Beryl Frank, versatile writer, dies

Beryl Frank, a versatile writer who tackled a variety of topics, including home renovations, cooking, poetry and even histories of Pikesville and Sudbrook Park, died Sunday at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center of complications from a fall. She was 92.

“She was my dear friend of 74 years,” said Elaine S. Goodman, a Pikesville resident. “She was a prolific beautiful writer of poetry and history. She was always, always writing. When we were in Ireland, she even wrote a poem about my husband’s driving on the wrong side of the road.”

The former Beryl Oppenheimer, the daughter of Myron Oppenheimer, a kitchen designer, and Mildred Oppenheimer, a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised on Strathmore Avenue in Upper Park Heights.

She was a 1945 graduate of Forest Park High School, where she contributed to school publications including the yearbook, and attended Goucher College until the end of her sophomore year, when she left in 1949 to marry Louis Frank Jr.

The genesis of her long writing career began as a 10-year-old when she submitted a piece to Childlife magazine, which promptly rejected it.

In a personal letter, the magazine’s editor, Marjorie Barrows, wrote, “We don’t accept material from children but keep on writing,” and she spent the rest of her life doing just that.

Mrs. Frank joined a local advertising agency, where she wrote chapters and edited scripts for the radio serial “Deep Sea Dan, the Cabin Boy,” and after changing agencies, spent two years writing radio commercials, newspaper copy and brochures, until leaving after she started having children.

She resumed writing in 1958 when she began composing poetry, both serious and humorous, and a year later sold a poem, “Spring Cleaning,” to The Saturday Evening Post for $40:

I scrub the windows, / Mop the floor, / Remove the prints / From every door. / My labors lead / To one complaint, / Without the dirt, / The house needs paint.

Mrs. Frank began mailing out submissions to newspapers across the country; some paid her while others did not. “I don’t turn my nose up at money but I’m writing for a purpose and it’s not to keep my work in my drawer,” she told The Sunday Sun Magazine in a 1981 profile.

Mrs. Frank began writing on various subjects for such publications as Wife Review, National Antiques Review, Instructor magazine, Country Place, Collector’s World and Antiques World, where she was a columnist, and locally, she wrote a history column, “History Hunting,” for many years for the Northwest Star.

In the 1970s, she sent in an application to Ottenheimer Publishers Inc. and within several weeks, the Pikesville firm asked if she would submit a manuscript for “Painting and Wallpapering,” which was one of six in a series of “Do It Yourself Guides.”

The firm had assigned the topic to other writers with the caveat that they would select the best one.

“Of the subjects offered, I picked painting and wallpapering because as a homemaker I had a little knowledge of decorating, and in my honest way, I never doubted that I couldn’t do it,” she told The Sunday Sun Magazine.

Mrs. Frank’s work method was to create an outline and then go to the library and read every available book on the topic she was writing about, sending letters to manufacturers, and visiting paint and hardware stores, in the case of the book on painting and wallpapering.

Then her publisher assigned her a book on plumbing.

“I’ve never changed a washer but mentally I can take a faucet apart. I stopped calling a handle a handle and stated calling it a valve,” she explained in the magazine profile.

“Every water faucet in your house is a valve. When you change a washer, you must first turn off the water. Everyone assumes that, but it must be said. Actually, I couldn’t install a septic tank, but at the time I was writing about it, I understood the theory and practice in my head,” Mrs. Frank said.

In 1984, she wrote a series of do-it-yourself columns for The Baltimore Sun, including articles on replacing mortar and bricks, making sure windows and doors keep out winter winds and chilly air, installing paneling, insulating attics and crawl spaces, and replacing a flickering lamp socket.

She also produced cookbooks, writing about Scandinavian, Middle Eastern and Southern food as well as a series of what were called “Stand Up and Cook Book” books on Italian, French and Chinese cuisine, “Creative Pressure Cooking” and “Food Processor Cooking Stand Up Cook Book,” and a “Dictionary of Nutrition and Food Values.”

“I started cold,” Mrs. Frank told The Sunday Sun Magazine. “I took out [of the libraries] every cookbook on the subject I could find. I’d try a recipe to see if I liked it, then cross-checked the ingredients. Any good cook write her own recipe every time she takes one from a friend and then alters it slightly.”

Mrs. Frank was also the author of histories of both the Democratic and Republican parties, and in 1981, her books “Plane Crashes: An Illustrated History of Great Air Disasters” and “Great Disasters of the World” were published.

She wrote two neighborhood histories, “Way Back When in Sudbrook Park” and “A Pictorial History of Pikesville Maryland,” named in 1819 for Brig. Gen. Zebulon Montgomery Pike, who fought in the War of 1812 and never set foot in the village that bears his name.

“This book took 12 months to write, not counting 10 years of historical hunting in the neighborhood,” she told The Evening Sun in 1982, adding, “The beauty of history is it never begins and it never ends.”

Mrs. Frank also enjoyed writing her series of poems. “Just for Kids,” for her children and grandchildren “and children everywhere,” said her son, Robert L. “Bob” Frank of Reisterstown, that featured such talking animals as Sammy Squirrel and the delightful couple Clarence and Clarissa Cardinal.

She was a devoted volunteer at the Pikesville Library, where a plaque recalls her longtime service.

Mrs. Frank explained in The Sunday Sun Magazine article that she wrote seven days a week and could do it very quickly and accurately.

The only downside came when she finished a book. “I enjoy writing and I have a big letdown when I turn in a project,” she said.

Her husband, the former comptroller for the May Co. department store, died in 2017.

Mrs. Frank, who had lived on St. Albans Way in Pikevsville, was a member of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.

Services were private.

In addition to her son, she is survived by two daughters, Carol Wynne of Timonium and Susan Hansell of Towson; seven grandchildren; and six great-grandsons.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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