Francis Edward SmolenJanuary 01, 1970 - January 20, 2018
Francis Edward Smolen took his final flight on January 20, 2018, just a few months shy of his 96th birthday. Frank was raised in a family of deep faith that valued education, science, art, and self-sufficiency, values he passed down to his own children.
Frank’s parents were Slovak immigrants who entered this country through Ellis Island in the late nineteenth century. Working as a bellhop at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, Frank’s father Joseph went to night school to become an electrician. After getting a job at the Hartford Trolley company, he relocated to Connecticut, where he married Katerina (Mikolajcik) and had eight children, including Frank.
Although once planning to enter the priesthood, Joseph philosophized that there could be no conflict between science or religion, because they were one and the same. The Smolens observed all of the Catholic holy days, and even had an altar in the living room, while the Smolen basement, attic, and garage were set up like science laboratories, with experiments in progress. Standing behind a workbench covered with tools, instruments, and photography equipment, Joseph provided academic lectures to the children, or anyone else who would listen. Joseph also taught his sons construction, plumbing, and wiring, building their own homes and those of friends.
Frank’s mother Katerina (Mikolajcik) grew and raised the family food on their small farm near Farmington, Connecticut, whose flower-filled fields and pine-covered mountains reminded her of her native country. She was a skilled dressmaker with an artistic eye. Frank’s sense of style, exhibited on dressier occasions when he donned a black cashmere coat and Borsalino hat, was in part inherited from his mother.
Upon graduation from high school, during World War II, Frank enlisted in the Navy and became a photo reconnaissance pilot. He flew off carriers in the Pacific, during which time he became known as “Scoop”—whether because he brought back the scoop or because he returned alive to the ship with his Corsair laden with sod scooped from Japan is a matter of debate. Despite earning numerous medals, including an Air Medal and 4 Stars and Distinguished Flying Cross, Frank was always modest about his war career. His sister Anne once remarked he felt bad about participating in a war, no matter how noble the cause, and that this informed his great personal generosity to other people.
After the war, Frank graduated from Tulane University and took on various non-combat roles for the Navy, including managing an aeronautical instruments laboratory and piloting the United States Geographical Survey team mapping the Arabian Peninsula, an expedition that was written up in National Geographic Magazine.
Frank retired from the Navy as a lieutenant commander several years after marrying the love of his life, Marguerite Mary Wareham. He became a stockbroker to support his family, which included four children born in two-and-a-half years: Marguerite, twins Frank and Regina, and Rich. The family resided in Toms River, NJ where Frank was involved with various fraternal organizations, including the Optimist Club, and played golf at the Toms River Country Club. When he wasn’t serving as president of the PTA and chauffeuring his children around to scouts, music and dance lessons, and other activities, Frank took the family camping and sailing.
While the children were still teenagers, their mother was diagnosed with cancer. Frank took great care of her, growing wheat grass and making her fresh green juice several times a day, and ensuring she had alternative and Ayurvedic medicine at a time when few had heard of it. After three hospitals confirmed she had terminal bone cancer, Marguerite went into remission and lived for another 15 years, the family believes due to his efforts.
Frank retired to St. Augustine, Florida, where he became an officer and lifetime member of the St. Augustine Rod and Gun Club, known for its skeet shooting range and weekly poker games.
When it became difficult to live on his own, Frank moved in with his daughter Regina Major, her husband David, and their family in Sebastian, Florida, where he lived for a decade, until it became apparent he needed a higher level of care. During the final two years of his life, he resided at a dementia care facility in Melbourne Florida, where he enjoyed visits from family, including his five grandchildren, Beth, Drew, Will, Stefan, and Alex. To the end he had fun playing the piano with his son Richard, and daughter-in-law Kathy in attendance, and Skyping and taking “vacations” around town with his daughter Marguerite, especially to the Nutcracker Ballet at Christmas. For as long as he was able to speak, he would close every conversation with “Don’t forget, I love you.”
We haven’t forgotten, Dad. We love you, too.
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