzy, but historical and intellectual currents can still be recalled. What is more important than this is the positive attitude that suggests a balanced, well-rounded person continues to learn more and more about the world, acknowledging the past, enjoying the present, and embracing the challenges of the future. Additionally, this kind of liberal arts education is the natural right of every person.
I reluctantly recall those dead-end days in the seventies when “experts” believed that students should be taught English language and literature that were appropriate to their career interests. Plumbers, say, would not be required to read or write about great literature. I knew this would lead to intellectual slavery and resisted it then and now. UMD, like other institutions, will decentralize, downsize, and restructure again, but its next one hundred years should hold true to the notion that a broad, liberal arts education is the air that gives flight to the heaviest object.
Written by Cheryl Reitan with contributions from Judy, Elizabeth, and Christopher McCray. 9/01/11