Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Frank and Helen, Part III

Frank Strukel outside 112 Jay Dee Street, Elkhart, Indiana, 1967

The mystery of Frank and Helen Strukel's sudden disappearance from the Elkhart records during my initial investigation was easily explained. In 1967, they had finally purchased a home to call their own at 112 Jay Dee Street. Although an Elkhart, Indiana, postal address, the home was technically out of the boundaries of the City of Elkhart, and therefore they failed to show up in the Elkhart City Directories I had researched earlier. The address remained a part of "rural" Elkhart County until 1974, when Helen Strukel returned to be listed in the directories of that time. They hadn't disappeared. They had simply moved less than three miles eastward.

Neither Frank nor Helen were out of their forties yet, but they were already empty-nesters. Helen's daughter Sandra Miller had married just shy of her twentieth birthday in 1962; and their daughter Dianne had married in 1966. Less than a week after his forty-fourth birthday, Frank Strukel had welcomed his first grandchild into the world. But now it was finally time for Frank and Helen to  benefit from years of struggle and enjoy their time together in their new home.

Frank took great pride in his home. It was small by modern standards - barely over 900 square feet - but it was a brand new construction lying on a little over a third of an acre. Frank planted shrubbery alongside the curving driveway that once matured would present a grand entrance to their modest home (see photo at Hoosier Daddy?: The Day Ends). One only has to peek into the garage in the photo below to see the meticulous order of the tools and utensils that allowed Frank to exercise the pride he had in his new home. After years of hard work, surviving the horrors of war, and conquering alcoholism, it was time to enjoy the fruits of his labors.

Dianne, Frank, and Helen picnicking in the garage, 1967 or 1968

But living out a life of puttering in the backyard garden and playing with grandchildren and dreaming of a far-off retirement with Helen was not in Frank Strukel's future. On the evening of 17 December 1968, Frank Louis Strukel suffered a heart attack in the new home he dearly loved. He was dead before he reached the hospital. He was forty-six years old. The very same age I am today. And I can tell you I have far too many things left to accomplish in this world. And so did Frank.

Perhaps somewhere buried deep in Frank's mind, he feared an early demise. The Strukel siblings were not a hardy bunch. Frank, the seventh of nine children, had already outlived five of his brothers and sisters, none of them surviving past their 50s. His brother, Tony, had just succumbed to a heart attack at the age of fifty-five barely four months before.

People scoff at the recklessness of youth and their daredevil antics, and they derisively state that they act as if they think they are immortal, that they will live forever. But aren't we all that way? At forty-six, I fully expect to live to see forty-seven. Frank certainly felt the same way. Unless stricken with a debilitating illness, we all expect to wake up tomorrow morning, so what flashes through your mind in the fleeting seconds or minutes when you suddenly realize this is not going to be your reality?

Did Frank selfishly worry for himself, as we all would do in his position? Was his first thought, "Oh my God, what is happening to me?" After that, did he worry about how Helen would cope as a widow barely into her fifties? Did he worry about the fate of his daughter Dianne? She was only nineteen years old, married, and already a mother of a two-year-old; nearly the same age he was when he naively thought entering into the war as a soldier was a heroic and exciting and adventurous prospect. Did Frank have time to sadly reflect that he would not see his grandson whose photo he carried in his wallet grow up? Or to welcome new grandchildren into the family?

And did Frank's mind wander to the daughter he had given up years before? Carol would be turning twenty-two in two weeks. Unknowingly, both daughters had married less than two months apart, and both had given birth to sons merely thirty-five days apart. Carol had a second son (the author of this blog) nine months after the first. I would have been seventeen months old at Frank's death.

But if Frank had ever wondered about Carol's upbringing or her life as a young woman, or if he had dared to think one day he might find her and meet her, those dreams disappeared with his death. That would not happen for another fourteen years.

Frank Louis Strukel was buried 20 December 1968 in Prairie Street Cemetery in Elkhart, Indiana. Ironically, the Catholic church which had been so central to his family and his upbringing, and which had been the cause of worry for keeping an illegitimate child, and which had been a major stipulation in finding parents to raise Carol in 1946, denied him burial with the rest of his family in St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Cemetery in Elkhart, Indiana. He had the audacity to marry a divorced woman.

Frank Louis Strukel (1922-1968)


  1. Such a sad ending for a man that struggled and overcame a lot during his lifetime. It sure is a solemn reminder that we need to live and enjoy today.

  2. I am reading this with tears - for many reasons. Judgment to others brings such heartache for so many years!

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