The spectacular sunshine on Sunday, April 15, 2012, added to the joy of the celebration of the life of Frank Brancato, a Wedgwood resident who died in September 2011, just after his 96th birthday. On April 15 friends and family gathered at the Center for Urban Horticulture for Frank Brancato’s memorial service.
Frank Brancato was born in New Haven, CT in 1915, one of nine children of an immigrant Italian family. The family struggled greatly during the Great Depression of the 1930’s and Frank was still taking night classes, trying to finish college, when World War Two began. In 1942, about a year after the war started, Frank was drafted. He did well in basic training but after being sent to North Africa with his unit, Frank made the decision that in good conscience he could not carry a gun. The chaplain of his unit said, “no problem,” and arranged to transfer Frank to serve in the medic unit. There Frank found his true calling, microbiology. He gave the Army outstanding service as a medic caring for the troops and in finding faster ways to diagnose the exact strain of what was causing illnesses such as malaria and hepatitis.
Late in the war Frank’s unit went to southern Europe in pursuit of the retreating German forces. It was found that, running short of soldiers, the Nazis had begun conscripting young boys and old men as cannon fodder. Frank was put in charge of the care of these German and Italian prisoners of war, and he found particular joy in showing compassion to them as they were the bedraggled remains of the shattered Nazi war machine. At Frank’s memorial service a volunteer with the Veteran’s History Project told of highlights of Frank’s military experiences, and that the oral history recording has been sent to the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
After the close of the war Frank was able to complete his college education using veteran’s benefits, earning a Master’s Degree in Microbiology at Boston University. He then enrolled at Washington State University to earn his PhD. Most of Frank’s professional life was spent as Chief of Clinical Microbiology at the US Public Health Services hospital in Seattle, where he worked for almost 30 years.
Post-retirement, Frank started a new “career” as a community activist in the Wedgwood neighborhood. With his wife Dorothy he founded the Wedgwood Community Council in March 1987. The Brancatos were pioneers in that process as the City of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods had not yet been established. The Brancatos consulted city service advisors at the Lake City Neighborhood Services office, and they visited the Maple Leaf neighborhood association which was one of the early groups to organize. Wedgwood had had a community club which was active in the 1950s and ‘60s but it went inactive in the 1970s.
In the 1980s the Brancatos saw the need for the Wedgwood neighborhood to reorganize and have a voice in issues such as the preservation of trees, and street and sidewalk improvements. Frank & Dorothy organized and inspired others to join the new Wedgwood Community Council, and Frank served as its first president. The legacy of Frank Brancato lives on in Wedgwood as he provided the framework for today’s neighborhood involvement in issues such as zoning, commercial development and interaction with the City of Seattle in services.