Looking Back Over 93 Years of Living
As told by Frederick W. Franz
ON September 12, 1893, a baby boy was born in Covington, Kentucky, which is on the south side of the river opposite Cincinnati, Ohio. His happy father, Edward Frederick Franz, and delighted mother, Ida Louise née Krueger, named this son of theirs Frederick William Franz.
That was the start of my 93 years of living. My father, who was born in Germany, professed to be of the Lutheran Church and so had me baptized by the clergyman’s laying of his moistened hand upon my forehead. A baptismal certificate was filled out, and it was framed and hung on the wall of our home, along with the baptismal certificates of my two older brothers, Albert Edward and Herman Frederick. Only 20 years later did I learn how unscriptural such a religious formality is.
It was when we had moved to Greenup Street that I saw for the first time a horseless carriage, a two-seater open automobile, being driven up the street. Years later I would first see an airplane. We then lived next to Krieger’s Bakery, where my father worked nights as a baker. He would come home in the morning and go to sleep. Then in the afternoon he would be free to spend some time with us boys.
When I became of school age, I was sent first to the parochial school and religious services of St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, since it was nearby at 12th and Greenup streets. I can still recall the school classroom. On one occasion the religious “brother” acting as teacher had me come to the front of the class and stretch out my open palm to receive several whacks with a 12-inch ruler because of a misdemeanor on my part.
I also recall going into the church’s unlighted confession box, speaking to the confessor behind the partition, and saying a memorized prayer and confessing how bad a boy I was. After that, I went down to the altar rail and kneeled there as a priest put a piece of bread in my mouth, thus serving me Communion as taught by the church, while reserving the wine for himself to drink later. This was the start of my formal religious training and my respect for God that would grow in the years to come.
After my completing a year in the parochial school in 1899, my family moved across the Ohio River to Cincinnati, to 17 Mary Street (now called East 15th Street). This time I was sent to the public school and put in the third grade. I proved to be an inattentive student, and I recall that, on one occasion, the student at the desk to my right and I were sent to the principal’s office because of our misconduct. There Principal Fitzsimmons had both of us bend over and touch the tip of our shoes with our fingers while he administered a number of strokes with a rattan switch on our rear end. As you might expect, I flunked.
But my father was unwilling that I should spend two years in the same grade. So when the next school term began, he took me to the Liberty Street school, to the office of the school principal, Mr. Logan. He asked Mr. Logan to enroll me in the fourth grade. Mr. Logan was kindly disposed toward me, and he said: “Well, let’s see what the young man knows.” After I answered a number of probing questions to his evident satisfaction, he stated: “Well, it seems that he qualifies for the fourth grade.” In this way, he personally promoted me to the grade higher than the one that I had flunked. From then on I settled down and applied myself seriously to my schoolwork, and never again did I flunk.
The religious aspects of my young life also changed. Somehow, representatives of the Second Presbyterian Church of Cincinnati got in touch with my mother, and she decided to send Albert, Herman, and me to the Sunday school of that church. At that time, Mr. Fisher was the superintendent of the Sunday school, and young Bessie O’Barr became my Sunday-school teacher. In this way, I became acquainted with the inspired Holy Bible. How grateful I was when my Sunday-school teacher conferred upon me a personal copy of the Holy Bible as a Christmas gift!
I determined to make it a must in my life to read a portion of the Bible each and every day. This resulted in my becoming very well acquainted with that holy book. And its wholesome influence kept me from becoming involved with the immoral speech and conduct of my classmates. It was no wonder that they looked upon me as being different.
High School and College
After I graduated from the third intermediate school in 1907, my parents permitted me to continue my education and enter Woodward High School, where Albert, my oldest brother, had attended for one year. Like him, I decided to take up the classical course. So I took up the study of Latin—a study that I pursued for the next seven years.
Then came the time of graduation in the spring of the year 1911. I was selected to be the valedictorian for Woodward High School at the graduation exercises that were to be held in Cincinnati’s largest auditorium, the Music Hall.
At the time, all three of Cincinnati’s high schools—Woodward High School, Hughes High School, and Walnut Hills High School—met together for graduation exercises. The high-school seniors sat on the large platform facing a packed auditorium. The opening speech was assigned to the valedictorian for Woodward High School. The subject that I chose for the occasion was “School and Citizenship.” All three speakers were given a handsome round of applause. I was now in my 18th year of life.
