ALFRED “AL” BLOCK
“Alfred” Al Block, patriarch of the Franklin Historical Society, died peacefully on February 17 at the age of 90 after a long, distinguished life. He wore many hats from teacher and administrator to war veteran and conservationist. But above all, he will be remembered as an educator who took pleasure in shaping young minds.
When Franklin High School opened in 1962, he became a key member of the faculty teaching civics, American history and conservation as well as coaching cross country and officiating wrestling matches. He also helped charter the curriculum for a school district still in its infancy.
I was fortunate to be a freshman at Franklin High when it opened in the fall of 1962 and I met “Mr. Block” when I was assigned to his civics class. It was apparent from the start that Mr. Block did not view students as unwieldy teenagers but as young adults. He never addressed us by our first names. At the age of 14, I was always “Mr. Schmidt”.
Mr. Block stressed critical thinking to his students. If you asked him a question, his response would be, “What do you think?” He challenged us to prioritize goals and employ deductive reasoning. I will always remember how he challenged us to tackle a real issue: Should the school invest on improving our cross country trail to host the annual conference meet each year or invest in new signage for the scoreboard on the football field? It was our first lesson in critical thinking ’ and we were only 14 and 15 years old!
Little did I know that those skills would come into play decades later when I was elected a Franklin alderman.
Mr. Block, of course, was dedicated to preserving Franklin history and thus, he established the Franklin Historical Society through an adult education class in 1969. He served as its guiding force through the next 40 years and spearheaded Franklin’s first documented history through a core of writers and editors in publishing “From Cabins To Condos” to help commemorate the city’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2006. It was during that time that I reconnected with Mr. Block who I now had to convince myself I could call “Al”.
I was elected to the Historical Society board and Al immediately determined that I should oversee improvements to the historical buildings in Legend Park. However, he was also convinced that a barn structure was critical to educating Franklin children about the community’s proud farming history. But funding of that project became a contentious issue. Perhaps due in part to the analytical skills Al had taught me back in the ‘60s, I was one of the board members who questioned its feasibility.
Today Al’s vision is still a work in progress, but it is growing closer to completion under the direction of our current president, Jim Luckey, and the barn may one day symbolize the educational tool that Al so fondly desired.
His classroom will always remain open.
Franklin Historical Society.