Obituary: Frank Lassman, audiology chief at University of Minnesota

  • Article by: JOY POWELL
  • Updated: May 9, 2014 - 8:30 PM

Audiology professor Frank Lassman left his office at the University of Minnesota each month to go to institutions such as a school for the deaf in Faribault in search of children whose hearing loss had been misdiagnosed.

He helped some get back to their families after rehabilitation. Others were obviously misdiagnosed.

“There were some examples where the patient would have been institutionalized because they thought there were insane. Instead, they had a hearing problem, and he helped them get back closer to a normal life,” said Dr. Michael Paparella, chairman emeritus of the U’s Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery.

Lassman, of Minneapolis, died April 24 at University of Minnesota Medical Center. He was 93.

He worked 62 years at the U, including as chief of audiology, a program within the Department of Otolaryngology, a specialty that pertains to the ear, nose and throat. Lassman taught and researched audiology — the science of measuring a person’s hearing — and saw many patients.

Quiet and dignified, he also coordinated services for the mentally ill, handicapped and elderly.

“He was an advocate for the people who had not always been dealt the best hand in life,” said longtime friend Rodney Loper, a retired U psychology professor. “He cared about people getting a chance in life, and he didn’t want to see people sidelined due to age or disability.”

For 21 years, Lassman served on the board of Tasks Unlimited, a Minneapolis nonprofit that provides housing and recovery services for those with mental illness.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Fanny and David Lassman, he skipped some grades and at age 16 graduated from Brooklyn College with a theater degree, said his wife, Diane Lassman.

He was pursuing his master’s degree in speech and hearing at the University of Iowa when World War II broke out. Lassman enlisted in the Army Air Corps where he researched the language of air crews and served in the Pacific Theater.

After the war, he earned his Ph.D. from University of Southern California. He came to the University of Minnesota in 1952.

He later chaired the All University Council on Aging, where he fostered cooperation from departments across the U on dealing with the issues of aging, Loper said. He also was president of the American Speech, Language and Hearing Association in Minnesota and received its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

Over the years, he was president of the Collectors Club at Walker Art Center, on the Photo Council of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and on the board of a seniors’ city planning committee.

For 62 years, he held season tickets for Gophers basketball and football. He also loved his cabin on Clearwater Lake near Annandale.

“He had a modest cabin high on a hill that gave you great sunsets,” where he enjoyed watched grebes and “great ropes of migrating birds in the fall,” Loper said.

“He loved the good life — food, dining with friends, art, photography. He also loved to fish. He had these New York sophisticated kinds of interests combined with the simple-minded pleasure of being on a lake with a bobber.”

After retiring in 1991, Lassman remained a department fixture as professor emeritus, helping to teach and working closely with audiology residents. “He was working up until a week or two before he died,” Loper said.

Lassman is preceded in death by parents and sister Shirley Weinstein. In addition to Diane, survivors include children Wendy Lassman, Bart Lassman, Vicky Primoli and John Lassman; three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

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