“This is how I get my exercise,” said Frank Valach, 99, as he pushes himself toward the cafeteria in a wheelchair Thursday at The Villa, where he’s lived the last three years.
A beloved father, grandfather and literal community builder (for most his life he was a bricklayer), Frank has been an integral part of Central Montana and has left his mark in more ways than one.
Visiting with Frank, he’s happy to talk about his work as a bricklayer. His father, John, was also a bricklayer. That’s how his parents met.
“My dad was called in to fix a chimney, and my mom was one of three daughters at that house,” Frank said. “If that chimney had blown down… who knows where I’d be.”
You get Frank going and he’ll tell you as many stories as you want to hear.
But, more than anything, he’ll talk about Pearl, the love of his life.
“We were married just two weeks shy of 70 years,” he said.
When they met, he thought she was an angel.
Having just returned from the Galapagos Islands – where he served with the Sixth Air Force during World War II – Frank had an operation after running into some medical issues. When he came to after the surgery, Pearl’s face was the first thing he saw.
“I thought, ‘My God, I’m dead and I’ve gone to heaven,” he said.
Frank didn’t die in that hospital, but he was never the same. He fell in love with Pearl then and there, and the feeling never left him.
“You never know how one thing is going to lead to another,” he said.
The next year (1946), Frank and Pearl got married and started a family, having three boys – all of whom are successful: Frank, Jr became an artist for the American Bar Association, Bob took over the family business (John Valach and Sons) and Bill is a retired finance officer for General Electric and current president of the Oregon Historical Association.
“They all got college degrees and all did well, thanks to their mother,” Frank said. “She was such a good person.”
What it’s all about
Just a few months away from his 100th birthday (June 15), Frank has been doing a lot of reflecting on what matters most when it’s all said and done. He’s proud of his sons and grandchildren, he’s happy he could be a part of John Valach and Son’s centennial celebration in 2016 and he’s glad to call Lewistown home.
“It’s a wonderful place to live,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”
Frank has let his appreciation for the community show by giving back.
“I’ve always tried to be a good citizen and an asset to the community,” he said. “I was one of the founders of the Central Montana Museum, was on the hospital board to build a new hospital and found other ways to get involved.”
It’s meant a great deal to Frank to be part of the community, but what matters most to him is family, and he believes that should be the case for everybody. Spending time with family is essential; so is learning about family history.
The oldest of eight, Frank said he and his siblings wish they could have heard more about their father’s story. It’s a remarkable one.
“In 1912, my dad came from Europe and landed in Ellis Island. He didn’t speak the language, he didn’t know anybody; what the heck did he do?” Frank said. “I want to know.”
Frank has gathered as much as he can about his father’s early days in the country, but there are still unanswered questions, and he encourages others to get as much information on their own family history. The answers could surprise them.
‘Be True to Yourself’
Frank’s advice goes beyond genealogy. He also shares thoughts on how to live a healthy, fulfilling life: one way to do this, he said, is by avoiding talking about politics or religion.
“All you can do is get in trouble,” he said.
Instead, Frank focuses on kindness and goodness. He’s learned quite a bit in 99 years and isn’t afraid to share some of the most meaningful quotes and aphorisms. In fact, he regularly quotes from William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”
“Neither a borrower nor a lender be, for loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man,” Frank recited.
The message – “be true to yourself” – is never lost on Frank.
Rolling to the cafeteria for lunch, he reflects some more, and, as usual, the first thing that comes to mind is Pearl.
“I had such a good wife who was perfect in every way,” he said. “I was very lucky to have her just short of 70 years.”
Playing bingo, playing cards, visiting with friends and family, Frank always seems to have a peace about him during these last days. His resting smile is that of a man who knows he didn’t take for granted the love he built his life around.
Frank hopes other husbands out there have that same kind of adoration for their wives, and, if they do, he encourages them to let their wives know.
“Be kind to your wife all the time,” he said. “You never know how long you’ll have her.”
(as published in the Lewistown News-Argus)