Robert E. Frenkel

1928 - 2017

Longtime Corvallis resident Robert “Bob” Frenkel, 89, died in Portland on Feb. 20, 2017.

Bob is survived by his wife, Elizabeth “Liz” (Mills) Frenkel; son Stephen Frenkel and wife Judy Walton; and daughter Ann Frenkel and husband Gwido Zlatkes.

He was preceded in death by his sister, Janice Pachner.

Bob was born in New York City in 1927 to Leo and Helen (Wolff) Frenkel. He discovered his lifelong love for the natural world in Central Park — his backyard. He attended Kenyon College in the late 1940s. At Kenyon he survived a jump from a burning dormitory but broke so many bones he was told he’d never walk again. Undaunted, Bob recovered within a year and graduated. He went on to obtain a master’s in metallurgy from UC Berkeley, where he hiked and climbed at every opportunity throughout the Sierras and Cascades.

After working as a metallurgist at Stanford Research Institute (SRI), Bob returned to UC Berkeley in 1959 to follow a career path more closely aligned with his interest in the outdoors. He received a Ph.D. in geography, specializing in ruderal vegetation along California roadsides.

While at SRI Bob met and married Liz, who became a strong partner in his passions for mountains, hiking, environmental activism, international travel, good food and wine, music (particularly chamber music and the Oregon Bach Festival) and family.

Bob and Liz moved to Corvallis in 1965 where Bob joined the geography faculty at Oregon State. His specialty areas were biogeography and plant ecology, particularly in salt marshes. After retiring in the 1990s, he continued to conduct research as an emeritus professor.

Among Bob’s more notable achievements were his seminal work on salt marsh restoration at Oregon’s Cascade Head and his fight to protect the Jackson-Frazier Wetland north of Corvallis in Benton County. The county honored Bob by dedicating the wetland’s boardwalk — which Bob planned, raised money for and even helped build — as the “Bob Frenkel Boardwalk” in 2005.

Bob had a long history of environmental activism, particularly with the Sierra Club and The Nature Conservancy. His Sierra Club involvement began with the Mills Tower Conservation Committee, and included building and maintaining ski huts in the Sierra Nevada, becoming an active member of the Pacific Northwest Chapter, and serving as the first Chair of the Mary’s Peak Group and later as Oregon Chapter Chair.

In 1982 Bob received the Oak Leaf Award from The Nature Conservancy for his outstanding service for land conservation in Oregon, and in 1997 he received the George B. Fell Award for exceptional accomplishments from the Natural Areas Association.

Bob loved to share stories and slideshows of his adventures, from climbing Mt. Orizaba in Mexico, to a six-month bicycle trip through Europe in the early 1950s, to hikes, backpacks, ski tours, and international trips with his family. Though Bob’s memory was cruelly robbed by Alzheimer’s, these memories live on.

A memorial celebration in Corvallis is being planned for late spring.

Originally published in the Corvallis Gazette-Times