May 12, 2005 Sis Frank is practically a St. John legend. At 81, she still serves as the director of the St. John School of the Arts and keeps up a busy life that would tire people half her age.
Alas, Frank said recently she plans to step down as director in about a year. She said she'll turn over the reins to long-time assistant Jan Kinder.
"But I'll still be pestering them," she said.
Frank came to St. John in 1959 from Norwich, N. Y. to find out for her hometown neighbor why the crews building his Cruz Bay home were working so slow.
As it turned out, her neighbor hadn't paid his bills and Frank found a new place to call home..
"It was heaven. A whole new world opened up here," she said, recalling what many people now refer to as the island's good old days.
She said that moving to St. John is her proudest accomplishment.
After arriving, she soon began renting houses to vacationers as Holiday Homes, starting what became the island's huge vacation villa industry.
More than a decade went by before she met her husband-to-be, Carl Frank, a former New York actor who frequently visited St. John. He arrived to stay in 1961. He and Frank got married in 1962, and opened the island's first insurance agency – St. John Insurance.
Holiday Homes and St. John Insurance merged and the company expanded to sell real estate. Frank said Holiday Homes/St. John Insurance sold land in the first area to attract retirees Great Cruz Bay.
When her husband died in 1972, she took in a partner, the late-Peter Griffith. His daughter is actress Melanie Griffith.
Wanting to do something different, she became the manager of Steel Unlimited, a steel pan band. The band disbanded when the director, Rudy Wells, went away to the Berklee College of Music. When he returned home in 1980, Wells, Frank and Varlack Ventures owner Rodney Varlack formed the St. John School of the Arts.
They bought the old Eric's Hilltop Restaurant, tearing it down almost to its foundations, purchased a kit building designed by St. John architect Glen Speer from Costa Rica, and with the help of volunteers and an occasional paid crew, spent the next 10 years finishing the building.
Frank said the school's offering have grown tremendously over the years to keep up with the changing needs of children.
"In the early days, kids had nothing else to do but play in the band," she said.
Now, St. John School of the Arts offers all sorts of programs for children as well as winter concerts.
Frank said she's working on exchange programs with her alma mater, Skidmore College, Berklee College of Music and the Center for Black Music Research at Chicago's Columbia College.
"They'll send people here and we'll send people there," she said.
She said her goal is to teach children to appreciate the arts because such programs build self-esteem.
As for herself, Frank has no plans to slow down. She said she wakes up in the middle of the night brimming with ideas.
"But I have to write down lists or I forget," she said, laughing at the changes that come with age.
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