Pastor Merle George Franke died and entered the fulfillment of his baptism on Tuesday, January 28, 2020. Merle was born in Arthur, North Dakota on October 6, 1924 to Max and Louise Franke. The middle of seven siblings, he grew up on a rustic farm until age 11 when the family moved to Fargo, North Dakota. After graduating from Fargo High School, Merle attended Carthage College in Carthage, Illinois, where he majored in English and minored in Music with a vocal emphasis. He graduated from Northwestern Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and was ordained into the United Lutheran Church of America (now the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) in 1948. While in seminary Merle directed the choir at Holy Communion Lutheran Church where he met Virginia (Ginna) Mollan. The two were wed on May 18, 1947. They had five children and were married for 72 years.
Merle’s first six years in ministry were spent in the U.S. Virgin Islands serving Holy Trinity Lutheran in Frederiksted, St. Croix, and Frederick Lutheran in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas. The worship services were broadcast on local radio. Merle started a local choir in the Virgin Islands and was instrumental in the formation of the Caribbean Synod of the Lutheran Church. After leaving the Virgin Islands, he organized several congregations in Minnesota before serving as the secretary of English Missions with the Lutheran Church’s Board of American Missions in Chicago, overseeing new congregations throughout the United States.
In 1964 the family moved to Austin, Texas, where Merle served as pastor of First English Lutheran Church for twenty years. He was associate pastor at Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran in Austin, and interim pastor at many area churches during retirement. Merle served on the Synod Council of the Lutheran Church in America, which met several times a year in New York City. An excellent singer, Merle sang at a piano bar in New York City, where he was known as “Tex,” whenever he was in town. In addition to church choirs, Merle sang in several Austin area choral groups. He loved sports, playing handball at UT’s Gregory Gym for many years and pitching for city softball teams until he was 75. He was a fine ping-pong player with a mean backspin. Merle authored a dozen books of poetic sermons and prayers, and was an avid gardener at the Franke home on Avenue D. He helped found the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, which works to preserve the unique and historic character of the community. Merle’s generous spirit, infectious sense of humor, keen intellect, kind heart, and enduring love of God and of people will be greatly missed.
Merle was preceded in death by his mother and father, Max and Louise Franke, his siblings and their spouses Florence Jendro (Mark), Doris Lysing (Gary), Lloyd Franke (Lucy), Jim Franke (Connie), and Eileen Grund (Burt), by his brother in law, Jim Turner, and his daughter-in-law Coral Franke. He is survived by his wife Virginia Mollan Franke, sister, Myrna Turner, his children Jim (Stuart) Franke, Becky (Ray) Greathouse, Steve Franke, Gwen (Bruce) Flory, and Kris (Don) Hill; his grandchildren Matthew (Tina) Flory, Tyler Flory, Ashleigh (Brian) Abadie, Henry (Desitiny) Greathouse, Liselle (Chase) Andries, and Nick Franke, as well as eight great-grandchildren (with another on the way) and numerous nieces and nephews.
Funeral services will be held at First English Lutheran Church, 3001 Whitis Avenue, on Saturday, February 15, 3:00 pm, the Reverend Michael Coffey presiding. Lutheran clergy are invited to vest and sit together near the front. Interment will follow, as Merle’s ashes will be placed in the church columbarium. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to First English Lutheran Church or to Lutheran Disaster Relief.