Frederick Pankow wrote and illustrated a book for his great-grandchildren titled “What a Tree Can Be.” Throughout the pages the story encourages the reader that they can do anything they want to do and be anything they want to be.
The moral of the story was the motto of his life. Mr. Pankow was a master of reinvention through his passion for lifelong learning.
Many locals likely have heard of the Pankow Center and have driven down Pankow Boulevard, both of which are named after him. Mr. Pankow is the longest-serving superintendent of L’Anse Creuse Public Schools, and was essentially one of the district’s founding fathers.
His daughter Colleen and son-in-law David shared dozens of stories, pictures and artifacts commemorating the remarkable life he lived. He’s the kind of man people make movies about; much like Forrest Gump, it just seemed unreal that one person could accomplish so much in their lifetime, even it did span 93 years.
As a young man Mr. Pankow was a combat diver in WWII, where he was fearlessly dropped into the middle of the ocean in the dark of night to “get the job done.” He spent three years in the service before going on to finish his schooling at Central Michigan University, where he not only earned his bachelor’s degree but also started the school’s gymnastics team. He attended four universities, obtained his master’s and got all the way to the finish line with his doctorate before deciding not to defend his dissertation. He had achieved the knowledge but didn’t want to spend the money for the title.
He was also husband to his beautiful wife of 75 years, Joyce, father to three children, grandfather to five and great grandfather to seven. Family meant everything to him. To say that he loved would be an understatement. Proof of that was in his last days, when he held his one month old great-granddaughter for three days straight and passed away three days later.
Professionally he was a teacher, principal and superintendent. During his 20 years with L’Anse Creuse, Mr. Pankow was always looking for ways to enhance opportunities for our students and build a stronger community. In that time he enhanced the Community Education program, implemented Advanced Placement courses, and started the Career and Technical Education program.
“He respected all people and he stressed that no matter the education level, there are people out there with very important jobs,” Colleen recalled. Appropriately enough, the Career and Technical Education Center bears his name.
For a man with little spare time, he somehow found ways to add to his list of talents. Throughout his life he had a passion for horticulture and tended to his gardens in a scientific way. In his 40s he decided it was time to learn something new and took an art class, sparking decades of painting, drawing, whittling and stained glass work. In his later years, he picked up his final hobby: writing. He regularly wrote detailed essays for his community newsletter as well as the children’s book.
According to Colleen, “Life-long learning was in his DNA.”
Mr. Pankow was constantly learning something new and forcing this habit on everyone around him. At a recent celebration of his life, his oldest grandson explained that grandpa was so focused on learning all the time that he would send them letters with typos, paying his grandchildren for every typo they found. He later carried on the tradition by sending emails with typos to his great-grandchildren.
His story teaches that it’s never too late to try something new, we are constantly evolving and if you give it your all you will succeed. Whether it be your spouse, your children, your career or your hobby, you can achieve great things if you truly apply yourself with unbridled passion. Frederick V. Pankow wasn’t born an artist, a teacher, a leader, a soldier, a gardener, a superintendent or a writer; he was born a doer.