SPRING HILL — Howard R. Frank grew up in a large family in Milwaukee sharing his childhood with three brothers and two sisters.
He served in World War II with the Army Air Corps on the European Front, flying more missions than he needed to fly, according to his sister-in-law Mary Frank.
Never married, he retired from the Pabst Brewing Co. and moved to Florida in 1980. In 1983, he built a modest two-bedroom, two-bath house on Landmark Drive in Spring Hill and lived a simple life.
It wasn't until after Frank's death in December 2010 at age 88 that the depth of his appreciation for his community became clear. In recent months, as his sister-in-law has helped settle his estate, his frugality and generosity have been revealed.
On Tuesday, the County Commission adopted a resolution honoring Frank for his $75,000 bequest to the county's library system, the largest single monetary donation to the county in recent memory.
But Frank didn't stop there.
He also gave $75,000 to the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, $75,000 to Spring Hill Fire Rescue, $50,000 to the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches and $50,000 to the Boys & Girls Club of Hernando County in addition to his bequests to family members.
Spring Hill Fire Rescue was finally able to replace the district chief's vehicle with a portion of the funds. The remainder when to laptops used in the field and tables and chairs for the training room, according to Mike Nickerson, Hernando County Fire Rescue chief.
"It was a very generous donation put to good work,'' Nickerson said.
In Tuesday's resolution, library officials noted that the funds "will be used to improve library services in Hernando County including furnishings, technological advancements, updated items for the collection of materials and other needed improvements."
The funds donated to the Sheriff's Office were specifically to benefit the substation at Forest Oaks. There the monies are to be used to remodel and improve the District 2 office, according to Lt. Michael Burzumato, the sheriff's spokesman.
"It's so very nice to get something like that,'' he said.
In addition, Frank's trust has a provision that whatever remains after those donations is to be divided between the Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund.
"He was a very, very private person,'' Mary Frank said on Wednesday when a reporter contacted her about the donations. "I'm not sure a newspaper article is what he would have wanted.''
But she said she admired what he had done.
"His generosity was very much appreciated by agencies not often remembered,'' she said. "It's much to his credit that he thought of so many people.''
Mary Frank said she was surprised to know how much her brother-in-law had accrued and surprised at some of whom he chose to benefit with those funds.
One agency was not a surprise. She said her late husband and his brothers were always at the Boys Club in Milwaukee and so the Boys & Girls Club donation makes sense. Frank was also a big fan of the outdoors as a hunter and fisherman and so monies for conservation agencies are also not a surprise, she said.
As for the other agencies, Mary Frank said, "I guess as a person gets older, they come to depend on public services for help,'' and he appreciated that help in the way that he could.
Antonina Vaznelis, the attorney who handled Frank's trust, said he had grown up with the Great Depression and had learned to live a life on a frugal, simple scale and in a very private way.
Without a spouse or children and being the last of the siblings, she said, "he was happy to share what he had with his family . . . and his community became his family.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.