- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Frank Kohler, whose death last month at the Washington Navy Yard triggered a worldwide response from fellow Rotary Club members, left behind a legacy of service including making sure a school was reconstructed in a distant land.
Kohler’s abilities to make things happen, and to pursue a lighthearted distraction when it was time for a break, were among the attributes heralded Monday at a meeting of the Rotary Club of Lexington Park, held two weeks to the day after 12 people died during the Navy Yard shootings by a mentally disturbed gunman, who eventually was shot and killed.
Kohler, a 50-year-old Tall Timbers resident, was a past president of the club in Lexington Park. On Monday, a U.S. flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol and proclamations were presented to his wife, Michelle Kohler, who was inducted into the membership of the organization she once served as its first lady.
Rotary members already knew well of Frank Kohler’s involvement in civic affairs long before his death, Del. John Bohanan (D-St. Mary’s) said during the Monday gathering in California, and the broader public quickly learned about Kohler in the aftermath of his death.
“They now know him, not only in St. Mary’s County, ... but across America,” Bohanan said. “Frank Kohler was one of 12 great Americans who was serving his country and left this world too early.”
During his presidency of the Rotary club for 2005-2006, Kohler diligently worked behind the scenes to contact the right people to make sure a school reconstruction project in Thailand was carried out, according to Paul Manchak, who was there on the scene with his wife, Betty Manchak, when a series of possible setbacks were successfully resolved.
People in Thailand — including an airline captain, Army colonel and the nation’s king — eliminated those hurdles, Paul Manchak said, as Kohler reached out to them for help with the mission.
The school in a village “way out in the middle of nowhere ... had fallen into serious disrepair,” Manchak said. There were dangling, live electrical wires. The school’s students included children from Burma whose only food was the meals they got at school, he said.
“It was the perfect challenge for Rotary,” he said, and when the Manchaks got back from Thailand, they talked to Kohler about the plan. “He internalized everything,” Manchak recalled. “He said, “Let’s do something about it.’”
When the Manchaks returned to Thailand to carry out the project, Rotarians in that country were at the airport, having gotten the word from Kohler that “this was the way it was going to be,” Manchak said. And when the project was in jeopardy, either financially or logistically, the issues were resolved with messages from Kohler back home stating “money in the bank” and “materials delivered.”
“Frank was the name that was invoked at every turn,” Manchak said, including when five soldiers appeared to make sure the materials made it through the jungle to the work site.
“Because of Frank, it turned out beautifully,” Manchak said, and the project that began with $10,000 from the Lexington Park club eventually had a $75,000 budget, even providing books and writing paper for the school now bearing the name “Lexington Park Rotary 1 School.”
Manchak described Kohler as “a great humanitarian who cared for the plight of others.”
Kohler also was remembered on Monday as a diligent worker, including his years at Lockheed Martin Corp.’s branch in Wildewood, where he was a subject matter expert for the Navy and Marine Corps Intranet Project. Chris Perlick, also a past president of the Rotary club who worked with Kohler at Wildewood, said that Kohler occasionally would take a break, using a putter to hit a golf ball down a long hallway toward a makeshift green.
“His putts never came close,” Perlick joked. “The only time we really worried about it is when he took [out] his driver.”
Michelle Kohler said that the “outpouring of love and kindness” the family has received included “getting cards from all around the world.” She said her husband’s life showed “what you can do in a community just by giving a little bit of yourself,” and that a spirit of giving can be passed on.
“What you bring home to your family is going to pass on from generation to generation,” she said. “That can never be taken away.”