Frank remembered as kind Santa, teacher, soccer mentor

Detlef Frank, as Santa, sits with his grandson Calvin Hoppe. Frank is known in the Dayton area for playing the role of Santa Claus for the past 21 years. CONTRIBUTED

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Detlef Frank, as Santa, sits with his grandson Calvin Hoppe. Frank is known in the Dayton area for playing the role of Santa Claus for the past 21 years. CONTRIBUTED

Local man played Santa for multiple communities’ events; played and refereed soccer into his 70s

Detlef Johann E. Frank, a German immigrant, became well-known in Dayton soccer and teaching circles — and for his holiday roles as Santa Claus — died on Nov. 28, 2021, at the age of 79.

Frank’s family described him as caring, loving, and with a great desire for learning, teaching, and travel.

“An early ambition was to travel the world in a sailing vessel to learn about other cultures and the people who lived within those cultures,” said his wife, Ann. “He could talk easily with anyone and had an ear for language the way one might have an ear for music, which endeared him to those he met because he didn’t expect them to understand his language; he would work to learn theirs.”

Born in Munich, Frank immigrated to the United States with his family in 1948, at age 6. His father was a scientist brought to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base via “Project Paperclip,” an American program designed to bring German scientists and technicians to the U.S. after World War II.

Frank’s family settled in Yellow Springs. A 1960 graduate of Bryan High School, Frank discovered a love for soccer, playing on the school’s first soccer team and later with the Yellow Springs Soccer Club from its inception in 1970. Frank played, as well as refereed for youth soccer clubs, into his 70s.

After graduating from Saint Bonaventure University in 1964, Frank served as a teacher of physics for the Peace Corps in the Philippines until 1967.

“One of the things he shared about his Peace Corps experience was that people enter the Corps with the ideal they’d help others or effect change in the places they’d serve,” said his daughter Nadja Turek. “He felt, in reality, the most significant impact was on the volunteers themselves, in that their appreciation and awareness of the world was enlarged by the experience, and it humbled them as to the ability of any one person to ‘change the world,’ and also to appreciate that the American way is not the only way.”

Frank’s teaching career also included time at the University of Chicago Laboratory School, Stivers High School, and the Greene County Career Center.

“Dad enjoyed mentoring people, be it in the classroom or in his second home, the soccer field,” Turek said. “I have heard from so many of his fellow soccer referees since his passing and they universally use the word ‘mentor’ to describe him.”

It was in 2000 that Frank was first asked to play Santa by the activities director of the Friends Care Community of Yellow Springs, the facility at which his parents lived in their older years.

Turek said her father agreed, very willingly, and was provided a costume. A couple of years later, his role as Santa extended to his grandson’s daycare center.

“Over the years, the requests increased and our family gifted him a Santa suit of his own; he really loved playing Santa,” Turek said. “He kept his white beard trimmed most of the year, but would stop trimming it in August to let it grow out and be bushy by Christmas.”

Frank’s role as Santa extended further to gigs at Polen Farm in Kettering, at Carillon Historical Park, and more, and he became well-known for his embodiment of the Christmas spirit.

“I remember taking my son to a birthday party when he was little and I spotted a framed picture in the living room of the host family with Santa, and there was my dad in their family picture,” Turek said. “Any time of year when someone would ask if he was ‘Santa,’ dad would respond with his signature, deep-bellied, ‘Ho, ho ho!’ He enjoyed spreading joy.”

According to his loved ones, Frank would likely wish to be remembered as someone who gave his friends, family, and community a sense of greater things — of discovery, of logic, caring, and love — and as a good and moral “citizen of the world.”

“He was a keeper of his family’s history. He shared his German language, music and culture with his siblings, children, nieces and nephews, and grandsons,” Turek said, while noting he also had a strong identity as an American.

“He proudly remembered the question the judge asked him, and he answered correctly, to become an American citizen when he was a teenager,” she said. “I think he was very proud to have ‘earned’ his citizenship. He didn’t take it for granted.”

Frank is survived by his wife of 47 years, Ann; his two daughters and their spouses, Kjirsten Frank Hoppe (Will) and Nadja Turek (Dr. Steven); and three grandsons, Hans and Ivan Turek and Calvin Hoppe, all who live in the Dayton area. Frank also is survived by four siblings and was preceded in death by one brother.

A celebration of life will be planned by Frank’s family at a later date.

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