Benjamin Franklin Derk: A Life Cut Short

Benjamin Franklin Derk was born on January 1, 1907 in the small village of Trevorton, nestled in central Pennsylvania’s coal region. Benjamin was the third child of Benjamin Franklin Derk (1879-1950) and Anna Laura Morgan, both born in Trevorton. Young Benjamin Franklin came from a family that appears to have favored this name as at least five of his relatives and ancestors also shared the popular family name. From a young age, Benjamin would be known as Frank; at times, he would go by Frank Morgan Derk, incorporating his mother’s maiden name along with his father’s surname (possibly to differentiate him from other relatives sharing his name).

From his boyhood, Frank excelled at both academic and athletic endeavors. During his years as a student in Trevorton schools, Frank participated in every sport available to him, and he captained the school’s baseball, basketball, and football teams during his high school years. Frank graduated as class valedictorian from Trevorton High School in 1925, having received a state certificate of commendation for his perfect attendance through twelve years of education. Frank’s high scholastic standing won him a scholarship to Dickinson Seminary in Williamsport, Pa. where he continued his educational career for one year before entering Penn State College for a pre-medical course; Frank aspired to become a physician and surgeon.

DerkBF_1926 DickinsonSeminary

The Dart: 1926 – Dickinson Seminary, Williamsport, Pa.

Continuing the same high scholarly standards at Penn State that Frank had demonstrated through his previous thirteen years of schooling, Frank earned election into pre-medical honors fraternity Alpha Pi Mu, Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity, and had been active in Penn State athletics. Upon Frank’s graduation from Penn State in June 1929, he returned to Trevorton to spend a couple days visiting family and friends. Following this short visit, Frank left for Philadelphia for an appointment with the dean of Jefferson Medical College to enroll as a medical student. Of the more than 2,000 men and women vying for enrollment with the next class, Frank was among the 160 who received enrollment for the upcoming fall term.

Immediately following his trip to Philadelphia, Frank proceeded to Lake Wallenpaupack, in the Pocono Mountains, to begin his summer work as a counselor at Camp Pocono, a Boy Scout camp. Frank, along with college friend Sam Curry, were at the start of their second year working at this camp; both were licensed American Red Cross lifeguards, expert swimmers, and swimming instructors. On June 29, 1929, a few days after their arrival at camp, Frank and Sam rigged sails to a canoe and set out for an enjoyable sail around Lake Wallenpaupack, which is 18 miles long and 3 miles wide. A short time after beginning their adventure, winds picked up and they were presented with waves reaching 5 to 6 feet in height. After managing the sails for some time, a sudden powerful wind caused their craft to capsize and throw them from the vessel. Quickly grabbing on to the overturned craft, they realized they would have to swim for shore, which was a mile and a half in either direction. The young men took off with Sam in the lead and Frank, being the stronger swimmer, following behind. Sam turned to check on Frank when they were about seventy-five feet from shore, Frank responded that he was alright. When Sam finally reached the beach, he turned to greet Frank, but he was no where in sight. Sam waited, but Frank did not surface. Being in a somewhat remote part of the lake, Sam ran a quarter-mile before finding a boat house in which he was able to summon men to man a boat to search for his friend. And search they did. Campers, counselors, locals, professional divers as far away as New York, residents of Shamokin and Trevorton, and family and friends all searched for Frank. Although the organized search for Frank’s remains were abandoned by July 8, a general watch was maintained and on the morning of July 15, 1929, the recovery was made by local pioneer resident Joseph Spindler. The Derk family finally had mental relief as they would now be able to bury Frank’s mortal remains with proper religious services. Born Benjamin Franklin Derk, Frank Morgan Derk was buried on July 18, 1929 in the family lot at Odd Fellows Cemetery, Coal Township, Pa.

 

*The life of Benjamin Franklin Derk was pieced together from records accessed through Ancestry.com, as well as news articles published in the Mount Carmel Item and Shamokin News-Dispatch.

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