Francis "Frank" Edwin & Donna Mae Ekdahl

April 16, 2020

   

 

 

             Donna Mae Ekdahl

For Donna, life revolved around family. 

Born June 15, 1935, to Ross and Katheryn Neal in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan. 

She was the sixth of eight children. Raised on a small farm during difficult times, enduring the Great Depression and World War II. These early experiences would be formative,  and brought out a number of admirable traits in Donna, most notably her love of family, appreciation for the simple things in life, a strong work ethic and determination. She had an inherent optimism that was contagious. Her trademark laugh was joyous and contagious. 

After graduating from High School she began work as an executive assistant. It wasn’t long after that she met Frank Ekdahl, a handsome and talented young man, and he swept her off her feet. They were married on October 8, 1955. 
Their early years found Donna and a Frank moving around the country, trying to find their place. Frank was in the Air Force, then went to college on the GI Bill, all the while raising a family. They lived in Michigan in many locations in both the Upper and Lower Peninsula. They also lived in Illinois, California and Iowa. But, in 1968, Frank landed a job with Motorola, the upstart technology company of the day, and off the family went to Arizona. And it was in Arizona the family took root, and where Donna and Frank raised their family. Donna absolutely loved Arizona.

Donna worked throughout her life in various administrative and executive assistant roles, many of these roles in the medical field. She worked many years at Mesa Lutheran Hospital and later she worked for Dr. C. Truman Davis and Dr. Falkenstein, both Ophthalmologists. She truly admired these men and the many medical professionals with whom she worked. 

Donna and Frank had four children. But, in truth, they had more than four. There were miscarriages before Kathy, her first born came along. Then in quick succession came Elizabeth and James. But then a second son, Bobby, died shortly after birth. Then John came along. Then, more heartbreak - Julie was carried full term, then inexplicable died in the whom. Donna truly and deeply loved her children, and never forgot these other children who died young. 

Eventually, seven grandchildren came along, and Donna and Frank loved and enjoyed watching them grow and develop into the wonderful young adults they are today. 

Perhaps the ultimate tragedy in her life was in living to see her own adult son, John, struggle with addiction and ultimately die much too young. Throughout his struggles, Donna would not give up on him. There to lend support and help time after time when he fell. This drained Both Donna and Frank in many ways, but they would never give up. 

And so, as it is for many mothers, her greatest joys and heartaches arose from her children. Still, Donna would say, though she had more than her fair share of heartache, she derived far more joy from her children. 

Donna could be firm at times with her children, when she needed to be. She set high expectations. But she was protective at the same time. Anyone she thought was bullying or otherwise mistreating one of her kids was in for it.

Donna and her siblings were close, and they stayed that way despite being separated by many miles. Most years, Donna and Frank returned to Michigan to reconnect with family and friends, often making the trip by car. After their children were grown and out on their own, they continued to return to Michigan frequently. 

Just as she placed a high priority on family, Donna also relished the many friendships she made over the years. She formed deep and lasting bonds with many friends, and put great effort into keeping in touch. Among her many deep and lasting friendships were friends from her childhood in Northern Michigan, friends from work, and the many friends from the Mesa Elks Lodge. 

Donna’s last couple years were difficult, with a number of health issues. In many ways she took after her mother Katheryn. Like her mother, she had a lifelong battle with arthritis. She was often in pain. But she did not complain nor did she let it slow her down. Strange as it may sound, she was like a living barometer - she could tell with great accuracy when a front was coming - she could feel it in her bones. She was tough and determined and overcame these challenges. Ultimately, the most difficult challenge came these last few years when she was afflicted by dementia. This was very difficult for her and her family. Frank, her husband of 64 years, selflessly and heroically cared for her every need as her health deteriorated. Still, in the midst of this struggle, she retained her joy in living and her sense of humor. She held onto her infectious laugh until the end. 

Perhaps to underscore the point, Donna often spoke about longing to be with her family, especially her mother and father. Even in her last days, family was paramount and ever-present. She dreamed vividly of being with her long lost loved ones - these dreams were very real to her. And so, perhaps it brings some solace to her loved ones to know, she is truly reunited with her mother and father and sisters and brothers and children today. For even in heaven, with Donna, it’s about family.

