Gerry Frank celebrates his 96th birthday with friends - and chocolate cake - in an event at the Oregon Historical Society (Mary Louise VanNatta/Special to Salem Reporter)

Gerry Frank says that he will see you at his 97th birthday if you eat right and exercise. This was the type of banter between friends and colleagues at Gerry Frank’s 96th birthday party at the Oregon Historical Society in Portland.

Frank, a generous Salem philanthropist, was designated as “Oregon’s Premier Citizen” by Gov. John Kitzhaber in 2000. He served as chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield (and became known as “Oregon’s third senator”) and of course is of the Frank family in the department store Meier & Frank (now Macy’s). 

He is an author, writing books about both New York and Oregon. In Salem, he's also known as the only judge of the Gerry Frank Chocolate Layer Cake Contest. He admitted this year he had over 160 bites of cake at the Oregon State Fair.

As most of his birthdays go, the party was quite a “who’s who.”  To make sure Salem was well-represented, Dick and Gayle Withnell chartered a bus that was packed with well-wishers. Judy Proctor dutifully held a clipboard to make sure no one was left behind.  Also riding the bus was Frank’s former assistant Linda Chase, former Mayor Janet Taylor and husband Dr. Duane Taylor.  I had the chance to bend the ear of Mayor Chuck Bennett and City Manager Steve Powers. Chamber CEO Tom Hoffert and Gladys Blum rode a few seats behind.

Most of the riders, including project co-chair Barry Nelson, were part of the Salem Rotary.  They have been working tirelessly to complete fundraising for the Gerry Frank Salem Rotary Amphitheater.  It was named in honor of his 60 years as a member of the club. Scheduled to be completed in 2020, the amphitheater will be in Salem’s Riverfront Park.

Upon arrival, Rotarian Dale Penn showed off a model of the amphitheater, which has an innovative design inspired by the open-weave basket pattern of the Native American Kalapuya who lived on the site. Guests enjoyed wine from Willamette Valley Vineyards. The vineyard’s founder, Jim Bernau, attended. Political leaders like state Sen. Betsy Johnson, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and former Gov. Ted Kulongoski and his wife Mary Oberst were on hand for the celebration.

The program was short and meaningful. Frank sat in the original red velvet Santa chair from Meier & Frank, while some of Oregon’s most notable citizens spoke.

Kerry Tymchuck, executive director of the Oregon Historical Society, welcomed everyone to the museum. Dick Withnell praised Frank for choosing Salem as his home and giving so much to the community. The past president of the Portland Rose Festival, Brett Baker, said no one has done more for Oregon than Frank, and that he is the best friend the state ever had. Antoinette Hatfield thanked Frank for introducing her to her late husband, Mark Hatfield.

When it was Frank’s turn to speak, he said the secret to living to 96 is to eat a lot of chocolate. I will diligently follow his advice.

Happy birthday, Gerry Frank!

To learn more about the Gerry Frank Salem Rotary Amphitheater visit: https://rotaryamphitheater.com/

Janet Taylor, former Salem mayor, greets Gerry Frank at his 96th birthday party. (Mary Louise VanNatta/Special to Salem Reporter)

Kerry Tymchuck, Oregon Historical Society executive director, speaks at Gerry Frank’s 96th birthday party. (Mary Louise VanNatta/Special to Salem Reporter)

Gladys Blum greets Gerry Frank at his 96th birthday party. (Mary Louise VanNatta/Special to Salem Reporter)

Tom Hoffert, chief executive officer of the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce, and Michael Roth of Roth's Fresh Markets attend Gerry Frank's 96th birthday party. (Mary Louise VanNatta/Special to Salem Reporter)

Matt Garrett, recently retired director of the Oregon Department of Transportation, greets Gerry Frank at Frank's recent birthday party. (Mary Louise VanNatta/Special to Salem Reporter)

Ashley Sund and Dale Penn view a model of Salem's new riverfront amphitheater at Gerry Frank’s 96th birthday party. (Mary Louise VanNatta/Special to Salem Reporter)

Linda Chase, Olga Polyakova and Barry Nelson attend Gerry Frank’s 96th birthday party. (Mary Louise VanNatta/Special to Salem Reporter)

Mary Louise VanNatta is a Salem public relations professional writing a regular column for Salem Reporter. Tell her about your upcoming event at mlvg@prsalem.com or follow her on Facebook.