Federal Judge Donovan Frank makes a point during his speech at the annual banquet of the Spring Valley Community Foundation. DAVID PHILLIPS/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
Federal Judge Donovan Frank makes a point during his speech at the annual banquet of the Spring Valley Community Foundation. DAVID PHILLIPS/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
Donovan Frank admits he wasn’t exactly a model citizen while growing up in the Spring Valley area back in the 1960s.  However, the community subtly guided him to the right path, which eventually led him to his position as a federal judge.

Frank described the role the community played in his life journey Saturday evening in front of approximately 200 people attending the Spring Valley Area Community Foundation banquet at Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery.

He graduated from Spring Valley High School in 1969 and left the next fall for Luther College, “too immature to understand that this community provided me some core values and a sound foundation that would not fail me during the best and worst of times.”

Although he didn’t always appreciate the lack of anonymity in his youth — he noted he was no honor student and got into trouble at times — he now realizes the value of a caring community that in many ways was like having a large, extended family around him. His parents and many people in the community supported and encouraged him during his formative years.

“I truly did not understand the value of growing up in a small community like this,” he said.

His father had a downtown Spring Valley store and many of his relatives had farms, so he spent much of his time working in the store or on the farms during summers. Those early years taught him a very strong work ethic, which helped him along the way and something he cites to other young people looking for direction.

But it isn’t just a strong work ethic he learned while growing up in the area. He also learned about compassion and helping those in need.

He received his first exposure to what he calls “justice” through Christmas drawings at his parents’ store. He revealed to the crowd that the drawings weren’t actually random, as many assumed. His father would tell him to dump all the slips of paper on the counter and they would go through them until they came to a name of someone whose family truly needed the money. They then declared that person the winner.

This taught him a lot about “extending that caring hand,” he said.

He now realizes that those who received an education or found success in life have an obligation to give back to the community and lend a helping hand to those in need. He was on the receiving end when he was younger and parents, teachers, neighbors and community members encouraged him to further his education, to pursue his dreams.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring, all of which truly have the potential to turn a life around,” said Frank.

He noted that there is no such thing as a self-made man or self-made woman. Most successful people have had a significant adult or two support them.

In addition to individual community members, the Spring Valley Area Community Foundation stepped in five years ago to fund projects that provide role models for children or strengthen the community.

He noted that in these complicated times “I would suggest that the true measure of a truly civilized and democratic society and the true measure of a community is found in the way we each treat those individuals most in need, especially our children, and, yes, the poorest amongst us, the most vulnerable amongst us and individuals with disabilities.”

That is the essence of equal justice, he told the crowd.

He said an important goal in life is to live a life consistent with the values each person holds dear and then act on those beliefs. He emphasized that people need to “walk the walk” and lead by example.

He briefly cited several projects foundation funded, including the summer reading program, Gateway Academy, courtyard outdoor project and the Little Huskers youth run. All of them focus on improving the quality of life and promote opportunities for all citizens, particularly for youth, he said, before asking the audience to give a hand to the foundation for “caring.”

He ended his talk with this quote from George Bernard Shaw:

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

“I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”