 

Francis “Frank” Edwin Ekdahl

 

The story of a Good Man and a Faithful Servant 

 

Born December 26, 1933, to Bernice (née Hubbard) and Harvey Ekdahl in Manistique, Michigan. 

 

Frank was the second of five children. Raised in a small town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan during difficult times, enduring the Great Depression and World War II. His father was frequently away from home, pursuing a paycheck building roads or cutting timber, or whatever work could be had. His mother also worked various jobs to make ends meet. She was fortunate to have the support of her mother and Harvey’s Mother and Father. Frank’s grandparents were actively involved in helping to raise Frank and his siblings, and it is here he learned to place a high value on family in the broadest definition of family. He loved and admired his grandparents. 

 

An important fact to recognize here is that Frank’s maternal grandmother, Gladys Hubbard, was a Native American, descended from the Ojibwa tribe. He was proud of that heritage. 

 

His was a devoutly Catholic family. His mother and grandparents attended mass weekly and were at the church for some function most days of the week. In fact, Frank was very consciously and specifically named after St. Francis, the Saint his mother most admired. And, even though most called him by his nickname of “Frank,” his mother and grandparents continued to call him Francis throughout their lives. 

 

Frank’s father, Harvey, was a superb athlete. He was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame as a “triple threat star” in football, basketball and baseball. In fact, he played some minor league professional baseball and tried out for the Detroit Lions. Frank inherited his father’s talent and love of sports. Frank absolutely loved playing sports - he was a truly gifted natural athlete. And he loved watching others play also. His early hero’s were great athletes, including Jackie Robinson, Joe Lewis and Joe DiMaggio. In his later years he channeled his talent and energy into golf, and he became an avid and excellent golfer. Another trait Frank inherited from his father was a love of the outdoors. He loved to camp, hunt and fish. 

 

From his mother, Frank inherited musical talent. He had a wonderful singing voice - a sweet and pleasant tenor. At family gatherings, he was often found singing “Danny Boy,” a family favorite. He sang at many family weddings, and he was a member of the church choir for many years. Perhaps the pinnacle of his singing career came when he toured Ireland and sang “Danny Boy” in the Irish pubs. 

 

Frank was a bright student and excelled at math. After graduating from High School he worked a few odd jobs, including difficult work on the iron ore freighters that traversed the waters of the Great Lakes. Shortly thereafter he joined the Air Force, where he became a non-commissioned officer and a pilot, flying some of the earliest fighter jets. Fortunately, he did not have to use his pilot skills in a conflict. It was during this time he met Donna Mae Neal of Sault Saint Marie, Michigan. They fell in love and were married on October 8, 1955. 

 

After his Air Force tour was up, Frank pursued a college degree with funding provided by the GI Bill - like so many others of his generation. He studied mathematics at Northern Michigan University, and then moved on to earn a Masters Degree in mathematics from the University of Illinois. 

 

It was during his college years that Frank and Donna started a family. Frank and Donna had four children. But, in truth, they had more than four. There were miscarriages before Kathy, their first born, came along. Then in quick succession came Elizabeth and James. But then a second son, Bobby, died shortly after birth. Then John came along. Then, more heartbreak - Julie was carried full term, then inexplicable died in the whom. Frank and Donna truly and deeply loved their children, and never forgot these other children who died so young. 

 

Their early years found Frank and Donna moving around the country, trying to find their place. They lived in Michigan in many locations in both the Upper and Lower Peninsula. Frank’s first jobs out of college were in teaching math in middle schools and high schools. For a while, he taught in the inner city schools in Detroit - a pretty difficult assignment given the times. They also lived in Illinois, California and Iowa. Finding it difficult to raise a family on a teacher’s salary, Frank took a job with Kellogg’s in Battle Creek, Michigan, putting his math skills to work as an Industrial Engineer. In 1968, Frank landed a job with Motorola, the upstart technology company of the day, and off the family went to Arizona. And it was in Arizona the family took root, and where Frank and Donna raised their children. 

