How does one let go of something in his life that has become his everyday norm? How do people pick up and know that the time is right to move on to the next chapter of their life? We all ask these questions when a new change comes our way, and we have to make a decision that is only ours to make. One man this whole community knows ended up making this decision, and it was one that was pretty established in his own mind. Harold “Gus” Frank, former Forest County Potawatomi (FCP) chairman, announced his retirement from his role of the past 20 years on Jan. 2, 2018. Frank was the only person in the history of the tribe to have held the position of chairman for this length of time, and he was in this leadership role through some very momentous times.
PTT was fortunate to have the opportunity to sit down with Frank and discuss his time as the chairman. Frank’s journey in tribal leadership actually started in November 1996 when he was elected as FCP vice chairman. Then on July 31, 2000 (taken from the PTT Sept. 1, 2000 issue), the former chairman resigned and Frank was sworn in. He continued as chairman of the tribe until the time period of 2007-09, where he was defeated and then sat on the board of Potawatomi Business Development Corporation (PBDC). In Nov. of 2009, Frank was re-elected as FCP chairman and has held that position up to the present time (2018). In 2009, a person in the community had asked him to reconsider running for this position and as a result, he has been the chairman ever since.
When Frank was asked what he considers to be his major accomplishments while in office, the first one he mentioned of interest was the closing of the Crandon Mine Project. He said, “What made that so significant and to me, why that was so major is that it was the only time that I could ever remember that we held a general council meeting without an agenda item. We couldn’t put it on the agenda because that was the agreement we had made with the major stakeholders in the Crandon Mine. It was agreed it wouldn’t go public until we got all the agreements on paper. Then we could hold a general council meeting because they had to approve it – but I couldn’t put it on there just in case we didn’t get a quorum. If we didn’t get a quorum then it would have fallen apart.” But as time has now shown, the rest is history. This was one of Frank’s most memorable achievements for his tribe and people.
Frank went on to state, “To see the growth of this tribe has been memorable. When I came we had what…three buildings? This one here (old tribal hall), the little Health & Wellness and the “commod” building.” This comment on his part led into a discussion of the next major success that Frank remembers and that was the beginning of the Health & Wellness building. “I always felt in order to take care of your people you have to provide health and medical care for them.” Frank says, “If I remember right that was one of our first major investments as it was a $10 million commitment to build that.” Frank helped with this project as he personally knew the general contractor who was involved. This man happened to be a Native American general contractor who had dealt with clinics previously, and the completion of this building was historic.
The next item he mentioned that had a major impact on Frank and the tribe was the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino (PHC) expansion in Milwaukee, Wis. Grand opening of this happened Nov. 1, 2000, and it was quite the celebration and a new chapter for the Forest County Potawatomi.