Professor Stephen Frank started the poll as a class project, a way for his students to understand research methods.
Over the years, the St. Cloud State University Survey became a nationally recognized operation that predicted Jesse Ventura's unlikely gubernatorial win, among others. But Frank continued to think of the survey as a way for students to learn.
"He had a loyal, loyal student base," said Steven Wagner, a fellow political science professor and co-author. Frank led students as they managed the survey's calls, presentation and final report, Wagner said, "which is pretty cool work for a 20-year-old."
A longtime St. Cloud State professor and former City Council member in nearby St. Joseph, Frank died June 22 of complications from surgery. He was 73.
Frank was born in Seattle, one of six siblings. His family moved often, spending several years in Michigan, where Frank would return to earn his bachelor's and master's degrees from Central Michigan University. As a child, Frank was smart and hardworking, his siblings said, becoming an Eagle Scout at age 14.
"To me that was kind of an indication of the life he was going to lead," said his brother, David, 59.
Frank met his wife, Barbara, in college, where he taught high school classes as a Ford Fellow. After earning his Ph.D. at Washington State University, he worked in Texas, then Louisiana.
At St. Cloud State in 1980, Frank founded the survey, which each fall gauges constituent feelings about political candidates, issues and the state's direction.
In 1998, the poll had Jesse "The Body" Ventura leading Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Skip Humphrey in the race for governor. "We didn't even trust the data," Wagner said. After the election, the professors wrote a book called "We Shocked the World! A Case Study of Jesse Ventura's Election as Governor of Minnesota."
That book recently popped up again in the news — in articles comparing Donald Trump's candidacy to Ventura's. In March, the Chicago Tribune quoted Frank about the campaign: Ventura's typical voter was younger, largely male and "for the most part regarded the election as a giant kegger," Frank told the newspaper.
John Baker, now a Twin Cities attorney, started taking Frank's classes in his late 30s, as a retired Marine, and remembers the professor being "interested in what I had been through," he said. "He respected my experience." By the time Baker became a student director of the survey, Frank trusted him with tasks he normally took on, including writing the news release and leading the news conference.
Baker and others remember Frank telling entertaining, occasionally meandering stories. They recall him responding to e-mails at all hours and often with a funny cartoon. They remember him intensely researching everything, from a new survey method to a new car for his wife.
Each week, Frank would buy flowers from the campus vendor and bring them home. "He always made sure every week that I had a fresh bouquet of flowers," Barbara said.
In 2008, Frank became a City Council member in St. Joseph, where he, Barbara and their son Tom had moved. During his seven years on the council, Frank championed tight budgets, worked for more transparent assessments and "held the senior citizen group close at hand," said Mayor Rick Schultz.
Even after retiring earlier this year, Frank continued working with the survey center that now bears his name — the Stephen Frank SCSU Survey Research Center.
Besides his wife, son and brother David, Frank is survived by sisters Michelle Kasim and Sharon MacIntosh, both of Seattle. His brothers Robert and Larry preceded him in death.