Remembering Frank Reynolds: a man who mattered

Connie Lee Reynolds and Frank join Bonnie Kogos in hamming it up for the camera during the launch of Ms. Kogos’ first book.

The very essence of an irresistible force personified

To the Expositor:

Frank Reynolds was a champion for Manitoulin: a man who made you laugh, think, and challenged you! Frank was full of ideas, enthusiasm and suggestions. Through the years, he had done so much and been so much for people on Manitoulin. He became my dear friend, and in the 24 years of my lively friendship with Connie and Frank, he took every opportunity to tease me.

“That’s because you’re so tease-able,” Connie said to me last week, from their home in Wellandport.

Frank died on March 30, 2016. He was 70, and he died after a series of operations. Connie was by his side.

“This next operation might be it, Bonnie,” he said to me on the phone, cheerfully, a few weeks ago. “I’ve had a marvelous life, with my wonderful wife Connie for 26 years, my two daughters and three stepsons. And my grandchildren!”

We bantered normally, remembering anecdotes of our many times together as I often travelled with Connie and Frank. 

“Frank, I love you and Connie,” I declared.

“We know you do, Kogos,” he said. “We met in April 1992. You were interviewing Eva Skippen at the Sheguiandah Museum for your new column in The Sudbury Star. She told you how she began and shared her family treasures!”

I vividly remember Frank bustling in, all energy and a big smile, toward our desk as Eva and I completed the interview. His hand reaching for mine, “Hello, I’m Frank Reynolds, happy to meet you. You’re the lady from New York City: I have a present for you.”

“A present! You don’t know me!” I responded.

“I know you’re sharing something good for Manitoulin,” he said, presenting me with a shiny Haweater Dollar. It’s on my desk, this minute, as I write this remembrance. His sense of humor was so fast, I thought he came from New York City, I told him.

“Not a chance!” he laughed, “but let me tell you more!”

I listened. 

Frank was a graduate of Brock University majoring in English, entering professional life as a Financial Planner and Life Insurance agent in Sudbury. He and Connie moved to Manitoulin where they lived and he worked for 33 years. He spoke enthusiastically about being part of the Little Current Lions Club and their philanthropic work, his development and coordination of the Manitoulin Trade Fair, his being on the Board of Directors for the Sheguiandah Museum, and that he was Economic Development Office of the Howland Township. And I listened. 

A few weeks later, I phoned Frank to talk about writing a possible newspaper column about him. His wife Connie answered the phone: our repartee was open and such fun, we laughed for 20 minutes!  She told me she was finishing the house in Sunsite Estates by doing carpentry, painting. She also made jewellery and was raising kids! I wrote about both of them in a Window Seat column. Thus began my equal, wonderful friendship with Frank and Connie.

Two years went by, and my fellow in Kagawong and I called it a day, remaining friends. I was returning to live in New York City, yet I had 10 Window Seat columns ready. My Sudbury Star editor said, “Of course, you send them in. With phone and Internet, and your earned knowledge of Manitoulin, continue your stories.”

A joke that came much later: that I was able to give up the man, but not Manitoulin Island. Each summer for 24 years, sometimes in the fall, spring or winter, I hurry back to Manitoulin.

The first time I stayed at the Reynolds’ home in Sunsite, I proudly drove all the way from Sudbury without incident and pulled up eagerly in front of their house, parked and knocked on the door.

“Bonnie, you parked over the septic tank. Drive on to the driveway, where you’re supposed to be,” Frank said, leaning out the door. I backed up a second time over the tank. The grass was so green. Waiting for his rant about me being a New Yorker and unconscious about septic tanks, since I lived on the fifth floor of a building, and had a building superintendent, I sat in the car and waited. Had I broken the septic tank? What was a septic tank?

Frank had remembered one of my first Window Seat winter columns, where I confessed driving into the frozen Manitoulin rhubarb, in my new small pick-up truck into a frozen ditch around Mudge Bay the past Boxing Day in Kagawong. He referred to it even in summer. The truck lived, but the front end needed work.

He saw me, deflated, waiting for the Reynolds Invective. But he was gracious. “Get in this house, Kogos. But promise to take driving lessons and learn about septic tanks!”

When my first book, ‘Manitoulin Adventures: I Was Mistaken for a Rich, Red, Ripe Tomato,’ was published, and the launch was in Kagawong at the new Community Centre, Connie and Frank were there. Dressed in red. And no jokes, just photographs. There we were, all standing up straight and healthy. He did not mention septic tanks. And I learned not to say anything about his smoking; it came with the Reynolds territory.

