Detail from James Frankowsky’s Rye High School yearbook page
The Quiet Rise of James W. Frankowsky
By Chris Maloney
This effort to create a short biography of the life of James W. Frankowsky can in no way do him justice. It is just an attempt to tell a brief story of one of over 1,450 Rye World War II veterans.
James, by all accounts, was born in Poland on January 27, 1922. He emigrated to New York City as a Jewish refugee when he was a toddler. In 1925, James was either orphaned or abandoned and placed in the New York Foundling Hospital, listed as a 3-year-old black male. Between 1853 and 1929, an estimated 200,000 poor, abandoned, and orphaned children were placed primarily in the New York Foundling Hospital and the Children’s Aid Society. Little is known about James’ upbringing at the orphanage in New York City.
We do know, through the 1930 census, that by the age of 7 James was living in Rye. He was a resident at the St. Benedict’s Home for Destitute Colored Children, which was located on Boston Post Road, adjacent to Rye Country Day School.
St. Benedict’s operated under the auspices of the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin and provided for the protection of homeless and destitute children. It was supervised by the Sisters of St. Francis. The Home accommodated about 160. At the time of the 1940 census, the population was 152, 84 girls and 68 boys. The institution was for the care of Catholic children, but occasionally destitute Protestant children were received and temporarily retained. The boys and girls lived separately. The children, who were received from ages 4 to 14 and retained until 16 if needed, received an elementary education with some, not all, graduating.
In searching through old Rye Chronicles, the name James Frankowsky produced seven results, the first in an article from June 1937: “Honor Paid Flag at St. Benedict’s Home Exercises”. The ceremony, which was intended to teach children respect for the American flag, was attended by many local dignitaries.
American Legion Post Commander James F. Arbuckle stated: “It is the symbol of what this nation stands for and the opportunities it offers you. The stars alone mean nothing, and the stripes alone mean nothing; together they mean unity and strength. You Children must help and assist each other, together, bound in unity, you have strength.”
Mayor Livingston Platt welcomed the Harrison visitors to Rye and noted that, “The flag to the white race in this country means our freedom from the tyranny of England; to the colored people it means their freedom from the oppression of slavery. To all of us it means freedom from bondage of any kind.”
After the speeches and exercises at the pavilion, a large flag was presented to St. Benedict’s, and, as the article goes on to report, the group “adjourned to the flagpole, where James Frankowsky, leader of the home band, raised the flag as the Legion color guard under James Holton, acting sergeant-at-arms, presented the colors. Monsignor Murphy closed the exercises with a benediction.”
By the age of 15, young James was starting to stand out from his peers. The following year, 1938, he enrolled at Rye High School, a rare opportunity afforded to the “inmates”. James, or Jimmy as he was called by his classmates, excelled in high school. He was a member of both the band and orchestra and played in various school musical productions. His memberships included the RHS G.O., the Scholarship Group, and, fittingly, The Self-Reliant Club. His quotation on his senior yearbook page was simply, “Contentedly Quiet”.
James graduated from Rye High School in June 1941, six months before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States entered World War II. He and nearly all his classmates would enlist in the armed forces. A tome could be written regarding the enormous service of the class of 1941. James was a Master Sergeant in the U.S. Army and served in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.
After the war, James returned to his studies and earned a degree at Lincoln University, which received its charter from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on April 29, 1854, making it the nation’s first degree-granting Historically Black College and University (HBCU). During its first 100 years, Lincoln graduated approximately 20 percent of the country’s African American physicians and more than 10 percent of the African American attorneys. It must have been with great pride that in 1952 James accepted a position at Lincoln as a professor of Mathematics. He taught there for the next 40 years and served as Chairman of the Department for many of those years.
In 1989, Dr. Frankowsky was recognized by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for his development of the Medical Information Management System, a user-friendly, comprehensive medical record tool that allowed physicians and other caregivers quick access to patient data 24 hours a day. It was designed to be used in an environment where a significant amount of care is provided in a team fashion. Where the various team members and the patient population are very mobile, patient data could be accessed from several physical locations by the different teams.
Dr. James W. Frankowsky of Landenberg, Pa. passed away at his home on March 25, 2013 at the age of 91. In addition to his wife of 58 years, Grace Jackson Frankowsky, he was survived by his son, Brian Frankowsky, and three grandchildren.