Former Frankfort Mayor and philanthropist Frank Sower died Thursday night at Ashwood Place. He was 101.
Sower and his wife of 74 years, Minnie Lynn, have generously given to Frankfort’s youth, the elderly and community projects.
The longtime businessman owned Sower’s Office Supply downtown with his son, John Sower, until the shop closed in 2008. His death likely stemmed from pneumonia, John Sower told The State Journal this morning.
“He loved the Capital City with all his heart, but he loved his family and our Lord even more,” said John Sower, who followed in his father’s footsteps to run the family business and serve as mayor of Frankfort.
“That really sums it up, and that’s why he was so active in the community, but he told us children that Mama was always number one – he proved that with 74 years of faithful marriage.”
While boating on the Kentucky River one summer afternoon, Sower met Minnie Lynn Evans from Mt. Sterling, Ky., who was working in Frankfort as a secretary in the law office of Judge E.C. O’Rear.
John Sower says his father was with some friends when he literally plucked Minnie Lynn from the river – or as he told it, “I reached down and pulled out a mermaid.”
They were married on Aug. 22, 1937, and went on to have three children, Frank Jr. (Amanda), Lynn Bufkin (Mike) and John (Phyllis).
The Sowers have nine grandchildren: Amanda, Scott, Pete and Dave Sower in Northern Kentucky; Julie and Andrew Bufkin in Colorado; and John R. III, Tom and Will Sower in Shelbyville.
They have 20 great-grandchildren.
“Holidays were always big with him – Thanksgiving and Christmas – and we would always get after mother for being in the kitchen too long” John Sower said, adding that she was an excellent cook.
Frank was born Dec. 10, 1910, at 10:10 and weighed 10 and 1/10 pounds. Upon graduation from Northwestern University in 1933, he went to work for his father in the hardware business.
Russ Hatter, a Frankfort historian and assistant curator of the Capital City Museum, said a Civil War veteran, the Rev. Thomas Major, baptized Sower at Good Shepherd Catholic Church. Nuns had treated and cared for the man after he was wounded, captured and hospitalized – a generosity that led him to become a priest.
During World War II, Frank served in the Navy as a lieutenant in the Pacific. The hardware store was closed during his tour of duty. Upon returning from service in 1946, he reopened the hardware store and added an office equipment business.
He was elected mayor in 1968 and served a four-year term.
Sower was one of the organizers of the chamber of commerce and served as its first president. He served as president of the Frankfort Rotary Club, the Kentucky Historical Society and the Executive Board of the Frankfort Salvation Army.
The Rotary Club honored him in 2010 for his 64 years of perfect attendance.
Dennis Van Horn, a past president of Rotary, said Sower was an inspiration. The 63-year-old says he hopes to someday surpass his mentor’s age by living to 110.
Sower celebrated his 100th birthday in 2010 with a surprise party hosted by the Frankfort Rotary Club. Minnie Lynn was by his side, awaiting her own century mark about a month later.
The members came with a huge card signed by dozens thanking him for his service and acknowledging his milestone birthday.
Van Horn says he and the other members of Rotary will remember Sower always had “a smile, a twinkle in his eye and was always there with a positive, sunshine outlook.”
The Sowers have long ties with Frankfort Independent Schools. Sower’s father donated Sower Football Field in Bellepoint in the early 20th century.
Their support and the work of the Frankfort Parks and Recreation enabled construction of a soccer complex at Capitol View Park, among the state’s best.
“It’s a big loss – he was a giant of a man,” said Steve Brooks, who Sower hired as director of parks and recreation in 1970.
“He made a huge difference in Frankfort, not just with what he did as mayor, but as a private entrepreneur.”
Brooks said Sower lived a great, long life, but will be sorely missed. When he saw a need in Frankfort – like a park that lacked playground equipment – he called Brooks and said, “I have a little money – don’t tell anyone” and go about fixing it.
“He was just a terrific man,” he said.
Sower dedicated the East Frankfort Park in 1971. After concluding his remarks, he stepped back from the podium and surprised attendees by shedding his business suit to reveal he’d worn trunks for the occasion. Then he dived into the glistening new pool.
His generosity provided playground equipment for Dolly Graham Park in South Frankfort following the 1978 flood. More recently, the soccer fields at Capitol View Park, shared by the three high schools and considered one the best in Kentucky, were completed because of Sower.
Because of Sower’s love for the river, he also supported much of its development. River enthusiasts may remember the many boating contests on the Kentucky River in the 1950s. Frank and Minnie Lynn were big supporters of those events.
“(I’d like people to know) how much he deeply loved and cared about the citizens of the capitol city and its future,” John Sower said.
“That’s why he was philanthropic – he wanted to donate to causes to help young people and the elderly because he loved the city.”
He said his dad was also a great sports fan, who loved his Kentucky Wildcats football and baseball, and held season tickets to the Cincinnati Bengals and Cincinnati Reds.
Visitation for Frank Sower is 1-5 p.m. Sunday at Rogers Funeral Home. The funeral mass will take place at Good Shepherd Catholic Church Monday at 10 a.m. Burial will follow in Frankfort Cemetery.
State Journal staff writer Kay Harrod contributed to this report.