Many years and many columns later, Frank got me on the phone. “It’s six months before the Manitoulin Trade Fair the following May. Kogos, we need your support! You’ve been writing Window Seat for years. You’re a rich woman! We need you to write a check for $500 to support The Trade Fair.”

I did what anyone who knows Frank would do: “Where do I send the check?”

At The Manitoulin Trade Fair, no one could match his lively banter and sales promotion. Give that man a microphone and his fun-filled personality bloomed even bigger. Interviewing people, inviting you to this booth: “Come to this booth, Bonnie, where they sell the best septic tanks! You almost bought one!”

He never let up, kidding how I specialized in driving into ditches, into the rhubarb. Frank, it was one ditch dive! 

When I told him I was driving from Sudbury to the Fair in a snazzy rental, he put out a fake Ontario Provincial Police Report titled; The Kogos is coming, The Kogos is coming! Everyone get out of the way! This New Yorker loves to drive into ditches! “

I thought it was mildly funny, until I asked Constable Al Boyd if he heard of this. Constable Al, everyone’s wonderful pal, just smiled. And held back a laugh.

One summer in Gore Bay, I was covering the Lace Camp, a local well-dressed lady came to me and asked point-blank: “Who gave you permission to write about Manitoulin?”

My soul deflated: I’d been writing Window Seat for 15 years. I took a breath to keep from falling over. I whispered back, “Maybe someone from a big city can easily see the miracles that keep happening on Manitoulin, in so many domains…” 

Sniffing, she walked away. I immediately phoned Frank and Connie for counsel.

“Pay no attention,” Frank said and laughed. “She probably didn’t understand the word domain. Keep on, Kogos, mostly we laugh with you, not atcha!”

Many of my newspaper columns about Manitoulin were sparked by Frank’s spirit and guidance. “For the good of Manitoulin,” he’d say.  

At a local Lions meeting, I got to go and write about them.

When Leslie Reynolds, Frank’s plucky daughter, earned her way to become a full-fledged miner, I got to go and write about her.

I got to go and write more than 900 columns, and also write happily for The Expositor.

When Frank retired and he and Connie moved from Little Current to Breckin and Wellandport, we continued to talk, laugh, share and get together. We met in New York City, Atlantic City, Disney World in Orlando, and always on Manitoulin. One time, I visited them in Fort Lauderdale, at their time share. When it was time to leave. I stood as the fancy truck and huge trailer was brought to the entrance.

Ever see ‘em pack a truck? Apoplectic with laughter, I watched at the big truck they drove and the trailer stuffed with papers, clothing, and chairs for the beach, sea shells gifts, and cases of Pepsi! I could have hidden in that trailer, survived for days with everything and they would not have discovered me until we reached the Canadian border.

Having lunch at The Anchor Inn with Frank and Mike Erskine, we were having fun until Frank began, yet again, to chide me. While I don’t remember the subject, I was feeling happy: proper weight, good hair colour, columns in on time, friends and my second book published, and no car accidents. But he kept on. I looked at Mike, mouthing silently, “Can you stop him?”

Well-mannered, even tempered, smart Mike, my pal, wisely whispered, “Nobody stops Frank. If he’s teasing you, he cares…”

And I kept learning to take it from a Master Chider and Mentor.

Frank was a teacher to many of us, making us laugh and taking us out of our comfort zones. The last time we were together was at the Manitoulin Trade Fair. We sat outside at lunch, and chatted away, discussing All Things Manitoulin. I was able to take a photo of Frank, smiling, with a twinkle in his eyes, happy to be at Fair, praising the people who had taken it over. Even though he was bent over and leaning on his walker, nothing stopped him from loving Manitoulin and all it meant.

A week before his last operation, The Frankster, in the hospital, spoke clearly about his state of being. “It’s been a great run. I have loved many people, Connie the most. She knows how to put up with me. I’ve loved my 33 years on Manitoulin, and hope I made a difference.” 

“Frankster,” I said, “You know what I’m going to say!”

“Yeah, yeah, you love me! Stop, Kogos,” he said. “After all, life is about hope, love and respect, friendship and community. And Manitoulin and our memories.”

Dr. Pauline Hogan of Fallsview Brethren in Christ Church in Niagara Falls, Ontario, led a Celebration Service of Frank’s life on Saturday, May 14. When I talked with Dr. Hogan, she said, “We had a great send-off and were buoyed up by all the support. So many were here, from the Island and Sudbury. We had lunch downstairs and everyone stayed for the longest time.”