To glimpse the character of Frank Joseph Vodhanel, who died of Leukemia on Saturday at age 81,
consider this story:
One afternoon a homeless man asked Frank and his daughter Cyndi for money as they walked out of Home Depot.
“Why don’t you have a job,” Frank asked?
The man said he was an electrician, but also a drunk, and had only been sober for 14 days.
“Show up at this address, at this time, sober, and I’ll give you a job,” Frank said. The man showed up at the high tech tool-and-die company Frank had founded and stayed for ten years.
Frank loved people. He was not afraid to take risks. He poured his creativity and passion into his large family, his entrepreneurial ventures and extensive charity work.
Born in Youngstown Ohio, in 1923, he moved to Los Angeles at age 17 and began studying business in night courses at USC.
As a young man he’d taken an apprenticeship in which he learned to make precision wooden models that are used in manufacturing—an elite craft known as pattern making. In 1949, after working as a union pattern maker, he formed his own company--Apex Pattern Company--which made the molds used to create components used in aerospace and, later, automobiles. At the peak of the company’s success, Frank would comment that there wasn’t a plane in the sky that didn’t have at least one part with which Apex had been involved. Frank’s business acumen led to other successes, including numerous real estate ventures and the founding of Wilshire Bank and Huntington Savings and Loan.
Although he plunged quickly into a life of responsibility, he had arrived in California with a different, secret plan. He’d put together his first sailboat—a scow—at age 14 in the backyard of his Ohio home, and he wanted to build another and explore the world.
As it happened, the U.S. Navy fulfilled part of that dream, assigning him to the USS Caperton, a 370 foot destroyer, on which he served as quartermaster, fighting in some of the South Pacific’s bloodiest battles and weathering three typhoons.
Frank’s love of adventure and the ocean never faded. Over the years he owned a succession of powerboats and yachts. “Each time he had a new boat built,” recalls son Mark, “I had to fight like hell to keep him from having 5 inch guns mounted on the bow.” Frank captained with gusto. He found joy in deep sea fishing with family and friends and spending lazy afternoons off Catalina telling stories of storm waves crashing over the Caperton’s bow and island waters red with blood.
As First Mate, Frank’s wife Evelyn had her own role and her own story-telling style. One e-mail to friends described Frank’s efforts to “park,” the boat: “While he’s inside his warm, dry pilot house… I’m standing at the tippy top front of the boat in the wet, windy weather.’
Frank first caught sight of Evelyn Guilfoyle coming out of a UCLA extension class. He invited the “good lookin’ gal” to a young Catholics meeting. Granddaughter Annie Vodhanel-Preis recalls Frank’s description of that meeting as “like watching a black-and-white movie starring Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant.
He and Evelyn married and stayed married for 56 years. They had three girls and three boys, including Michael, who drowned at age 2. Years later, when daughter Cyndi was at a low point in her life, Frank advised her to appreciate the blessing that her children were all healthy. “As long as all your children are alive, you’re doing well,” he said.
By all measures, the life Frank shared with his family and friends was uncommonly full as reflected in everything from his front row, dugout season seats in which he rooted for the Dodgers to the elaborate home workshop in which he practiced woodworking. A gourmet cook, he delighted in creating lavish spreads for his large circle of friends and in opening his large Hancock Park home to events benefiting the many clubs and charitable organizations to which he belonged.
He was a member of the Jonathan Club, and relished his tours and activities with the club’s gourmet society, arts society, cigar club and wine club. He served as president of Holy Family Adoption Agency, was on the board of the directors of St. John of God, and the Knights of Malta (K.M.). He was a Knight of Holy Sepulcher (K.H.S.) and the Hancock Park Historical Society and raised funds for various organizations including Sisters Devoted to the Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart High School.
Frank passed away at Cedars Sinai Hospital, surrounded by family and friends. He is survived by his wife, Evelyn Vodhanel; his children; Lois Vodhanel, Debbie Vodhanel and her husband Jim Preis, Mark Vodhanel and his wife Wendi, Cyndi Baxter and her husband Brick, Frank Vodhanel Jr. and his wife Judy; brothers Cyril and Joseph, sisters Ann and Mary, and grandchildren Lauren Verbanic, Annie and John Preis, Kathleen Vodhanel, Robin Cave, Samantha Freitas and Kelsy Vodhanel,
The funeral was held Wednesday at 11 at St. Brendan Catholic Church, 310 S. Van Ness. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Catholic Charities. A website in honor of Frank has been set up at www.InMemoryOfFrank.com.