 

Frank channeled his love of sports and the outdoors into his role as father. He played sports with the kids and coached their sports teams. And the family took frequent camping trips to many beautiful locations across Arizona. And he took the boys fishing and hunting often. 

 

Eventually, seven grandchildren came along, and Frank and Donna loved and enjoyed watching them grow and develop into the wonderful young adults they are today. 

 

Perhaps the ultimate tragedy in their life was in living to see their own adult son, John, struggle with addiction and ultimately die much too young. Throughout his struggles, they would not give up on him. There to lend support and help time after time when he fell. This drained Frank and Donna in many ways, but they would never give up. 

 

Frank and Donna were close with their families, and they made the effort to stay in touch despite being separated by many miles. Most years, Frank and Donna returned to Michigan to reconnect with family and friends, often making the trip by car. After their children were grown and out on their own, they continued to return to Michigan frequently. 

 

Just as they placed a high priority on family, Frank and Donna also relished the many friendships they made over the years. They formed deep and lasting bonds with many friends, and put forth great effort into keeping in touch. Among their many deep and lasting friendships were friends from childhood in Northern Michigan, friends from work, and the many friends from the Mesa Elks Lodge. 

 

In the Bible, when Jesus sees the disciple Nathaniel approach, he said to those around him, “Behold, truly an Israelite in whom is no guile.” You could apply that statement to Frank as well. A man with no guile, or no deceitfulness. He was a plain spoken, straightforward man, honest to the core. 

 

He reveled in the simple things in life. Family and friends. A good meal. A cold beer. A good movie, preferably a western. If it had John Wayne, all the better. And he was a lover of fine condiments, like Heinz Ketchup and French’s Mustard. 

 

He was instinctively generous with his time and attention, and he’d gladly share with others anything they might need from his modest resources. 

 

Frank had a deeply engrained sense of fairness and treated everyone with respect. He didn’t think he was better than anyone else. This trait sprang from his humble beginnings and his admiration for well known black athletes like Jackie Robinson, and his time teaching school in inner city Detroit. He was way ahead of his time in embracing equality and civil rights. 

 

Frank had inexhaustible energy and a work ethic to match. While raising a family, he would umpire baseball games in addition to his day job to make ends meet. And, after retiring from Motorola in his 60s, he still needed to and wanted to work. So, he went back to his original love of teaching math at the community college. He continued working well into his 80s, and only quit when Donna required his full time and attention. 

 

In the past several years, Donna was beset by multiple health challenges. The most debilitating of these was dementia. As Donna battled dementia and other issues, Frank took care of her every need. He did the grocery shopping, the cooking, the cleaning without complaint. In the past year, as Donna’s health deteriorated rapidly, he was with her every minute. In recent months, he reached the point he could no longer care for her, and after hospitalizations, Donna spent time in nursing homes. Being separated was very difficult for Frank, and he went to be with Donna in the hospital and and nursing home every single day - until very recently when the Coronavirus crisis caused the nursing home to shut down access. Frank was despondent over not being able to see Donna. 

 

When Donna finally succumbed to her illness and passed away on April 1, Dad was at her side. The nursing home relaxed their rules so Frank could be with his beloved. His sorrow was profound. He was absolutely lost without Donna. Although he appeared to be strong and in good health, he passed away peacefully on Easter Morning...eleven days after Donna. He was miserable for those eleven days. The only days he and Donna had been separated for 64 years. Sad and heartbreaking as this is, it seems to be common when a couple has been together that long and loved each other so deeply. 

 

Although Frank’s family is deeply saddened by his sudden and unexpected passing so soon after his beloved Donna passed, in our grief, let’s not miss the message he left in big bold print. Although Frank lived a modest life, it was a full and meaningful life. Full of joys, and, yes, heartbreak. Full of family and friends. And though he didn’t accumulate much in the way of wealth or worldly possessions, he left us a wonderful gift of great value - the example of an exemplary life well lived, and an example of unconditional love. 

 

There’s a well known quote attributed to St. Francis, the saint for whom he was named. It goes like this...”Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary use words.” Francis “Frank” Ekdahl did not need to use words. 

 

Well done thou good and faithful servant. 

 

 

 

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