While some people have massive buildings, street signs and bridges bearing their names, along with the accolades that naturally come with such honors, often it is the buildings, streets and bridges only that bear witness to the memory for whom they are named.
Not so with Frank Hill, who died Thursday at age 72.
Hill was the embodiment of Emerald High School’s athletics program from its beginning until his retirement in 2004, and the coach was rightfully honored when District 50 chose to have the football stadium carry his name, but there is little to no doubt that what meant far more to this humble giant than a stadium bearing his name was the positive influence and impact he had and could have on anyone he came in contact with.
Comments, both printed on the pages of this newspaper and shared across the social media platform of Facebook are a testament to who Frank Hill was. The Golden Rule, Rotary International’s Four Way Test and his staunch faith as a Christian all seemed to be how the man lived his life.
Those who were fortunate to be coached by Frank Hill, to a person, have had nothing but praise for the man. Throughout the school district and extending into other districts where teachers and coaches had the opportunity to be around him, nothing but accolades and fond memories.
One person’s summation of Frank Hill stood out. It was not from a standout football player, another coach, a peer in the school district. The words are from Annette Peksa, who only came to know Hill after he’d retired.
What was written was as warm and sincere as the person she was writing about. And, honestly, her words do Frank Hill more justice than we can really do in this space, so we share them now:
“I met him after he retired, after his name was already on a local high school football stadium, after nearly everyone else in town. I first met him in church. He was the friendly, funny man in the hall before Sunday School who said hello to any soul who strolled remotely near him. For a long time, I didn’t realize he was THAT Frank, because there was never a hint of self-importance about him. Some people think they’re kind of a big deal. Frank Hill did not.
“I got to know him as we volunteered together at the local cold weather men’s shelter, which later grew into Pathway House. The shelter was launched in Wayne Goff Hall, the fellowship building for St. Mark United Methodist Church, where Frank and I were members. Both the men and the overnight volunteers slept on mats on the floor. Frank and I both helped with transportation and preparing and serving dinner, but he was also one of the overnight volunteers who slept on a mat on the floor, not once, but many times. A few years down the road, a pair of really nice recliners would improve the lives of the overnight volunteers, but for several years, Frank, then in his mid 60’s, quietly chose to spend many winter nights sleeping on a mat on the floor because a couple of dozen other men didn’t have a better option. He chose it. Let that sink in.
“I didn’t have nearly the amount of experience with him that many others had, but I can truthfully say that I have never heard one negative word come from his mouth and never seen him when he wasn’t smiling. I never saw anyone behave disrespectfully in front of him, and certainly not towards him, and it wasn’t because of fear or awe. These men, who didn’t have very much going for them at the time, loved Frank Hill and were touched and honored to have his time. They seemed humbled that he knew their names.
“And that thought brings me to what I saw in him spiritually. He was a thankful man who always seemed surprised at God’s blessings in his life. He didn’t have a mental list of what he thought he deserved. He approached God the way those men in the shelter approached him. He was honored to have God’s time and attention, and was humbled that God knew his name. That’s what I learned from Frank. God knows who I am, and that’s humbling.”
You see, Frank Hill wasn’t about having his name emblazoned on a stadium. He wasn’t about state championship rings. He was about championing human kindness, care and concern. He was about having a positive influence whenever and wherever he could.