July 16, 1929 — July 26, 2018
For months back in 1990 and 1991, it seemed unlikely that the Rev. Frank Earl Wright would realize his dream to consolidate three agencies that fed and clothed the poor.
As president of the newly formed Twin Cities Community Outreach, the Rev. Wright ran into opposition to his plan to buy the former Odd Fellows building at Oliver and Schenck streets.
Local residents and business owners expressed fears that the agency, made up of the Inter-Church Clothes Closet, the Inter-Church Food Pantry and Twin Cities Meals on Wheels, might someday open a soup kitchen. That, they said, could draw crowds to an area that already had traffic and parking challenges.
The Rev. Wright refused to promise that TCCO would never offer doughnuts and coffee to its clients, much less that the community would never need a soup kitchen. It was a standoff until Benderson Development Co. donated the former former Twin Rinks building on Ridge Road to the agency.
TCCO still serves the poor and elderly from that site.
The Rev. Wright died July 26, 10 days after celebrating his 89th birthday with his family, in Beechwood Continuing Care in Getzville. He had suffered from dementia for several years, said his daughter, Marcia Westphal.
During the public battle over the agency's location, the Rev. Wright was always soft-spoken and reasonable, said Frances Joy Welch, who ran Twin Cities Meals on Wheels from 1990 until 2012. "He was just a kind, gentle man," she said. "I never heard him raise his voice."
The pastor of North Presbyterian Church for more than 26 years, the Rev. Wright was born at home on a farm in Fombell, Pa., about 40 miles north of Pittsburgh. He was the son of William Wright and Verna Louise Myers Wright and little brother to Mildred and Nancy. Family legend says that his sisters were disappointed when they returned home after his birth to find that the surprise they had been promised was not a pony.
Little Frank was named after a work horse, lived in a home without electricity until he was around 10 years old, and was educated up to eighth grade in a one-room schoolhouse.
He graduated from Lincoln High School in Ellwood City, Pa., and from Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pa. At Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, he met Dorothy Burley, who was studying Christian education. They graduated together on May 17, 1956, and were married the next day in the seminary chapel.
The Rev. Wright came to Western New York in 1956, starting at Wayside United Presbyterian Church in Wanakah as an assistant pastor, later becoming an associate. He was trained to work as a hospital chaplain, which he did at Our Lady of Victory Hospital in Lackawanna and later at DeGraff Memorial Hospital in North Tonawanda.
He moved to North Presbyterian Church in North Tonawanda in November 1965.
There he chaired various committees of the Presbytery of Western New York. As part of a group clown ministry, he portrayed a clown named Barnabas, which means "son of encouragement." As Barnabas, he would walk in the Canal Fest parades, his daughter said.
When he retired in January 1992, the Rev. Wright said that his tenure of more than 26 years in one church enabled him to get to know generations of families. "Some of those I baptized are now married with families of their own," he said. "I'm going to miss a sense of family, being part of their lives."
Yet, he said of his retirement, "I just thought it was time."
"You don't hear too much of pastors being in one place that long," said Westphal, who recalled hiding behind her father's robes as a young child as he would greet the congregation. "He'd crack some jokes, he was funny, but he was also very down-to-earth," she said.
The Rev. Wright's immediate plans after retirement were to lead a mission work project to Puerto Rico for the Presbytery of Western New York.
That was one of many trips he took around the world, said Westphal, organizing and leading tour groups to such places as the British Isles, the Holy Land, Europe and Australia.
After retirement, he also served as part-time pastor at Bacon Memorial Presbyterian Church in Niagara Falls, and North Park and Curtis Park Presbyterian Churches in Buffalo.
The Wrights lived in North Tonawanda until five or six years ago, when they moved to the Weinberg Campus in Getzville. Mrs. Wright died in 2015. The Rev. Wright moved to Beechwood a few months ago.
In addition to Westphal, he is survived by daughters Pam Kelly and Bonnie Shaffer, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Thursday in North Presbyterian Church, 168 Payne Ave., North Tonawanda.