Among the guests at the grand opening of A Rocha’s Buck Creek Canfor Hatchery and Nature Centre in Houston, B.C. in September 2021 were Mr. and Mrs. John Franken, long-time residents of the Bulkley Valley. A Rocha is an international Christian conservation organization. John was a devout Christian whose witness involved creation care, strengthening local communities, enriching guests to appreciate creation through the Franken’s B & B, Chickadee Acres, respecting Indigenous peoples, and caring for the lonely and needy. John and Sandi lived an active, hospitable and remarkably simple life. The Frankens moved out of the Bulkley Valley to Chilliwack several years ago for health reasons. As one of John’s friends noted: “He knew how to live.” John passed away on December 29, 2021, and Sandi is living in Surrey at present.
The Frankens built a beautiful log home when John served as principal of Houston Christian School and Sandi worked at the Houston Health Centre. Later, the Frankens moved to Smithers after a short stay in Kelowna. While teaching at Bulkley Valley Christian School where Sandi also served as librarian, the Frankens began a bluebird trail project, constructing, maintaining and monitoring the nesting of mountain bluebirds and tree swallows. All this time, John recorded data on his computers and made it available to anyone interested in the work.
John was a promoter of creation-care, regenerative agriculture and social justice issues for many years. He took a trip to East Africa accompanied by A Rocha representatives and was able at that time to draw on the insights and knowledge of Dr. Calvin De Witt, now an alumnus professor at the University of Wisconsin and one of the deans of North American environmental scholars and activists. With De Witt and A Rocha members, John found his Christian faith an inspiration and motivation.
John shared De Witt’s perspective and that of another Wisconsin resident, Aldo Leopold, who both serve as mentors for the environmental work John had been doing for very many years. John Franken also bore the distinction of being a “bridge” person who knew and was friends with people from the ranching and logging industries as well as the environmental movement. As such, he was right at home with all who are united by a concern for fish, forests, water and the local human community.
John was not a farmer but was adamant in his insistence that there had to be a more earth-friendly way of farming than large-scale commodity agriculture and concentrated animal feed operations. He admired the foundational thinking of Wendell Berry, the example of Don Ruzicka of Alberta, and supported with his interest the efforts of local farmers who aimed at a more regenerative style of agriculture. He encouraged the agriculture department of Dordt University to develop a wider, holistic style of agriculture in its course offerings.
John felt privileged to have spent so much of his life on the traditional territory of the Wet’suwet’en nation.
No one could ask for better friends than John and Sandi Franken. Their name may not on be on the news headlines every night, but they are the sort of folks that we used to call “salt of the earth” people.