While Frank Heilig has no known living family members, his many friends and neighbors have expressed an interest in celebrating his life. In keeping with Frank's style, funds donated here will be used to cover expenses for a minimalist celebration. The largest expense is expected to be cremation, totaling $1,905. All funds remaining after expenses will be deposited in an account expressly to cover college expenses of his adopted "grandchildren. " _____________
About Frank I would often introduce Frank Heilig as my homeless neighbor. He was that, but he described himself with a colorful montage; mountain man, logger, survivalist, mechanic, ham radio operator, provider of property security services, former marine and helper of all who ask. He wrote “I bring people together,” and that seemed to have been his motto.
I first met Frank in 2007, when my wife and I bought a 20-acre parcel in the hills west of Whitehall Montana. Frank and his trusted K9 companion, Dobie, lived in a “fox hole” on the neighbor’s property. Their cozy home was carefully crafted by spanning an excavated arroyo with felled trees. Inside, he had a bunk bed frame that kept his arctic sleeping bag off the dirt floor, a woodburning stove sat near the entrance and shelving was suspended by ropes from the cross-members. His quarters included a make-shift horizontal surface that served as kitchen, radio shack and work space. The tools for his minimalist life style were neatly stored away; a couple of chainsaws, shovel, a pickaxe. His short-barreled shotgun leaned against the head of the bed frame, keeping the muzzle away from the dirt wall.
His life style was rather shocking at first. But as we grew to know Frank as a person, his chosen lifestyle became simply one part of the whole package. Most defining was the fact that Frank would do anything to help anyone. Over the last dozen years, I am sure, Frank has had hundreds of interactions in which he would provide assistance to people, often at significant personal expense. He served as chauffeur to at least two elderly neighbors. He befriended a local family, assuming the role of protector of their property and their children. He would shop for groceries with his own food stamps and deliver them to their house. That family tells me they have lost the only “grandparent” they have ever known.
In the 19 Mile Wildfire of 2012, the fox-hole roof beams, most of his possessions inside and everything outside in Camp, was destroyed. And while his place was burning, he didn’t evacuate as ordered. He worked tirelessly to save other’s homes. When residents were finally allowed back in, we found the exhausted Frank sound asleep on our deck with his shotgun dutifully leaned up against the wall near his head.
Frank described his childhood home life as completely dysfunctional. Is it a coincidence that I never saw Frank drink or use drugs? Indeed, he was quick to espouse the evils of both. That revulsion to induced chemicals may well have contributed to his death. He was supposed to be under treatment for high blood pressure, but he felt just fine taking supplements here and there. He declined to take his prescribed medications precisely because they were prescription medicines.
After the 19 Mile fire, Frank buried an 8 x 20’ cargo container in which he made a year-round home for the next 7 years. Frank worked on surviving the worst that nature could throw at him, helping his friends and neighbors, and constantly improving camp. When his faithful German Shepard died in about 2013, Frank hand-dug a deep grave near his old fox hole and put his friend to rest. Even though I often encouraged him, Frank never took on another partner. But he did become the always-welcoming friend to all the other dogs in the neighborhood. He was quick to share whatever food he had, and not just with the dogs. After learning Frank was no threat, the “goldies” that lived in his wood piles would regularly share a bowl of cereal with him.
I have a vague sense irony as I think back to Frank’s last act of helping me. Just two months ago, the family made the difficult decision to put down our old dog. But I couldn't fathom pulling the trigger. Besides, all I had was a long gun. As is prescribed for these matters, Frank had a .22 hand gun, and hollow point bullets. He, as he often seemed to do, mustered the strength to do what I could not. After a perfect shot, Frank left so I could grieve the loss of a friend.
And now, here I am again. Watching as a dear friend, so quickly, is gone.