Obituary of Wolfgang Franz (1934 – 2021) – Ellensburg, WA

Wolfgang W. Franz
Wolfgang Franz, 86, passed away peacefully in his sleep on August 16, 2021 at Fieldstone Memory Care in Yakima. A memorial service will be held at 11:00 am on Friday, September 17 at the First Lutheran Church in Ellensburg with a reception to follow. He will be buried in a private family ceremony at Tahoma cemetery in Yakima.
Wolfgang was born on December 25, 1934 in Breslau, Germany (now part of Poland) to Herbert & Johanna Franz. His early childhood was happy and stable and he welcomed his sister Barbara in February 1936 and his brother Harmut in May 1943. Herbert enlisted in the German army in 1940 and Wolfgang entered his first year in the fall of the same year.
Adolf Hitler had started his takeover of countries in Europe and would eventually send the German army to invade Russia in the winter. They were defeated and began to retreat with the Russians in pursuit. By January 1945, the fighting was outside the city and all women and children were evacuated. This, of course, included Johanna, Wolfgang and her siblings. From then until the spring of 1945, the family moved from place to place before the Russian army, finding refuge with relatives. Johanna and the children eventually reunited in Czechoslovakia when they miraculously reunited with Herbert on May 8, 1945.
After several weeks together, they were informed that they and many others could return home. They soon discovered that their hometown, Breslau, was now part of Poland. They lost everything, so they head west, sometimes by train, sometimes on foot, to Hollsteitz, a small town near the border of the Allied zone. They had parents there and stayed there for several years. Herbert found work in a coal mine but had to walk miles to get home each day and Johanna worked in the fields on a seasonal basis. Wolfgang and Barbara went to a one-class school with grades 1-8. There were no books or supplies other than slate boards for writing with slate shards. Wolfgang built a hutch and planted a small vegetable patch to do what he could to help feed the family.
Eventually, they all escaped the Allied-occupied side that became West Germany, crossing a border heavily guarded by Russian soldiers. Herbert went the first several months earlier than Johanna and the children. They crossed at midnight as the guards changed shifts and talked to each other. It was a painful escape and the family lived together in a succession of refugee camps until they were finally confined upstairs to a house in Bunde. Wolfgang graduated from eighth grade there and decided to become an apprentice carpenter-cabinetmaker. He was 14 and wanted to go to high school and college, but neither was free and they barely made a living.
Wolfgang did well and became a certified carpenter and cabinet maker. At the age of 19 he decided to immigrate, applying to the United States, Canada and Australia. He was accepted by the United States and Canada and chose to come to the United States. He was sponsored by the Lutheran World Federation who paid his fees and he was approved because he was in A1 condition, had good recommendations from him.
pastor and boss and agreed to sign up for the project within six months or he would be kicked out.
Wolfgang left Germany in July 1956 aboard a former troop carrier from Bremerhaven to New York, then traveled by train from New York to Auburn, Washington. His godfather, Bill Bentson, was also a carpenter and found a job for Wolfgang in construction. He lived and worked in Auburn for several months until he was called up by conscription. He enlisted for four years in the Air Force, during which he became a United States citizen.
While in service, Wolfgang became involved with a para-church organization called The Navigators and, after his release, traveled to their headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to work for them. There he was sent to a ranch in the mountains to work on construction projects. While at the ranch, he met the Dean of Men from Washington State University who was there on vacation. He noticed Wolfgang and befriended him. He saw Wolfgang’s learning potential and told him that the GED test could qualify him for college without going to high school. Wolfgang took the test and passed with high marks. So he applied to Central Washington University in Ellensburg and entered probation, starting the university in the fall of 1961.
In the fall of 1962, Wolfgang met Joyce West in Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and they became friends. Over time this friendship turned into love and they married in September 1964. They moved into a small attic apartment on campus and their downstairs neighbors were a young college professor, his wife and their son. baby. In the fall of 1964, Wolfgang was invited to a weekend conference designed to introduce and encourage students to earn graduate degrees. Wolfgang came back excited, so he applied to various graduate schools, asking them for a research or teaching assistant position. He was accepted everywhere he applied but was not offered an assistant position.
During spring break, he and Joyce decided to head to Pullman to see what they could find there. It was snowy and windy the entire way and when they got to town they walked up the hill to the housing office. As Wolfgang started talking to the woman behind the desk, she heard his accent and asked him if he was Wolfgang Franz. Both were flabbergasted! She told him that Dr Jack Sheridan (their downstairs neighbor) had called to let Wolfgang know that he had received a telegram from the WSU that morning offering him a teaching assistant position. . What a surprise!
In July 1965, Wolfgang graduated from CWU with the award for the highest grade point average in his class among his grades at Central. He then graduated from WSU in 1969 with a doctorate in economics and was hired by CWU to teach economics. He taught at the CWU for 29 years before retiring in 1998.
Wolfgang was a very active man who embraced life with enthusiasm and there was never a dull moment. He has served as an economic expert in over 500 court cases (mostly wrongful death and injury) and also served for 14 years on the Ellensburg Planning Commission. He was a loving husband and generous father, a cheerful and caring grandfather, a compassionate and generous man of strong faith and an extrovert who has never met a stranger. He was a hard worker who took good care of his family and also loved to dance! He and Joyce have spent 56 years together as a man and a woman and we all love him and miss him so much.
As Wolfgang would say, such a story was possible “Only in America”. He is survived by his wife Joyce of Ellensburg; son Eric (Loretta) Franz of Yakima and Jason (Tamara) Franz of N. Billerica, Massachusetts; grandchildren, Courtney (Kolten) Manz, Pablo (Janine) Martinez-Franz, Stefan Franz, Megan and Madeleine Franz; Sister, Barbara Malesis; niece, Karen Franz. He was predeceased by his parents, Herbert and Johanna Franz, and his brother, Hartmut Franz.
Commemorative contributions in honor of Wolfgang are suggested to Care ( or to Smile Train (
The Johnston & Williams Funeral and Crematorium in Ellensburg has been commissioned to care for Wolfgang and his family. Online condolences can be made at

Published by The Daily Record on September 11, 2021.

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