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Alumni Profiles
reed magazine logoMarch 2010

Both Sides of the Wire Continued

Frank joined the 21st Infantry Division of the Baltimore National Guard and was shipped to the European front. Then, in an astonishing twist of fate, he was assigned as a liaison to the troops being sent to liberate the very camp he had suffered in seven years before. The memory remains bitterly sharp even today, and his face grows grave when he describes the heaped rows of corpses which met their gaze when they marched through the gates on April 11, 1945. “The Nazis had run out of petrol, so there was no way to dispose of the bodies,” he says. “They were piled five high and three deep all around. Some were even still alive, but there was nothing we could do.”

However bleak, the liberation of Buchenwald marked the beginning of the end. When Frank returned to America the following year, he and his fellow veterans were offered the choice between $20 a week for unemployment or free college tuition plus an allowance of $75 a month under Roosevelt’s G.I. Bill. “The unemployment line was so much longer than the college line that I just chose college,” he chuckles. Thus Frank entered Reed in 1947 as one of only five psychology majors in the whole student body.

Frank remembers the students as “exceptionally well-informed and very sympathetic.” Undaunted by his past or his status as an “older student” (he was 29 years old) he dove into college life and made many friends—though he attributes some of his appeal to his major. “People were always asking me to hypnotize them at parties, though I had no idea how to,” he says. “But I’ll tell you: I became a hit. I was probably the busiest psychologist in town before ever taking a single psychology course.”

After graduation from Reed, Frank earned a master’s degree in psychology from Washington State and began a teaching career which would last a lifetime. He selflessly devoted his time to education—working at Portland State University as a full professor and volunteering at the school’s “Storefront University,” a project designed to promote education for residents of Portland’s ghettoes during the 1960s.

Hypnosis remained a handy skill in Frank’s repertoire during those years. One evening, during a lecture, a group of students deposited a leghorn chicken on his desk and challenged him to put it into a trance. In that moment, he knew all the respect he had gained as a professor would be lost if he couldn’t pull it off. “Had I known a chicken prayer at the time,” he admits “I would’ve said it.” Fortunately, the chicken complied, lapsing into a catatonic avian daze, and his mesmerizing reputation remained intact.

Frank remained an active scholar in his own right, publishing several books covering everything from child-rearing psychology to the history of anti-Semitism. His most recent work, however, takes a more personal tone. Naked Psychology: Stories Behind the Mind Game describes his education and teaching career, weaving together personal impressions of psychologists such as B.F. Skinner; humorous stories from his time at Reed, such as a catastrophic production of Anton Chekhov’s Jubilee; and insightful stories about his time spent traveling the world as a professor.

After 50 years of educating the city’s knowledge-hungry youth, Frank retired from teaching in 2008. Now 91, he remains a Reedie at heart, his face lighting up with laughter when he recalls the unusual boldness of fellow students “all openly harassing the teacher, saying things like ‘Define your terms!’ It was terrifying!” Or his unusual thesis research methods: “I was studying the behavior of cats—about 30 altogether —and the ladies of Reed kept them for me. Each day I was observing the animals for an experiment, I went around to all the girls’ dorms to collect them, then brought them all back at the end of the day.”

He even preserves that unique variety of Reedie dress sense, relating stories from his life with his feet up on the coffee table, each one of them sheathed in a threadbare, rainbow, tie-dyed sock—“Made for me by my editor, you know,” he crows.

He shows no signs of slowing down. Whether taking his Labrador, Hercules, for two hour-long walks a day, or inner-tubing in the snow with his grandchildren, an activity he claims to despise (the twinkle in his eye suggests otherwise), he remains full of zest. When asked if he misses teaching, he gives an enormous, full-bodied laugh and a resounding “No!”

“Now,” he whispers conspiratorially, “it is time to goof off.”

Further Reading

The Holocaust and Anti-Semitism by Frank Wesley (International Scholars Publications, 1998).

Naked Psychology: Stories Behind the Mind Game by Frank Wesley (Little Verona Press, 2008).

Night by Elie Wiesel (Hill and Wang, 2006). (An account of Wiesel’s imprisonment at Buchenwald.)

reed magazine logoMarch 2010