I met Frank Schmidt one sunny Florida day. I was sitting outside at an umbrella table of an upscale Sarasota coffee shop with my three-dollar coffee and five-dollar cinnamon twist. The spot was a good people-watching perch to wait for rush hour to slide by.
A man rode up on a bicycle with 20-inch wheels. He wore a baseball cap, khaki shorts and matching shirt—his dress contrasted with the cute cycling garb more usual to the neighborhood. He leaned his bike against a low black iron railing, tossed his cap on the table, and walked into the shop.
The bike’s small wheels prompted a closer look and, as I suspected, this was a folding bike—the sort popular with cruising sailors, RVers, and airline travelers.
His cap displayed the emblem of an army unit. When he came out, I tried one of my easy opening gambits.
“’Nam vet? I asked.
“Korea,” he said. “I got in right at the end.”
“My name is AL.”
“And I’m Frank.”
“What was Korea like?”
“Never saw action. I’ve always been grateful to Eisenhower for ending that war. At the time I thought he saved my life. He was my hero, and when I changed my name, I honored him.”
“You changed your name?”
“It’s a long story,” he said with a shrug.
“I like stories,” I said. “You might say I am a collector.”
“My birth name is Franklin Delano Schmidt. My father believed the New Deal saved the country, and FDR saved our family from starvation. When I was born in the early ‘30’s, he named me after FDR. People called me Frank through my early years. I grew up, joined the army, got my commission, and was honorably discharged. I was Franklin Delano Schmidt when I went to Law School on the GI bill and when I passed the bar exam.
“I joined a law firm whose clients were businessmen—Republicans. A senior partner told me it would never do to be Franklin Delano Schmidt. So I asked him how he liked the name Dwight. He thought it would be fine if I went by Dwight. So I am Franklin Delano Dwight Schmidt.
“My name pays homage to Roosevelt for saving my father’s life and Ike for saving mine.