Viewpoint: On Frank Gerrish’s passing

Frank Gerrish

Frank Gerrish

By Dawn De Busk

BN Columnist

I saw his handiwork long before I met the man in person.

Like so many people driving on the Naples Causeway, I could not help but notice the Songo River Queen — an almost 100-foot-long paddleboat moored there.

The first time I met Gerrish was a few weeks before the Queen’s final trip through the Naples Swing Bridge in September 2011. He showed up to the interview in his work clothes: a mechanic’s dark blue pants and shirt and a baseball cap.

He sported a wide smile and a stack of photos.

Frank had a lot of stories to tell.

Now, those stories will be told by others.

According to longtime friend Dana Watson, Gerrish was a maverick businessman whose accomplishments are etched onto the town that is Naples.

During Monday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, Watson made a public announcement that Gerrish had died on Saturday.

Watson kept his words brief, and said that Frank would be missed very much.

Later during a phone interview, Watson said “He tried all kinds of different things.”

“He had an airplane that he hauled freight in. He bought and sold airplanes. He raced stock cars,” he said. “He was very mechanically-minded. He was really good with hydraulics. He loved cranes — he bought two or three industrial cranes and fixed them up during his life,” he said

“He built work barges. He built from scratch a boat lifter. That was something,” he said.

Watson described Gerrish as “a good guy” and “a promoter” for his community.

“He was a good ambassador for the Causeway. People loved him, and he was always friendly,” he said.

In 1970, Frank drew quite a bit of attention and some ribbing from friends when he started building a paddleboat replica — right in plain sight on the Causeway.

In October 1981, the original Queen caught fire and burned to the waterline while docked for the night.

Always one to get back on the horse after being bucked off, Gerrish almost immediately started reconstructing the boat. This time, the frame took shape on the ice; and the boat was back in business that following May.

In 2011 — although he had sold the business a year earlier — Frank captained the Queen through the swing bridge before it closed forever to boat traffic.

On the return trip from the Songo Lock as the boat traveled across Brandy Pond, Gerrish delighted in inviting the children to the upper deck so they could have an opportunity to drive the boat.

According to the owner of the Songo River Queen, Kent Uicker, Frank Gerrish was one of the guests of honor on that last cruise.

“On the return trip, we had Frank take the wheel and he brought it through the bridge for the very last time,” Uicker said.

Frank’s concept of a paddleboat in the Lake Region was “definitely innovative and unique,” he said.

Uicker recalled meeting Frank through a business deal in 1999, when he purchased a barge that Gerrish had constructed.

Frank Gerrish had something that can be referred to as “old-fashioned Yankee ingenuity,” Uicker said.

 

The remembrance of life will be held for Frank Gerrish today from 4 to 6 p.m. at the American Legion Post No. 155. Afterwards, attendees will take a trip on the Songo River Queen.

— D.D.

 

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