Donovan Frank
Donovan Frank
His Honor learned justice from an entry box.

"It was while working at my father's store that I had my first exposure to justice. My father, like a number of businesses on the main street of Spring Valley, would have holiday drawings for merchandise, turkeys, hams, and sometimes cash. When it came time for the drawing, it would not be a random drawing," recalled Spring Valley High School alum, United States federal judge and 2012 Kingsland Wall of Honor inductee Donovan Frank.

"My father would take the entry box back to his little office - usually in the presence of Russell Hancock - a good friend, father figure to me, and appliance service man - and tell me to dump the names out on the desk. Then he would select a person based upon economic need and the fact that they may have been too proud to ask for assistance from others or the government."

Frank is being recognized by the Kingsland School District and the Kingsland community for his outstanding achievements and contributions to the good of humankind, a chain of paying it forward that began when he was born in 1951 to Donald Frank and Elaine (Frank) Stadelman, who worked to instill lessons of integrity and earnestness in their children.

His father is no longer living, and his mother remarried and is now living in Rochester. He has two sisters, Donnis Lassig, who lives in Stewartville, and Debbie Smith, who lives in Spring Valley.

The family lived "for a time in Ostrander, near the family farms" of both of his sets of grandparents, where his parents had grown up. "Later, my father started a small television and appliance store in Ostrander, and then moved it to Spring Valley where it was known for years as Spring Valley TV and Appliance."

Growing up, he spent summers working on family farms for his uncles and aunts. "I worked at the farm of my father's oldest brother, Clayton Frank. I would stay at Clayton and Beatrice Frank's home, along with their children - my cousins, Charles, Mike, Paul and Wayne - and I would help with everything from the dairy cattle to baling hay."

Frank also rode a milk route with Lyle Clark, his father's youngest sister, Clarice's, husband. "I also stayed with my father's oldest sister, Nora Vrieze, who was married to Wendell Vrieze, out by Cherry Grove, and helped on Lyle and Mavis Frank's farm, which was closer to Preston. Lyle was my father's older brother. It was in all of these environments that I was taught a very strong work ethic and how to treat people... people cared for one another and would extend a helping hand or an act of kindness to those in need."

Businessman Donald Frank exemplified his values for his children to see, and the entire family welcomed a "man named Dutch who had a developmental disability."

"My parents insisted that Dutch participate in activities with our family - going to church and helping out at my father's television and appliance store. I did not realize it at the time, but as I left Spring Valley to go to college, I had been taught that people with disabilities, like Dutch, had the same hopes and dreams that we all do and that they should all be treated with respect and dignity."

Frank was the first person in his extended family to attend college, as his father wished for his children to do so. "I chose Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, because I played the trombone in the Spring Valley High School band, and I had visited Luther College on a band trip.

"I will be forever grateful to my parents because even though my father was a very smart and kind man, he had to quit school in the eighth grade to work the family farm with his brothers and sisters, yet my mother and father encouraged me to leave the family business and Spring Valley and follow my dreams by going off to college. So, off I went, with their full support and encouragement."

He did so thanks to how he was raised by his parents, "understanding that I had a responsibility to give back to my community and help those most in need."

"I watched my parents and their friends and relatives do the same, day in and day out. The message each day was, 'You are fortunate - based upon hard work, some luck along the way for most of us, and the support of family and friends - to have a successful life.' With that came the responsibility to give back to the community in which you live and to extend a caring hand to those most vulnerable in your community and those in need."

Frank came of age in a time when the nation was testing its boundaries, and that, he stated, was partly why he began a career in law and justice.

"I believe it was some time as a college freshman at Luther College that I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. Given the mood of the country at that time and all of the protesting going on, many people felt that if they became a lawyer, they could 'help save the world.' Whether that was realistic or not, early on in my freshman year in college, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer, even though I did not know much about the law, except that lawyers were known as kind of the equalizers in our society who made promises to treat everyone with equal justice and give people access to justice."

His career as a lawyer in the courts led him to prosecute landmark cases that eventually earned him distinction as a candidate for the judge's bench.

"I did not particularly 'aspire' to become a judge, but, rather, I think my name came to the forefront more so because of the work that I was doing."

