January 04, 2012WOODSTOCK — Fiercely loyal to family, friends and community with a feistiness that seems to be in every Italian's DNA, Louis "Lou" Frank and his sister, Rita Rand, left a legacy of civic commitment and entrepreneurship in the Lin-Wood area when they died within months of each other last year.
After 94 years of dreaming up and participating in new ventures — such as the Loon Mountain Ski Resort in the 1960s and oil exploration in the 1990s and 2000s — Lou died Dec. 9, a little more than three months after his big sister.
Rita, who had spent more than a decade working for Sherman Adams — the developer of Loon Mountain — and a lifetime of running Govoni's — her family's much-loved restaurant — died Aug. 28 at the age of 95.
Theirs is a classic "achieving the American dream" story set in New Hampshire's White Mountains region and revolving around a family business that tied everyone together for generations — a tale that proves hard work and devotion to family life can lead to success.
Their mother, Melvina, and grandmother Clementine opened Govoni's in 1914 — feeding a simple meal of homemade pasta, sauce and meatballs to anyone — often loggers in the early days — who happened along what is now Route 112.
Lou's two daughters Lynda Frank Sanders and Terry Frank Thompson and Rita's two sons, Gil and Paul Rand, grew up working in the restaurant, which has been closed for the past two years but still has a chance of reopening, the cousins said recently.
They agreed that at least 75 percent to 85 percent of the restaurant's business was made up of repeat customers. Though the menu eventually expanded, the family always stood by Clementine and Melvina's original recipes for the pasta, sauce and meatballs, which took about 24 hours of prep time for 4.5 hours of operation. Regulars appreciated the quality of the food and knowing that they could always depend on it.
"There were no substitutes," said Paul.
Lou and Rita's father, Paul, was born in Italy (Paulo Franceschelli) and worked as a tailor and a mason. The family still has the wool jackets and pants that he made from felt that was discarded after being used to cover the rollers at Franconia Paper Corp.
Both parents spoke only broken English, which meant Rita looked out for Lou from an early age and which, perhaps, set the stage for the bond between the two.
Though the brother and sister moved away from the area for school, work and to start their own families, North Woodstock was always home and never far from their minds.
While Lou went on to become the provider for the families — he became the father figure for Gil and Paul after their parents divorced — Rita was the matriarch and made sure all other needs were taken care of.
Both were forces to be reckoned with.
Rita moved back to the area after the divorce, and she juggled being a single mother, taking care of her aging parents, running the restaurant and fulfilling the traditional duties expected of women during that time. She was always on the move, and everyone in town knew it — the local police chief would say that Rita didn't speed while driving, "she flew low."
Afraid of stopping lest she stop for good as she grew older, Rita had an exercise routine, did bookkeeping and drove until she was 94. When she was in her 80s she still fussed over making meals for "the elderly" and would bake for weeks in advance of Christmas and Easter.
Lou strayed a little farther from home, but Terry remembered that "it was a rare weekend we didn't come" up to North Woodstock from wherever they were living. He also had a reputation on the road as there was no snowstorm big enough to deter him from the family homestead on Christmas Eve.
"No mater what, we had to come home," said Terry, recalling a time when he put chains on the tires for better traction and was able to fly by other cars that had gone off the road.
"He was always of the opinion he could do anything — and he did," said Terry.
He graduated from Woodstock High School in 1935 and then went on to four years at the University of New Hampshire where he earned a degree in civil engineering.
As World War II heated up, Lou decided he wanted to be a commissioned officer so he joined the Marines. Then as the United States needed more pilots to shuttle planes to areas that needed them, he decided flying planes appealed to him and did so even through the Korean War.
Lou knew what he liked and knew what he didn't.
He did not like rock 'n' roll — certainly not The Beatles — but he did like Notre Dame, and he really liked one of its former football players and coaches: Terry Brennan, who Terry says she was named after. While he was still overseas in 1945, Lou wrote home that he wanted his second born to be named Terry — no matter the gender.
After the war, Lou stayed in the military and worked out of the Pentagon until the late 1950s. In 1959 he retired as a colonel and was given the honorary title of brigadier general.
In his 40s by that time, Lou's career was actually just getting started. When he returned to New Hampshire, he worked in senior management for a couple of different companies but eventually came to realize that he wanted to be his own boss. Opportunity presented itself in the form of two furniture companies, Patriot Pine and Sprague and Carleton Inc., which he bought and ran for the next 17 years. In the 1960s he also found an opportunity to be one of the six original investors in Loon Mountain, which helped the local economy after the paper mill shut down.
"Dad was always taking interesting business risks," said Terry.
In the 1980s and 1990s he started dabbling in land development and oil explorations, helping to found two companies — Stoneridge Management and Petrobank Energy and Resources — that are still flourishing today, said Terry. He remained involved with Petrobank's board meetings until he passed away.
His wife, Ruth Chatterton Frank, who helped with the furniture business, taught biology and home economics, and was on the local school board in the late '60s and early '70s, died in 2010.
In 2009, Lou also established the Louis and Ruth Frank Professorship in Neuroscience at Dartmouth/Hitchcock Medical Center in honor of Dr. James L. Bernat. The neurologist, who Terry said Lou adopted as his general physician, holds the inaugural chair of the professorship.
Today, Clementine and Melvina's recipes continue to live on, and Rita and Lou's children and grandchildren have gone on to successful careers and continue to contribute to the community. (Both Paul and Gil still live in the area — Paul served 26 years with the Woodstock Fire Department, and Gil is on the Woodstock Board of Selectmen.)