By Ron Gawel
Author Flannery O’Connor once wrote a short story titled “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” This is so true. I’ve known a lot of men who were OK guys. But truly good men? Not so many.
Besides my 97-year-old father, only one comes to mind. I called him the “Polish Prince” of North Tonawanda. Frank Cislo was a very wise, free-spirited guy who loved life and everything that came with it. He was passionate with every life he touched, and tried to love all people. He was that kind of man. A confirmed bachelor and perfect gentleman, he loved flirting with the ladies.
What a guy! Frank was a truly good man, a rare gem of a human being and one of the most unforgettable characters I’ve met in this life.
Frank, an extremely disciplined U.S. Army veteran, continued to follow his code of rightness, fairness and loyalty in civilian life.
He thrived on being a friend to everyone, an enemy to no one and a lover of all people, cultures, creeds and races. I don’t believe the word prejudice ever existed in his vocabulary. The mystery of religions fascinated him, and he openly tried them all on for size.
I first met him working as a GED instructor behind the prison walls of Orleans Correctional Facility back when that prison was double-bunked. Frank was supervisor to the evening teachers.
He was a massive, burly man – a gentle giant – who went out of his way to see to the needs of others. An understanding, kind, giving man, he would often take the blame or be held responsible for another’s mistake. Once, when his teachers were being audited and my paperwork was not complete, he impetuously said to me, “Well, fudge it!” I will never forget the numerous times that he came to my, and other people’s, defense.
Frank firmly believed in doing the right thing, the human thing, even if it wasn’t always by the book. He also believed strongly in what he termed “quality teamwork.” A remarkable man who demonstrated to me an always fair and just empathetic attitude toward his fellow man, he never wanted anything in return, and his good nature was at times, I think, taken advantage of.
This caring man was too often mislabeled, misunderstood and underappreciated. Yet he freely accepted the put-downs and harsh criticisms that came his way. Rarely was he ever given the credit he deserved. Frank was a born peace-maker, usually leaning toward the side of the underdog in any given confrontation.
Frank had a voracious appetite not only for fine cuisine, but for life itself. Every day was a celebration of life well lived, a new adventure – even on the worst days, and I can attest that there were many of those in the prison environment.
I think of Frank in likeness to the Sydney Carton character from Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” who, in giving up his life for another man, went to the gallows stating, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done.” This is who Frank was, and how he lived. He always wanted to make life, humanity and the world better.
When he knew death was approaching, he donated his body to science so that others could benefit. There was no funeral. No memorial service. It was all very quiet. It was what Frank wanted.
As I fondly look back, I best remember Frank Cislo for being a true man of distinction and integrity. He taught me much about people, about life and about being a good man. He will never be forgotten. I pay homage to him on Good Friday, the first anniversary of his death. In his own right, he was a savior of sorts, who always questioned: What would Jesus do?