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"Quiet Hero" Honored by Boys and Girls Club

By Jeneé Darden
Special to The Lookout

November 14 -- From raising untold thousands to enhance programs and hosting the staff's Christmas party at his home to consoling a troubled child of drug-addicted parents, Frank Schwengel has tirelessly volunteered his time and heart to helping kids at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica.

Last week, the clubs and community thanked Schwengel for his 25 years of dedication by honoring him with the Clubs Council's Community Service Award, during the council's 30th Annual Dinner, Auction and Raffle at Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel.

"If you want to spell volunteer, you spell it F.R.A.N.K," Pastor Lloyd Torgerson of St. Monica's Church told the 450 people at the sold-out affair Thursday night.

Described as a "quiet hero" by the council because of his humbleness, Schwengel said he was surprised about the award and in a brief speech thanked the clubs; Gwen Schwengel, his wife of 36 years, and his family.

"My work for the last 25 years has been a joy," he said.

Schwengel then shifted the attention to the children, encouraging the audience to "bid for kids" in a raffle that along with the night's auctions helped raised $300,000 for the Santa Monica clubs' 4,500 members, said Megan Wadley, director of development.

Schwengel's commitment to the local Boys & Girls Clubs began when he coached their basketball and football teams, because his then 11- year-old twin sons wanted to play sports.

He later served as the clubs’ council president and raised $150,000 during his term. Since 1986 he's been on the Board of Governors, serving as chairman from 2000 to 2002.

But for many of the youth impacted by the soft-spoken Schwengel, it's his performance as a role model that shines.

"He's like a father figure to me," said Dominique Holland, 36 as he hugged the honoree.

When Holland was 11, Schwengel coached the basketball team he was on. Raised in the Pico neighborhood, Holland, now the clubs' director of branch operations, said Schwengel's influence and the clubs kept him out of trouble.

"I'd probably be in jail or doing something that's not really positive," he said. "But it's guys like [Schwengel] who laid the foundation."

Other members of the clubs’ staff attested to Schwengel's generous personality and warm smile.

"He makes you feel like you're family and not any less of a person because you don't have as much as he does," said arts director Janae Green, 26, who has known Schwengel since her teens.

"He always cared about all of us, not just how we felt but our needs," said Joyce Yoo, 18, a staff member who belonged to the clubs.

Raised in Davenport, Iowa, Schwengel developed a love for sports in his childhood. While majoring in business at the University of Iowa, he played college football and ran track.

After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, Schwengel moved to Santa Monica in the mid-1950s. His first wife died of cancer after they arrived in California. Schwengel, who has three sons, married his current wife, Gwen, in 1969.

In addition to a successful volunteer career, Schwengel is an executive vice president at Interbusiness Bank. He also serves on various boards throughout the city, including the Santa Monica Recreation and Parks Commission since 1994 and the Sports Advisory Council.

Schwengel credits his late father Fred Schwengel, an Iowa congressman, for his passion for community service.

"He always said life is lived best with a smile and a helping hand," he said in a previous interview.

Despite the money he raised, a lucrative business career and praise from his peers, Schwengel said he is most moved by the staff and children of the Santa Monica clubs.

"To see kids have nothing, but become something through encouragement of the staff is wonderful," Schwengel said. "Every day is a great experience."

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