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If Robert Franke were alive, he probably would skip the ceremony today naming a suite at Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare in honor of him and his wife, Eleanor.

In life, the Frankes — he died in 2009 and she, in 2001 — avoided the spotlight even as they donated millions to charities.

Robert even refused to go to a ceremony to receive the Franciscan Healthcare Foundation’s Spheres of Influence Award in 2004, recalled foundation executive director Peter Grabow.

“He declined because he said he was reluctant to be part of a big gathering,” Grabow said during an interview Thursday.

“So a bunch of us went to Huck Finn’s for lunch and gave him the award there,” Grabow said with a chuckle.

The Franke Foundation Suite will be dedicated at 11 a.m. today in a private ceremony, followed by an open house for hospital employees. The suite is a renovated area that includes a large and a small conference room with videoconferencing equipment and a serving room.

Franke was 91 when he died, and his $1 million bequest to Mayo-Franciscan is “the single largest charitable gift we’ve ever received,” said Joe Kruse, Mayo-Franciscan’s chief administrative officer.

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The giving continues through the Robert and Eleanor Franke Charitable Foundation, which distributes the proceeds from its $23 million trust in thirds each year to Mayo-Franciscan, the Diocese of La Crosse and community organizations. The foundation has donated $2.5 million since its inception 2½ years ago, said Mel Hoffman, the foundation’s executive director.

“They were very generous, but most of what they did was hidden from public view,” Hoffman said. “I think the recognition being shown in this dedication of this suite recognizes what they’ve done in the community.”

Franke, who lived in the same Charles Street home where he was born throughout his life, accumulated his wealth largely through investments in local companies.

The G. Heileman Brewing Co. became his favorite, and he was the company’s largest common stockholder when it was sold for $1.3 billion in 1987, according to the Franke Foundation.

Although Franke had a teaching certificate, he followed his dream to become a locomotive engineer. Among the engines he guided along the rails for Burlington Northern Railroad was Zephyr No. 4000, now displayed at Copeland Park on the city’s North Side.

“They were very generous, but most of what they did was hidden from public view. I think the recognition being shown in this dedication of this suite recognizes what they’ve done in the community.” Mel Hoffman, executive director,
Franke Foundation

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