Frank Klauda wasn’t defined by the bombs he dodged during World War II. Nor was he defined by his work at IBM, or appraising jewelry, teaching math for nuns, greeting people at Mayo Clinic or volunteering in the Rochester community.
His family and friends say he was defined by his kindness, his friendliness and his gratitude for life in his chosen country once the U.S. took in a young Hungarian electrical engineer after the end of the largest war the globe had ever seen.
Klauda, who liked to consider his birthday the day he first set foot on American soil in 1949, died June 23 at his home in Rochester. He was 97.
“He was a gentle man, and he was a gentleman,” his daughter Mary Klauda said.
Klauda was born Aug. 4, 1924, in Vienna. He decided in 1944 to leave home in Mosonmagyaróvár, Hungary, and head west, hoping to meet with the Allied forces as Germany faced defeat. He spent five months trekking through Europe as co-workers at the Philips Electronics Company sought to move the business to a neutral country, at one point enduring a three-hour bombing assault in Austria.
He met American soldiers, who taught him his first English words, and left from West Germany a few years later on a ship with 300 other displaced people to work in the U.S.
Klauda had plans to work as a janitor at a Catholic women’s college in Iowa, but the nuns in charge hired him after learning he had studied in Munich. It was there he learned the intricacies of the English language, according to Frank’s son Paul Klauda, a Star Tribune editor.
“He would always say that some of the first words [American GIs] taught him were ones that were unsuitable for civil conversation,” Paul Klauda said. “When he let fly with any of those words in front of the nuns, they quickly told him these words were not suitable for the kinds of conversations they were having.”
Klauda married his first wife, Barbara Lee, and eventually moved to Minnesota in 1957 to take a job with IBM in Rochester. His family credits Barbara for softening up Frank a bit, getting him to broaden his horizons from his typically logical, problem-solving perspective.
Barbara died of cancer in 1985; he was later married to Betty Rian until her death in 2018.
He retired from IBM in 1982 and taught himself gemology, which turned into a career as an independent jewelry appraiser in the area for many years. Klauda spent time working with the local United Way, the Rochester Exchange Club and eventually as a longtime volunteer greeter at Mayo Clinic.
Along the way, he would make friends with everyone he met and often touted Rochester as “the greatest city in the world.”
“He was the epitome of cordiality,” Bill Watson said. Watson’s father, Roy, who died in 2012, was friends with Frank for more than four decades and the pair would often golf.
Klauda often found more passions than he had time for. He quit smoking in 1969 and became a health advocate, jogging laps around his backyard in a memorable orange sherbet-colored track suit in the days before running through neighborhoods became an acceptable fitness activity.
He finished an autobiography, mainly for his family’s sake, and often wrote of his perspective on current events. In the years before his passing, he regularly walked, visited people and kept a detailed journal.
“He wasn’t going to just sit in front of the TV and waste away,” Paul Klauda said.
Frank Klauda is survived by seven children, 12 grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and, via his late second wife’s seven children, another 11 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. Services will be held July 19 at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Rochester.