My parents allowed me to go on with my educational career, so I entered the University of Cincinnati, taking the liberal arts course. I had now decided that I was going to become a Presbyterian preacher.
To the continued study of Latin, I now added the study of Greek. What a blessing it was to study Bible Greek under Professor Arthur Kinsella! Under Dr. Joseph Harry, an author of some Greek works, I also studied the classical Greek. I knew that if I wanted to become a Presbyterian clergyman, I had to have a command of Bible Greek. So I furiously applied myself and got passing grades.
In addition to studying Greek and Latin at school, I got interested in learning Spanish, which I found to be quite similar to Latin. Little did I realize at the time how much I would be able to use Spanish in my Christian ministry.
A high point in my academic life was when Dr. Lyon, the university’s president, announced to an assembly of students in the auditorium that I had been chosen to go to Ohio State University to take competitive examinations with others to win the prize of the Cecil Rhodes Scholarship, qualifying me for admission to Oxford University in England. One of the contestants outranked me with regard to field athletics, but because of my comparable grades, they wanted to send me, along with him, to Oxford University. I appreciated that I had measured up to the requirements for gaining the scholarship, and, normally, this would have been very gratifying.
“This Is the Truth!”
We recall that on one occasion Jesus Christ said to his disciples: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) The year previous, 1913, my brother Albert got “the truth” in Chicago. How did Albert get “the truth”?
One Saturday night in the spring of 1913, Albert had gone to bed early in the dormitory of the YMCA, where he was living while working in Chicago. Later, his roommate burst into the room to explain a difficulty. He was invited that night to the home of a Mr. and Mrs. Hindman, and their daughter Nora was to have a girlfriend there at the house. Two girls would be too much for Albert’s roommate to handle by himself. With alacrity, Albert rose to the occasion. During the course of the evening, Albert’s roommate was getting along quite famously with the two young ladies. But Mr. and Mrs. Hindman concentrated on Albert, introducing to him the teachings of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.
Albert then sent me a booklet entitled Where Are the Dead? written by a Scottish doctor, John Edgar, a member of the Glasgow Congregation of the International Bible Students. At first, I laid the booklet aside. Then one evening, having a little time on my hands before going to choir practice, I began to read it. So interesting did I find it that I could not lay it down. I kept on reading it as I walked about a mile to the Presbyterian church. Since the church door was still locked, I sat on the cold stone steps and kept on reading. The organist came along and, noting how absorbed I was in what I was reading, said: “That must be something interesting.” I replied: “It sure is!”
Since I so enjoyed the new truths I was learning, the thought occurred to me to ask the preacher, Dr. Watson, what he thought of this booklet. So that very evening, I handed him the booklet and asked: “Dr. Watson, what do you know about this?”
He took the booklet, opened it up, and then sneered: “Oh, that must be some of that Russell stuff. What does he know about eschatology?” I was really taken aback by his contemptuous attitude. As I took the booklet back and turned away, I thought to myself: “I don’t care what he thinks about it. This is the TRUTH!”
Before long, on one of his visits back home, Albert brought me the first three volumes of Studies in the Scriptures, written by Charles Taze Russell. Albert also got me acquainted with the local congregation of Bible Students, which happened to meet right next door to the Presbyterian church. I was delighted with what I was learning and soon decided that the time had come for me to sever my connection with the Presbyterian Church.
So later, when Albert again was visiting us, we went to one of Dr. Watson’s Sunday night lectures. Afterward, Albert and I walked down to where he was shaking hands with the departing parishioners. I said to him: “Dr. Watson, I’m leaving the church.”
He said: “I knew it! I knew it! Just as soon as I saw you reading that Russell stuff. That man, Russell, I wouldn’t allow him to step inside my door!” He then added: “Fred, don’t you think we had better step up to my vestry and have prayer together?” I told him: “No, Dr. Watson, I’ve made up my mind.”
With that, Albert and I walked out of the church. What a glorious feeling it was to be free from bondage to a religious system that was teaching falsehoods! How good it was to be taken into the congregation of the International Bible Students, who were so loyal to God’s Word! On April 5, 1914, in Chicago, Illinois, I symbolized my consecration—as we used to call dedication—by water baptism.
