Wolfgang Franz, 86, died peacefully in his sleep on August 16, 2021 at Fieldstone Memory Care in Yakima. A memorial service will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, September 17 at the First Lutheran Church in Ellensburg with a reception to follow. He will be laid to rest in a private family ceremony at Tahoma Cemetery in Yakima.
Wolfgang was born on December 25, 1934 in Breslau, Germany (now part of Poland) to Herbert & Johanna Franz. His early childhood was happy and stable and he welcomed his sister, Barbara, in February 1936 and his brother, Harmut, in May 1943. Herbert was drafted into the German Army in 1940 and Wolfgang began first grade in the fall of that year.
Adolf Hitler had begun his takeover of countries in Europe and eventually would send the German Army to invade Russia in the winter. They were soundly defeated and began to retreat with the Russians in pursuit. By January 1945, the fighting was outside the city and all women and children were being evacuated. That, of course, included Johanna, Wolfgang and his siblings. From that time until the spring of 1945 the family moved from one place to another ahead of the Russian Army, finding shelter with relatives. Johanna and the children finally ended up in Czechoslovakia when they were miraculously reunited with Herbert on May 8, 1945.
After several weeks together they were informed that they, along with many others, could go back home. They soon found out that their home city, Breslau, had become part of Poland. They had lost everything, so they headed west, traveling sometimes by train and sometimes by foot, to Hollsteitz, a little town close to the border of the allied zone. They had relatives there and stayed for several years. Herbert found work in a coal mine but had to walk miles there and home every day and Johanna worked in the fields seasonally. Wolfgang and Barbara went to a one room school with grades 1-8. There were no books or supplies except slate boards to write on with shards of slate. Wolfgang built a rabbit hutch and planted a small vegetable garden to do what he could to help feed the family.
Finally, they all escaped to the allied occupied side that became West Germany, crossing a border that was heavily guarded by Russian soldiers. Herbert went first several months earlier than Johanna and the children. They crossed at midnight while the guards were changing shifts and talking to each other. It was a harrowing escape and the family lived together in a succession of refugee camps until finally being quartered in the upstairs of a house in Bunde. Wolfgang graduated from eighth grade there and decided to apprentice to become a carpenter-cabinet maker. He was 14 and wanted to go to high school and college, but neither was free and they were barely making a living.
Wolfgang did well and became a licensed carpenter and cabinet maker. At the age of 19 he decided to immigrate, applying to the United States, Canada and Australia. He was accepted by both the United States and Canada and chose to come to the United States. He was sponsored by the World Lutheran Federation who paid his way and he was approved because he was in A1 condition, had good recommendations from his
pastor and boss and agreed to register for the draft within six months or he would be deported.
Wolfgang left Germany in July 1956 aboard an old troop carrier from Bremerhaven to New York and then traveled by train from New York to Auburn, Washington. His sponsor, Bill Bentson, was also a carpenter and found a job for Wolfgang in construction. He lived and worked in Auburn for several months until he was called up by the draft. He signed up for four years in the Air Force, during which he became a U.S. citizen.
During his time in the service, Wolfgang became involved with a para-church organization called The Navigators and, following his discharge, went to their headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado to work for them. While there, he was sent to a dude ranch up in the mountains to work on building projects. While at the ranch, he met the dean of men from Washington State University who was there on vacation. He took notice of Wolfgang and befriended him. He saw Wolfgang’s learning potential and told him that the GED test could qualify him for college without going to high school. Wolfgang took the test and passed with high scores so he applied to Central Washington University in Ellensburg and got in on probation, starting college in the Fall of 1961.
In the fall of 1962, Wolfgang met Joyce West in Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and they became friends. As time went by, that friendship blossomed into love and they were married in September 1964. They moved into a little attic apartment on campus and their downstairs neighbors were a young college professor, his wife and their baby. In the fall of 1964, Wolfgang was invited to a weekend conference designed to introduce and encourage students to get advanced degrees. Wolfgang came back all enthused, so he applied to various graduate schools, asking them for a research or teaching assistantship. He was accepted everywhere he applied but was not offered an assistantship.
During spring break, he and Joyce decided to take a drive to Pullman to see what they could find out there. The weather was snowy and blustery all the way and when they got to town they trudged up the hill to the housing office. As Wolfgang began to talk to the woman behind the desk, she heard his accent and asked him if he was Wolfgang Franz. The two of them were flabbergasted! She told him that Dr. Jack Sheridan (their neighbor downstairs) had called to let Wolfgang know that he had received a telegram that morning from WSU offering him a teaching assistantship. What a surprise!
In July 1965, Wolfgang graduated from CWU with the award for the highest GPA in his class from his grades earned at Central. He went on to graduate from WSU In 1969 with a PhD in Economics and was hired by CWU to teach Economics. He taught at CWU for 29 years before retiring in 1998.
Wolfgang was a very active man who embraced life with gusto and there was never a dull moment. He served as an economic expert in over 500 court cases (mostly wrongful death and injuries) and also served for 14 years on the Ellensburg Planning Commission. He was a loving husband and hands on father, a playful attentive grandpa, a compassionate and generous man of strong faith and an extrovert who never met a stranger. He was a hard worker who provided well for his family and also loved to dance! He and Joyce spent 56 years together as man and wife and we all love him and miss him so.
As Wolfgang would say, such a story was possible “Only in America”. He is survived by his wife, Joyce of Ellensburg; sons Eric (Loretta) Franz of Yakima and Jason (Tamara) Franz of N. Billerica, Massachusetts; grandchildren,Courtney (Kolten)Manz, Pablo (Janine)Martinez- Franz, Stefan Franz, Megan and Madeleine Franz; Sister, Barbara Malesis; niece, Karen Franz. He was preceded in death by his parents, Herbert and Johanna Franz and brother, Hartmut Franz.
Memorial contributions in Wolfgang’s honor are suggested to Care (www.care.org/give) or Smile Train (www.smiletrain.org/donate)
Johnston & Williams Funeral Home and Crematory of Ellensburg has been entrusted with caring for Wolfgang and his family. Online condolences may be left at www.johnston-williams.com
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