I was fortunate enough to have lived with Marion and Frank Kreith in Boulder for almost a year, roughly a year ago. Frank, who won engineering awards with the likes of Alexander Bell and Thomas Edison, passed away last week, at 95 years old. After escaping the Holocaust as a KinderTransport child during WWII, Frank led an overwhelmingly impressive life and career. A longtime Professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Frank also started the Solar Energy Research Lab, which is now NREL in Golden, CO.
The world was so, so fortunate to have him. I wrote this to celebrate him.
Some of my favorite memories of Frank were driving him to and from Pilates. Even with constant medical appointments and persistent mouth pain, which he never mentioned, he would almost always make it to his bi-weekly classes at the Senior Center. Sometimes he’d be in his pajamas and slippers, reminding me that he had better things to think about than matching his workout clothes. He exuded brilliance in these routine moments away from his life’s work of academic genius in environmental and mechanical engineering.
Upon getting to the curb at the Senior Center—“Get as close as possible, no one cares,” he’d say while waving his hand at the parking lot—he would slowly and deliberately adjust his small, but flexible and agile body, firmly grasp his walker, and patter down the sidewalk. If it were sunny out, in the twenty yards from the curb to the sliding doors, Frank would turn his face upwards, soaking in the rays like they were an elixir. I swear the sun blushed every time Frank did this. After all, Frank was one of the most influential pioneers of solar technology.
When I’d accompany Frank inside the Center for whatever reason, it would be overly apparent that everyone knew and adored him. Heads would turn and numerous greetings would pass. “Oh Frank!” every receptionist would laugh when he’d jokingly condemn the $5 class fee. Frank would then set up his position in the Pilates room, always front and center. Most people in the class had to be decades younger than him, but he never showed his age of 95. He had to have been one of the most regular attendees!
On multiple occasions, driving away from the Senior Center after class, Frank would stop talking mid-sentence, his sparkling eyes fixated westward. “Oh, would you look at the Flatirons? How beautiful they are today.” We’d share a silent moment of appreciation for the Flatirons, whether ensconced in a while dusting of recent snow, or illuminated in a cloudless sky. And then he’d continue telling his story, or be compelled to tell me a different story about skiing or hiking somewhere back in the day.
Frank loved this world, and even amid one of the most productive lives ever lived, he always took time to appreciate it.- - - - - -
Photo: President Jimmy Carter visits Frank Kreith, left, and other Solar Energy Research Institute leaders in 1978. (CU Dean of Engineering Bobby Braun / Courtesy Photo)