Image for Salem Amphitheater Opening Celebrates Oregon Icon Gerry Frank

Gerry Frank died on Sunday and we thought it was appropriate to re-post our commemoration of his life and work from last July.

Oregon icon Gerry Frank was celebrated for a lifetime of contributions to Oregon that range from political triumphs to philanthropy to extravagant cakes at the dedication of the Gerry Frank/Salem Rotary Amphitheater in Salem last week.

Frank, who is now 97, watched and smiled as he was lauded by Governor Kate Brown, who called him a “Renaissance Man who dabbles in just about everything,” Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett and David Harrelson, cultural resources department manager for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. Frank assisted Senator Mark Hatfield win restoration of federal recognition for the Tribe in 1983.

Senator Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, a key legislative supporter of project funding, contributed her trademark humor in a gentle roast of Frank. “Before Facebook, before Twitter, there was Gerry Frank,” Johnson said, referring to his legendary Rolodex of names and phone numbers of thousands of people in Oregon and around the world. She also recalled Frank’s frequent quip about life on Capitol Hill, “When you have no one to blame but yourself, you are definitely understaffed.”

Speaking from a wheelchair, Frank told the admiring crowd, “This is quite a day. This building will provide prosperity and pride and years of fond memories.”

Construction of the amphitheater began in July 2020 and will be ready to host events October 1. Last-minute details include a stage railing and an anti-graffiti coating on the concreate base. Inquiries about event dates are already coming in, according to Barry Nelson, co-chair of the project for the Salem Rotary, which donated the facility to the City of Salem in honor of Frank, the club’s first member.

The unique basket-weave design of the amphitheater represents the Kalapuya people who were Salem’s original inhabitants. The area around the stage features plants favored by the Kalapuya.

Leading the effort to secure state funding for this project is one of my proudest moments as an advocate and lobbyist. 

CFM Advocates Co-owner Dale Penn II, a Salem Rotarian, helped land a $1 million grant from the Oregon legislature toward the project’s $4 million total cost, much of which was collected through fundraising by the Salem Rotary.

“We secured a joint signed letter from former Governors Barbara Roberts, Ted Kulongoski and John Kitzhaber urging lawmakers to allocate funds for the project,” Penn says, noting that the letter is framed and hanging in CFM’s Salem office. “Senator Jackie Winters, R-Salem, signed a similar letter just days before her death.”

“Leading the effort to secure state funding for this project is one of my proudest moments as an advocate and lobbyist,” Penn says. “I am excited to show the amphitheater to my three-year old son, Grayson. And, I can’t wait to point out our company name proudly listed as a key sponsor on the metal plaque adorning the site.”

Frank, a fourth generation Oregonian, grew up in Portland as a member of the family that owned the Meier & Frank Company. He attended Stanford University where he enrolled in the Reserve Officer Training Program and was called to active duty, serving in the US Army field artillery in Europe during World War II. After the end of the war, Frank earned his bachelor’s degree in economics (1948) and a master’s degree in political science (1953) from Cambridge University. He earned his doctorate in business administration from Greenville College in 1971.

He entered the family business and opened and managed the Meier & Frank store in Salem in 1955. Following the sale of Meier & Frank in 1965, Frank became more involved in Hatfield’s political career, eventually becoming his chief of staff and alter ego. In 1981, Frank opened the Konditorei in Salem that specialized in desserts, affirming one of Frank’s expressed views that people who eat chocolate enjoy a long life.

Frank has received numerous honors, including recognition for his role in raising more than $500 million for a variety of philanthropic causes in Oregon and nationally. He is a successful writer who has written popular guidebooks for Oregon and New York City. He continues to write a weekly tip sheet for The Oregonian of must-visit eateries and hotels throughout the state.

Since his days at the Salem Meier & Frank store, Frank maintained a Salem office, which doubled as a private museum, including memorabilia of the 1981 inauguration of President Ronald Reagan that Hatfield (and Frank) oversaw. He didn’t give up his office until 2020 when he distributed some of his prized treasures, including a photograph of six Oregon governors starting with Hatfield that included Vic Atiyeh, Neil Goldschmidt, Barbara Roberts, John Kitzhaber and extended to Ted Kulongoski, who attended last week’s dedication.