I have never regretted that, shortly before the announcements by the educational authorities regarding the outcome of the examinations for the Cecil Rhodes Scholarship, I wrote a letter to the authorities and advised them that I had lost interest in the Oxford University scholarship and that they should drop me from the list of contestants. This I did even though my professor in Greek at the university, Dr. Joseph Harry, informed me that I had been chosen to receive it.
Two months later, or on June 28, 1914, the murder of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and his wife took place at Sarajevo in Bosnia. On that very same date, the International Bible Students were having the third day of their general convention at Memorial Hall, Columbus, Ohio. Just one month later, or on July 28, 1914, the first world war of all human history broke out. We Bible Students were expecting the end of the Gentile Times of 2,520 years by October 1 of that year.
With my father’s permission, I had left the University of Cincinnati in May 1914, just a couple of weeks before the end of my third term there as a junior classman. I immediately arranged with the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society to become a colporteur, or pioneer, as such a full-time minister is called today. By then I had become actively associated with the Cincinnati Congregation of the International Bible Students.
Later I became an elder of the Cincinnati Congregation. So when the United States of America got involved in World War I on the side of the Allies, and the young men were drafted for the army, I was exempted as a minister of the gospel.
Getting to Know Brother Russell
Among the incidents in my life that I look back on with fondness were the times I had the joy of meeting the Society’s first president, Charles Taze Russell. I first became personally acquainted with him the day before the premiere exhibition of the Photo-Drama of Creation at the Music Hall on Sunday, January 4, 1914. That Saturday an elder of the Cincinnati Congregation met me outside the Music Hall and said: “Say, Brother Russell is in there, and if you go backstage you can see him.” Very eagerly I went in and subsequently found myself speaking to him face-to-face. He had come to inspect arrangements for that initial presentation of the Photo-Drama of Creation.
Then in 1916 he happened to be making a train connection in Cincinnati and had several hours’ layover. A sister and I, being told about it, hastened to the railroad station, where we found him along with his secretary. He had brought his lunch along with him, and when lunchtime came, he shared it with us.
Upon finishing lunch, he asked if anyone had a Bible question. I asked about the likelihood of Adam’s being resurrected in view of the fact that he was an unrepentant, willful sinner. With a twinkle in his eye, he replied: “Brother, you are asking a question and answering it at the same time. Now, just what was your question?”
“The Finished Mystery”
On Tuesday, October 31, 1916, Charles Taze Russell died, without having produced the seventh volume to his series of Studies in the Scriptures. When on his deathbed, aboard a train returning from California, he was asked by his secretary about the seventh volume, he replied: “Someone else will have to write that.”
In the following year, 1917, the seventh volume did appear as a commentary on the prophetic books of Ezekiel and Revelation, together with a lovely explanation of the Bible book The Song of Solomon. The Society planned a tremendous circulation of the new book. Accordingly, they sent cartons of this seventh volume to certain ones in the congregations throughout the United States. Many cartons were sent to my home at 1810 Baymiller Street, Cincinnati, Ohio, and stored while we awaited further instructions as to how the contents were to be distributed.
There were eight pages of The Finished Mystery that contained quotations of what prominent figures had adversely declared regarding warfare. Under incitement by the religious organizations of Christendom, Catholic and Protestant, the United States government raised objections, so pages 247-54 were cut out. Thereafter, when The Finished Mystery was offered to the people, an explanation was made to them as to why these pages were missing. The United States government did not remain satisfied with this move, and under further incitement by the religious organizations of the land, it banned the entire seventh volume of Studies in the Scriptures.
I recall that on one Sunday morning I was working at the rear door of our house. Men came walking down the walkway alongside the house, and the leader pulled back his coat lapel, showed me his metallic badge and demanded entrance into the house. So I was obliged to take them inside and show them the cartons containing copies of The Finished Mystery. After a few days, they sent a truck and took them all away.
Later we learned that Joseph F. Rutherford, the Watch Tower Society’s second president, and six of his associates serving at the Brooklyn headquarters were erroneously convicted of interfering with the war effort of the United States. They were sentenced to serve 20 years at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary on each of four counts, the sentences, however, to run concurrently. The war ended on November 11, 1918, and then on March 25, 1919, Brother Rutherford and his associates were released on bail. They were later completely exonerated. The book The Finished Mystery was also removed from under ban and authorized to be circulated freely once again.
