Frank Papp won the lottery twice, in more ways than one. His monetary winnings never amounted to more than $10,000, although he certainly enjoyed being able to share his good fortune with his grandchildren. However, he also served in both WWII and the Korean War, returning home each time and devoting himself to his family, even though he always lived with the pain of not knowing his own family tree.
Papp was raised in a Catholic home for boys in Vermont and when he was given over to the boys home his birth date was changed to reflect the day he was relinquished. Papp did not know his parents or any other family members and his son, Thomas, said this bothered his father more than he let on. Every once in a while his dad would mention it and once revealed that he tried finding information on his biological parents when he was in the Navy during WW II. Unfortunately, the records pertaining to his birth were sealed.
Tom recounted one day when his father took a phone call and he heard him say, "Why did you wait this long to try and find me?" His father hung up the phone and that was the end of the conversation and the end to finding the siblings that Papp learned he had.
After initially working as a sewing machine salesman for Sears and Roebuck, Papp joined the U.S. Navy and served on a destroyer during WWII. He was a machinist's mate, responsible for maintaining and operating a variety of complex machinery and assisting machinists in keeping all Navy craft in top working order. Papp had hoped to work on an aircraft carrier but was told by his superior officer that he was too valuable to let go.
Tom said that his father did not discuss what he experienced while in the military until he was older. He later recounted a story about serving on the USS Fogg, a destroyer escort, when their ship was hit by acoustic torpedoes launched by a German U-boat south of the Azores in the Atlantic. Papp had to perform his duties while nearly a third of the ship was blown apart by the torpedoes.
Papp was a proud American and protector of his country. He was employed by the Navy as a civilian working at Pearl Harbor when he enlisted once again, this time to serve in the Korean War. Again, he served as a machinist's mate on a destroyer. Returning home for the second time, Papp had new duties as his son, Thomas William Papp, had been born while he was serving in Korea.
Following his military service, Papp worked for the State of Illinois in the Illinois Supreme Court building, first as a security officer in the elevator and later becoming a deputy marshal for the staff and visitors of the Illinois Supreme Court. He retired after 22 years of service.
Tom said his father and Judge Byron House used to go fishing at the judge's cabin near Nashville, Illinois. His father enjoyed telling a story about being out on the boat during one of their fishing excursions when, out of the blue, Judge House said, "This beats judging all to hell!"
Catherine Hugo-Rich, a lifelong friend of the Papp family, said that her mother and Tom's mother, Juanita, were roommates before Juanita and Frank ever met. One of Hugo-Rich's favorite memories is celebrating the New Year with the Papp family. She said, "Our parents would play Rummy Royal with pennies while the kids played or watched a movie. We were like family."
The two families also traveled together, and one of Tom's favorite memories occurred while driving cross-country, along with the Hugo family, to attend the New York World's Fair in 1965. Tom said, "We camped about 40 miles out from New York and my dad and Cathy's dad were sitting on a picnic table having a beer. The table had a canvas umbrella over it and the table wasn't very sturdy. I remember getting up from the table, and I heard a noise and then the table flew up in the air because the wind caught the umbrella. Both guys were caught off guard. I was 11 years old and it was a priceless episode."
However, it was the last three-and-a-half years of his father's life that Tom remembers most, "being with him each day. We grew as close as we had ever been. My daughter-in-law would be with him in the morning and early afternoon, and then I would be there the rest of the day and night. His life wasn't easy, and he kept his emotions close to the vest. I know it bothered him to not know his parents."
After Juanita's death in 2010, Frank was still able to remain at home, thanks to family members who took turns checking on him and caring for him. The man who had grown up without a family lived long enough to feel the joy of meeting his great-granddaughter, who was born a couple of months before he passed away at the age of 105.
Holly Whisler is a freelance writer from Springfield and did not know Frank Papp personally but feels she caught a glimpse into the life of a good man after talking to his son and lifelong friend.