Heritage Village, Vineland, Ontario

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Written by Dieter Birk   

Richard Franke (1922-2010)

Heritage Village resident, remembered.

I met Richard in 2006, late in his life, after the stroke.  To others he appeared a diminished man, seen rarely outside his home in Heritage Village, hiding under a baseball cap, taking his electric scooter along Frederick Avenue. To me, he was the Stephen Hawking of our neighbourhood – down but not out – with the same perseverance in dealing with physical adversity.  He was determined to walk again – and over the years he struggled daily to stand and take tentative steps.  Alas he did not achieve the recovery he hoped for – but he never gave up trying.  To me, he stood tall as a man. 

Richard  Franke was born September 27, 1922 in Schönebeck, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, trained in construction engineering, then got conscripted to operate radio for the Luftwaffe. He was a construction engineer after the war, helping to rebuild a demolished society, until emigrating with wife Irene to Canada, in 1956. They boarded the Dutch ship Prins Frederik Willem, destination Halifax, with rail tickets to Vancouver – but they stopped in Toronto to see Niagara Falls, and then stayed in Port Credit to raise their son Rick.   In Canada, Richard found work as transportation engineer, designing roads for the MTO. He was the planner for highway 406 - which brought them to Heritage Village. Richard became King of Kerry Court in 1989, by buying the first house.

Richard and I have a common heritage, but one generation removed.  I could see my deceased father in his eyes, nose and cheek-bones – and I could understand the historical context of his memories.  He was as eager to talk as I was to hear his first hand accounts – how history had unfolded 65 years ago, and set the stage for us to become Canadians.

Richard was remembered by Crystal, our Clubhouse staff member, as the energetic fellow, from some 14 years ago, great at table tennis.  In Heritage Village, he had an opportunity to play with European nobility – not a likely possibility in the old country.  His neighbour, Baron Charles Nadherny von Borutin, from the House of Nadherny, was born in one of their family’s three castles.  He fled in 1949 from civil war as Communists took over, finding a haven in Beamsville, Ontario and became a peach farmer.  Richard, now his social equal, was the Baron’s only serious challenger at table tennis.  The tennis trophy in our clubhouse bears witness.

Richard was well aware of the mental limitations that the stroke imposed – but he was eager to re-build his mental faculties and enjoyed reading and hearing about new technology. In late 2007, I introduced him to prototype wifi-mesh technology invented by a new California company called Meraki.  He became my first collaborator in the inHERITAGE.wifi  project, to bring low-cost high-speed Internet to Heritage Village.  Our homes on Kerry Court became a beta-test site and we fed our experience back to the developers’ forum. Richard’s technical contribution was to determine if wifi-mesh plus Internet could be a liberating technology, for seniors in wheel chairs.  By laptop, via a radio feed from across the cul de sac, he was able to use Google Earth to visit his birth town.  His TV antenna became our first long-distance access point, that allowed the Internet to be beamed across Frederick Avenue, as far as the Clubhouse.  He was the only person in the Village, at that time, who grasped the potential. 


Richard Franke testing wifi and XO notebook computer, January, 2008

We launched a second project after Christmas 2007, using the latest to emerge from the labs of MIT:  the XO notebook computer, under the One-Laptop-per-Child program. Could technology designed to teach computing and wifi communication to a billion third-world children, have application for seniors with restricted mobility?  Again we contributed our evaluations to “open-source” developer forums, identifying bugs and bad designs.  When Richard’s eyesight weakened, we curtailed our explorations. Our community wifi was active until 2015, and the senior-friendly computer we were hoping for, came to market as tablet computers shortly after his passing.  Richard had been part of it – an Engineer to the end.

He died peacefully at Lincoln Memorial, June 10, 2010 leaving wife Irene, son Rick and grandchildren Connor and Meaghan.



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