When he arrived in Minneapolis in 1965 with his soon-to-be wife, a cat, a dog and boxes of books, Krzysztof "Kris" Frankowski didn't expect to stick around for a three-decade tenure at the University of Minnesota, where he taught hundreds of computer science students the mathematical principles that propelled civilization into the Information Age.
But Frankowski valued freedom and his family, and Minnesota proved to suit both well. After living through World War II in his native Poland and a brief stint in the Soviet Union, Frankowski had a special appreciation for the ability to live on his own terms, his son Daniel Frankowski said.
As a professor and founder of the U's Department of Computer Science, he "used shamelessly this freedom to go all over the world," collaborating with other researchers to calculate complex numerical analyses to be published in prestigious journals, Frankowski said in an oral history interview recorded in June.
He died Aug. 22, nine days after a stroke. He was 89.
"He was a brilliant mathematician," said his wife, Elaine, one of the first women to earn her doctorate in computer science at the U.
"And what he taught is still as important now as it was when he was first starting out teaching," added his son, Michael Caerwyn.
Born in 1932 in Bolimów, a small Polish village, Frankowski and his family fled from German occupiers during World War II.
He described himself as "completely illiterate" until the fighting ended and he started to attend high school, where he showed a knack for math. Those skills won Frankowski free tuition to the University of Lodz, where he received his bachelor's degree.
Frankowski's lifelong passion for music also was sparked at a young age. He told his family he learned to play from the organist at the local church, who trained Frankowski so the young musician could surreptitiously sub for him while the organist traded black-market pork.
His talent earned a scholarship to the Moscow Conservatory, but the composer that Frankowski hoped to follow had been forbidden from taking students, likely for clashing with the politics of Joseph Stalin. Frankowski quickly returned to Poland, which also was under communist rule at the time, until an acquaintance sent him to Israel in 1958 with an introduction to the Weizmann Institute of Science.
While there, Frankowski earned his doctorate in applied mathematics and operated one of the first computers in the world. He met his wife, as well as Marvin Stein, a University of Minnesota professor on sabbatical who would extend Frankowski a job offer.
Daniel Frankowski, who grew up in the family's house in Prospect Park, said one of his earliest childhood memories is a conversation he had with his father late at night when he couldn't sleep. He asked his father what the point of life was, and Frankowski replied, "To have fun."
"Thinking back now on all he had seen (the war, police states), it's memorable to me that he would pick that one idea without hesitation to tell his young son," Daniel wrote in an e-mail.
Frankowski did manage to have plenty of fun, finding time for hobbies such as competitive bridge in which he earned life master status. For decades, Frankowski led the Topola Choir of Minneapolis and spent hours programming with his sons and taking them to rehearsals.
He also enjoyed gardening, adored animals — particularly the dogs, cats and hedgehogs he cared for over the years — and wrote a book.
He is survived by three grandchildren in addition to his wife and two sons. Services will be held at a later date.
Katie Galioto • 612-673-4478