How reviving it was to our spirits when the Society arranged for our first postwar convention at Cedar Point, situated on the tip of a resort peninsula near Sandusky, Ohio, for September 1-8, 1919! It was a most joyous privilege for me to attend that convention.
Invited to Bethel
In the following year of 1920, President Rutherford accepted an invitation to address a public audience in Cincinnati, Ohio. I was doing colporteur work at the time, and Brother Rutherford invited me to write him a letter applying for service at the Brooklyn Bethel headquarters.
I sent the letter, and after receiving a favorable reply, I entrained for New York City. On Tuesday night, June 1, 1920, I arrived there and was met by Leo Pelle, an old friend from Louisville, Kentucky, and he conducted me to the Bethel home. The next day, Wednesday, I was formally assigned to room with Hugo Riemer and Clarence Beatty in an attic room, becoming number 102 of the Brooklyn Bethel family.
The Society had established its first printing plant at 35 Myrtle Avenue, in the basement of which was installed our first rotary printing press, which we called the Battleship because of its size. We were turning out the Society’s new magazine entitled The Golden Age—later named Consolation and now Awake! As the magazines came up through a slot in the floor and were conveyed on a wire system over a sloping board, I gathered them up, jogging them and stacking them for later trimming and handling.
On Saturday morning, when the printing press was not turning out magazines, a number of us brothers would wrap up the magazines in brown folder sheets containing the names and addresses of subscribers. Then we would seal them for handling by the post office. I continued doing this work for a number of months until Donald Haslett, who was serving on the Colporteur Desk, left to marry Mabel Catel. Then I was transferred from 35 Myrtle Avenue to the Society’s office at 124 Columbia Heights to serve at the Colporteur Desk.
Also, as a member of the New York Congregation, I was assigned to conduct a book study at the home of the Afterman family in the Ridgewood area of Brooklyn.
Radio and Convention Privileges
I continued serving at the Colporteur Desk until 1926. In the meantime, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society had established on Staten Island its first radio station, WBBR. That was in 1924. I had the joyous privilege of serving on the Society’s programs, not only delivering speeches but also rendering tenor solos, and even playing the mandolin to piano accompaniment. Further, I sang second tenor in our WBBR male quartet. Of course, Brother Rutherford, as the president of the Society, was the featured speaker over WBBR and had a vast listening audience.
It was in the year 1922 that a general convention of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society was held for the second time at Cedar Point, Ohio. Here we were most powerfully exhorted by Brother Rutherford to “advertise, advertise, advertise, the King and his kingdom.”
One of my highly prized privileges in the ‘20’s was serving with Brother Rutherford at the international convention in London, England, in 1926. There he delivered his public talk in the Royal Albert Hall of London before a large audience after I had sung a tenor solo to the accompaniment of the hall’s famous organ.
The following night he spoke to a Jewish audience on “Palestine for the Jews—Why?” and I sang a solo from Handel’s Messiah, “Comfort Ye, My People.” Some thousands of Jews attended that special service. At the time, we were mistakenly applying prophecies from the Hebrew Scriptures to the fleshly, circumcised Jews. But in 1932 Jehovah opened our eyes to see that those prophecies applied to spiritual Israel.
And how thrilling it was for me to be at the Columbus, Ohio, convention in 1931 when Brother Rutherford submitted the ‘new name’ Jehovah’s Witnesses, and all of us adopted it enthusiastically! Immediately afterward, all the congregations of Jehovah’s people around the globe adopted that ‘new name.’—Compare Isaiah 62:2.
Friday, May 31, 1935, found me serving as the orchestra conductor in the pit right underneath the podium of the platform from which Brother Rutherford gave his epoch-making discourse on Revelation 7:9-17, correctly identifying for us the membership of the “great multitude” there depicted. The so-called Jonadab class was especially invited to be present, and the reason therefor became apparent when Brother Rutherford showed that the “great multitude” (King James Version), or “great crowd,” was to be made up of the “other sheep” of “the good shepherd” Jesus Christ. (John 10:14, 16, KJ) It was a thrilling occasion. How heart stirring it was to me when the next day, Saturday, June 1, 840 conventioners got immersed in water to symbolize their dedication to God through Christ with an earthly paradise outlook in view! From then on, the number of Christ’s “other sheep” went on to outnumber, by far, the dwindling membership of the “little flock” of spirit-begotten sheeplike disciples of the Fine Shepherd, Jesus Christ.—Luke 12:32.
