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Frank L. Ramakis

January 29, 2011|By JANET HEIM | janeth@herald-mail.com
  • Frank L. Ramakis was dressed for success in this recent photograph.
Submitted photo

Entertainer, singer, songwriter and poet — those are words used to describe Frank Ramakis.

Born in 1926, Frank was the third of four children born to Frank Ramakis Sr., a Russian immigrant, and Margaret Ramakis.

Frank Sr. became a United States citizen and fought for his new homeland during World War I.

The couple raised their children in Ashland and Mt. Carmel, Pa., where Frank Sr. worked as a coal miner. He died when Frank Jr. was only 3 years old.

The younger Frank's love for music came from his mother, Margaret, whose singing at home and in church was a constant in his life.

He served in the U.S. Army from 1944 to 1945, stationed in Georgia and New Jersey.

For 30 years, Frank traveled throughout the United States, either on foot, by bus or catching rides with people. He worked as a cook, but always was interested in singing and entertaining others.

After his years of travel, Frank found what he was looking for when he came to Hagerstown. He settled here in about 1976, and it was here that he lived out the rest of his life.

He became known around town for his entertaining ways at the City Farmers Market in downtown Hagerstown, the downtown post office, Amvets and American Legion posts, the J&M Grill, City Park bandshell and Public Square.  

"He came in the restaurant every day and he spent the morning with us," said Jackie McAfee of J&M Grill.  

On the days when bad weather would not allow Frank to come in, he called in around 6 a.m. and sang "You Are My Sunshine" to Jackie.

Jackie said Frank was like a grandfather to everyone at the grill and was a part of the J&M Breakfast Club, as they called themselves.

Frank's circle of friends knew him as a one-man band — without the band — and for his hit list of 1,000 songs, all committed to memory. Frank favored the songs of the 1920s and 1930s, with "How Great Thou Art" as his top pick and "God Bless the USA" a close second, selections that reflected his strong faith and love of country.

He enjoyed karaoke and also sang at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va., and at local nursing homes, walking, taking the bus or getting a ride for transportation.

Frank crafted song lyrics and poems, and one of his songs — "A Gift from Heaven/You Must Have Been an Angel" — was set to music by a friend, with a copyright granted by the U.S. Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Frank led "a very simple life" and was estranged from his family, said Joan and Roger Lyle, who became friends with Frank through the farmers market about seven years ago. Roger was asked by Frank to be his guardian several months ago.

"He preached the Lord in his actions, the clothes he wore. He didn't push it, though. He was a beautiful man. He taught me a lot," Roger said.

Frank sang at the Full Gospel Pentecostal Church in Martinsburg, W.Va., and with the family of Reggie and Elsie Martin at Miller's Mennonite Church near Leitersburg.

Frank's family became the many local people who got to know him over the years, including Mary Jane "Janie" Gordon and her daughter, Rosie.

"He didn't have family here. His family became his Hagerstown friends. He would make friends and they were friends to keep," said Mary Puderbaugh, who had known Frank since he moved to Hagerstown.

Frank lived a block from Mary's mother, who was about the same age as Frank, and they met while walking in the neighborhood.

"I'm just going to miss him. He was a true friend, especially to my mom," Mary said.

Mary said he called himself "Frank L.", but that she never knew for what the "L" stood. He also referred to himself as "the real deal" in Hagerstown, Joan said.

Mary said Frank would go to the grocery store and pick up more items than he needed, then offer some of the extras to others.

"I never saw him sad. He always had a twinkle in his blue eyes. He always remembered everybody else," Mary said.

She said he temporarily lost his vision and ability to walk in 1990, and credited God for restoring both. His faith becoming a foundation for his life, and he referred to those he knew and met as "brother" or "sister."

Mary said Frank kept up with current events by reading the newspaper daily. She said he carried a disposable camera wherever he went and loved having photographs taken with his friends.

"He was just a wonderful person. This gentleman, there won't be another one like him," Mary said.

Frank was a lifetime member of Geist-Berkanski American Legion Post 91 in Mt. Carmel, and a member of Hagerstown Amvets Post 10, where he served as the post's chaplain for seven years.

He was recently diagnosed with multiple myeloma and was hospitalized at the VA in Martinsburg at the end of October 2010.

At that point, it was clear that Frank wouldn't be able to live on his own, so Rosie and others moved Frank's belongings out of the Garlinger Avenue apartment where he had lived for 34 years.

Frank was in and out of Golden Living Center and Meritus Medical Center until he moved to Joan and Roger's home on Jan. 11, five days before he died.

Roger recalls Reggie and Elsie Martin, who have a booth at the farmers market, and their seven children arriving in their Sunday best to sing to Frank. They sang to Frank several days before he died, then returned the day he died after Elsie had a dream that God wanted the family to go back and sing to him one more time, Roger said.

They had prepared a list of about 18 hymns which they sang, with Frank taking his final breath to the gift of their song.

"It was beautiful. It was like having an angel sing to you. It was very fitting for a farewell," Roger said.

A celebration of Frank's life will be held Saturday, Feb. 5, at 2 p.m. at Amvets Post 10 on Frederick Street in Hagerstown.

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Editor's note:  Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs "A Life Remembered." Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Frank L. Ramakis, who died Jan. 16, 2011, at the age of 84. His obituary is online at www.minnichfh.com.

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