Frank Wright etched his name into the record books at Northfield’s Carleton College, where the three-sport athlete earned 11 varsity letters in football, basketball and track.
But it was in the business office where Wright put up his most impressive numbers by keeping the small liberal arts college on firm financial footing while serving as its vice president and treasurer for 38 years.
“If there is one person responsible for how strong Carleton is today, it’s Frank Wright,” said former Carleton President Stephen Lewis. “Frank managed the finances of the college in an outstanding way.”
Wright died Aug. 3 at Northfield Hospital from complications related to a fall. He was 91.
Wright, the youngest of four siblings, was a standout athlete at Austin (Minn.) High School, where he earned All-State honors in football and played guard on two basketball teams that made the state tournament. Wright, who was later inducted into the high school’s Hall of Fame, picked up the nickname “Fireball” due to his speed and energy, said his daughter Martha Winston of Belleair, Fla.
He spent two years in the Navy from 1944 to 1946, then took his athletic prowess to Carleton College where he excelled on the field and in the classroom. He majored in economics, was elected president of his senior class and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1950.
After a brief stint in the corporate world, Wright returned to his alma mater in 1955 as assistant treasurer and rose through the ranks to vice president and treasurer. He was adviser and mentor to six of Carleton’s presidents and countless students, faculty members and trustees. He led the school through financially difficult years in the 1970s but always stayed true to the college’s mission of academics and people first. He was particularly admired for his foresight into long-term investing and helping build Carleton into “a cathedral of learning,” Lewis said.
“He was clear on what the spending priorities were, and that was to maintain the quality of the college,” Lewis added. “He was tighter than the paper on the wall, always squeezing down expenses. He got us through the lean years in masterful ways. He kept the place together.”
Wright officially retired in 1990, but he stayed on three more years as secretary to the Investment Committee of the board of trustees. At the time of his retirement, an article in the school publication Voice called him Carleton’s own “Rock of Gibraltar.” The same year, Carleton awarded him an honorary doctor of laws degree.
During his tenure and continuing long after, Wright was huge supporter of the school’s maize and blue and was a fixture in the top row of the bleachers at football and women’s basketball games. As a true numbers man, he always had a program and kept score.
“He was a real cheerleader of the college,” Lewis said. “He was all-everything, a real remarkable guy.”
Wright had four loves in his life: his mother, his two wives and Carleton. He treasured the deep friendships and community at Carleton.
Wright taught Sunday school at the Northfield United Church of Christ. He also was a Northfield City Council member and sat on the board of directors of Northwestern National Bank, later Wells Fargo.
Besides his daughter Martha, Wright is survived by his second wife, Ann; another daughter, Catherine Kromer of Friday Harbor, Wash.; five sons, David of St. Paul, Clifford of Madison, Wis., Gregory of Grand Marais, Minn., Douglas Lochner-Wright of Eau Claire, Wis., and Stephen of Lakeville; 15 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Nov. 4 in Skinner Memorial Chapel on the Carleton College campus.