However, when World War II broke out in 1939, it seemed as if this meant the end of the gathering of the “great crowd.” I recall Brother Rutherford’s saying to me one day: “Well, Fred, it looks as if the ‘great multitude’ is not going to be so great after all.” Little did we realize the great ingathering that was yet ahead.
The Society introduced the portable phonograph in 1934, and recordings of President Rutherford’s lectures were used to introduce the Bible literature. When his recordings, translated into Spanish, came out, I concentrated on using them in reaching Spanish-speaking people in the neighborhood of our factory at 117 Adams Street. Then, by return visits, I helped interested persons to learn Bible truths, and by this means I was eventually privileged to organize the first Spanish-speaking congregation in Brooklyn. I have belonged to the Brooklyn Spanish Congregation, number one, ever since it was formed.
Changes in the Society’s Presidency
At Brother Rutherford’s death on January 8, 1942, Nathan H. Knorr succeeded him to the presidency of the Society. Despite the raging second world war, his public address in the summer of 1942 on the subject “Peace—Can It Last?” reversed our outlook for the immediate future. Shortly thereafter, Brother Knorr opened up the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead at Kingdom Farm on Monday, February 1, 1943, with a hundred students composing the first class. I had the privilege of serving on the program for the inaugural occasion. Brothers Eduardo Keller, Maxwell G. Friend, Victor Blackwell, and Albert D. Schroeder served as teachers.
In his opening address, Brother Knorr advised us that the Society had enough money to keep the school running for five years. But lo and behold, today Jehovah God Almighty has kept the school operating for nine times that length of time!
It was a tremendous privilege to be associated with Nathan H. Knorr. Little did I realize when he got immersed after the discourse that I gave to the baptismal candidates on July 4, 1923, alongside the Little Lehigh River outside his hometown of Allentown, Pennsylvania, that he would become the third president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.
Under Brother Knorr’s presidency, I traveled extensively, speaking to large gatherings of the brothers around the world—including Latin America and Australia—encouraging them to remain faithful. On one such occasion, in 1955, when there was a ban on the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Spain, I served a secret assembly in the woods outside Barcelona. Our gathering of Spanish brothers was surrounded by armed secret policemen, and the men were taken in trucks to the police headquarters. There we were detained and interrogated. As I was an American citizen, I pretended not to know Spanish. Also, two sisters had escaped and informed the American Consulate about my arrest, and they, in turn, got in touch with the police. Wishing to avoid an international incident and adverse publicity, they finally dismissed us foreigners and, later, the other brothers. Afterward, a number of us gathered together at the home of the Serrano brothers and rejoiced greatly over Jehovah’s deliverance of his people. In 1970 Spain granted legal recognition to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Today we have a branch office near Madrid, and this past year the organization in Spain included over 65,000 Kingdom publishers, with congregations throughout the land.
On June 8, 1977, Nathan H. Knorr passed away, finishing his earthly course, and I succeeded him to the office of president of the Society. Brother Knorr had served for more than 35 years in the presidency, longer than either of the two preceding presidents of the Society, Russell and Rutherford. As a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I have been assigned to serve on the Publishing Committee and on the Writing Committee of the Governing Body.
It is a great privilege and pleasure indeed to continue on serving in the Society’s offices at 25 Columbia Heights. This calls for a regular workday walk between the general offices and the Bethel home—an excellent physical exercise for the aging body. Although I am 93 years of age and my eyesight is failing, I am very happy that Jehovah has blessed me with good health, so that I have not missed a day of work because of sickness for 66 years at Bethel, and I am still able to serve full-time. It has indeed been a divine favor for me to be here since the year 1920 and see the growth and expansion of the organization at Brooklyn headquarters and around the world.
With full confidence in the Universal Sovereign, Jehovah God, and his Field Marshal, Jesus Christ, who is over the innumerable hosts of seraphs, cherubs, and holy angels of heaven, I look forward, at this writing, along with millions of fellow Witnesses, to what the Bible shows still lies ahead: the destruction of Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion, and the war of the great day of God the Almighty at Armageddon, culminating in the victory of victories on the part of the Universal Sovereign, Jehovah God, who is “from eternity to eternity.” Hallelujah!—Psalm 90:2, Byington.
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In lower center with fellow Bethel workers 1920
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With N. H. Knorr 1961
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Addressing a convention in Japan 1978