After graduating from law school, Frank moved north to Minnesota's Iron Range and served as a prosecuting attorney for the St. Louis County Attorney's Office in Virginia. He initially worked on child neglect, abuse, and commitment cases. During his last five years there, he handled primarily civil cases and felony criminal cases. As an assistant attorney for St. Louis County, he tried a case before a jury that involved the first felony child sexual abuse case in the state of Minnesota in which "expert testimony was allowed to explain why young children do not report sexual abuse and why mothers often support the father or the boyfriend who is accused of the abuse."

He continued, "The expert was allowed to testify that the child's behavior was consistent with that of other child sexual abuse victims with whom the expert had worked. I also handled the appeal of the case to the Minnesota Supreme Court. In State v. Myers, 359 N.W.2d 604 (Minn. 1984), the Minnesota Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the receipt of such testimony for the first time. The decision remains the law to this day."

In 1985, eight years after he began his legal career, Frank was appointed to the state district court bench and served as chief judge of Minnesota's Sixth Judicial District from 1991 to 1996.

"As a state court judge, I had many opportunities to work with Sheila Wellstone on domestic violence issues. I believe that it was through this relationship with Sheila that I was brought to the attention of Senator Paul Wellstone when the opening for a federal judgeship came along, and I was nominated by President William Jefferson Clinton and confirmed by Congress in 1998.

"I was sworn in as a United States district judge on Nov. 2, 1998. The lessons drawn from my path to both the state and federal benches are more about hard work and involvement with the community around me, rather than political connections."

Frank enjoys his occupation for the rewards it affords him. "It is truly a privilege to have a job where your guiding principles each day are serving the interests of justice and doing your very best to act in the public's interest in trying to make the world and the community within which you live and work a better place for all citizens."

Frank said as a judge, one has a responsibility to set an example for those around them - in and out of the courtroom. "The oath you take as a judge is a constitutional promise to provide fair and equal treatment, as well as equal justice, to everyone who appears before you."

He stated, "In many cases, without endangering the public's safety, you can give hope to certain individuals who appear in front of you in trying to make the fair and right decisions, so that regardless of how poor someone is, how rich they are, their station in life, or no matter what their background is, people leave your courtroom feeling they have received equal treatment."

That said, Frank explained why he makes an effort to engage students from small town school districts in various opportunities, such as when Kingsland students participated in the Open Doors to Federal Courts program that he has hosted for the past 13 years, a program that includes a mock trial and career showcase that allows students to learn about the justice system, and discover their potential.

Frank added, "Living in the Twin Cities metro area, I see the vast number of opportunities offered to students here. Having both grown up in a small town in the out-state area, I feel it is important to offer some of these same opportunities to out-state students.

"It is important for each student to be allowed the opportunity to follow their dreams and to be exposed to and explore opportunities beyond their own community - the program opens with an emphasis on achieving your dreams, because for some of the students, this may be the first time they have seen a person sharing their background who is an attorney, a DEA agent, a probation officer, or even a judge. The message is an important one: 'If we can do it, you can do it.'"

The small town boy who grew up to be a federal judge is humbled by the honor being bestowed upon him. "I feel that it is a privilege to be honored by the Kingsland School Board and administration. It is important, however, to state that no one does these things on their own. In my case, I owe so very much to my mother and father who not only sent me off to college with a strong set of values and strong work ethic, but taught me how to treat people, while encouraging me to follow my dreams."

Frank lives in the Twin Cities area and is, according to his family, very devoted to his work. "My wife Kathy and I are the parents of five grown daughters, including two sets of twins, and we reside in the Twin Cities metro area. If you asked my wife, children, or close friends what I do in my spare time, they will probably say that I work too much and that it is not normal to enjoy going to work as much as I do.

"I spend time with my children, even though my youngest set of twins is now 23. I do volunteer work in the disability community and serve on the Board for Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers."

When he's truly not at work, he catches up on the news. "I like to read newspapers. My parents taught me how to play 500, and I still play 500 with friends, family members - including my mother and her husband, and others when time permits."

Frank concluded, "I am an average guy who has been lucky along the way and, with a lot of hard work and family support from the time I was born, I have enjoyed a great life with a great family.

"These are difficult times we live in. It is important to use our gifts and talents to give back to our community and to do our best to treat each other with compassion and to lend a helping hand to those most in need. I try to do my part to make the world a better place to live."

The Kingsland School Board and administration will recognize Frank this Friday, Sept. 29, during a homecoming Wall of Honor celebration meal and program. The meal is slated to begin at 5 p.m. in the Kingsland Café at Kingsland High and Elementary School, with a presentation to Frank and his comments to follow at 6 p.m.