The Robert and Eleanor Franke Charitable Foundation, Inc., was established in La Crosse, Wisconsin, on February 3, 2011, nearly 93 years after the birth of the donor, Robert B. Franke.
Operations of the Foundation began on March 21, 2011, and grant applications were first solicited on September 1, 2011.
Bob Franke was born in a working-class area on the Northside of La Crosse, Wisconsin, on February 18, 1918. From the age of 9, Bob earned money selling pop bottles not to go to the movies but to begin investing in the stock of local companies. By 1987, when local brewer, G. Heileman Brewing Co., was sold to Australia's Alan Bond for $1.3 Billion, Bob was its largest common stock holder.
Although Bob held a teaching certificate from the La Crosse Teacher's College (now, UWL), he dreamed about driving a locomotive. So he gave up teaching to follow his dream and joined the Burlington Northern Railroad as a firemen. Bob eventually worked his way up to engineer and drove, among others, the streamlined Zephyr No. 4000, which became affectionately known as "Big Alice the Goon", and is now on permanent display at Copeland Park in La Crosse.
Eleanor Franke was born in Chicago, on June 9, 1919, and lived there until June 29, 1961, when she and Bob were wed and moved to La Crosse. She was a graduate of the University of Chicago and taught for 12 years in the La Crosse City schools. She was a member of the American Association of University Women and the Catholic Women's League.
Although shunning public recognition during their lives, the Frankes were well-known in La Crosse, both for their generosity to institutions, such as the Diocese of La Crosse, the Franciscan Skemp Medical Facility (now, Mayo Clinic Health System Franciscan Healthcare), and the Coulee Region Humane Society, and also to individual friends and others, including many of those living in the sixteen neighborhood homes that he purchased over the years from owners too frail to maintain them, allowing them to remain there for just the amount necessary to cover the real estate taxes each year.
When Bob passed way on September 16, 2009, few could imagine that his vast accumulated wealth would enhance the lives of so many, completely unknown to him. But when word of his "magnificent gift" became known as the Foundation began its operations, those who actually knew Bob and Eleanor, or of them, were not surprised that these unassuming folks would have left their estate to charity. That was simply how they lived their lives day-to-day!