IAGenWeb Project - Allamakee co.
updated 02/16/2019

Allamakee Album
Frank Bechtel's Orchestra

Frank Bechtel's Orchestra, 1940
Frank Bechtel's Orchestra, 1940

Caption: Photo from long ago shows members of Frank Bechtel's orchestra, which played many a dance in and around Allamakee county. Shown here are, left to right, Willard Fritz, tenor sax; Harold Fritz, alto sax; Ray Sweeney, drums; Joe Dunlevy, piano; Mel Reeder, trumpet; and leader of the band, Frank Bechtel, who played guitar and banjo. This picture was taken in 1940 at Matter's Ballroom in Decorah.
~Allamakee Journal, Lansing, hand-dated 1980
~contributed by Errin Wilker


Frank F. Bechtel was the son* of Joseph & Emma (Wirth) Bechtel, farmers in the Church vicinity. Although Frank remained on the home-place, farming in partnership with his father, he for several years managed and lead Frank Bechtel’s orchestra. They were popular entertainment for wedding dances and other functions around Allamakee county in the 1930's and 1940's. In 1941 Frank married Katinka Grangaard, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Grangaard, farmers in the Elon area.

The Postville Herald, March 18, 1942 printed this notice: "Frank Bechtel, Lansing orchestra leader, announced the abandonment of the organization, due to conservation of materials and added farm work. The band has been together ten years, has traveled more than 80,000 miles and never had an accident." It was a time of war and gas was being rationed, making it difficult for the orchestra to travel to engagements.

After World War II ended, the orchestra was reorganized, and played for several more years around Allamakee and neighboring counties. Advertisements like this one from 1947, appeared frequently in the local newspapers.

Frank Bechtel's Obituary

*Research notes added by the Allamakee co. coordinator:
Although an addendum with his obit states that he had an adopted sister, the 1925 Iowa State census gives the relationship of Frank to the head of household, Joseph Bechtel, as "orphan" rather than son. Frank's parents and birthplace are given as "unknown" on this census. He does not appear on the 1920 Federal census with the Joseph Bechtel family, or any other family in Allamakee county. However, a family tree on Ancestry.com gives his birth name as Frankie Freno, born Feb 15, 1913, parents Louis Freno and Mary Lewis. Mary Freno and her 4 young children, including son Frankie (age 7) are enumerated in Indianola, Warren co. Iowa on the 1920 census. No source information or other details are given on the family tree other than Mary died in 1921. Perhaps her children were adopted after her death. Interested researchers should verify this information.

*Research notes from Traci Rylands (Feb. 2019):
I compiled the following information while doing research on Frank Bechtel for my cemetery blog. Frank's mother, Mary Lewis Freno, died of tuberculosis. She spent her last few months at the Clarinda State Hospital in Clarinda, Iowa. Her death certificate says "deserted by husband" on it. The 1920 U.S. Census lists her as living in Iowa with her four children at the time.

Mary is buried in the Clarinda Treatment Complex Cemetery (Page co. IA). . Her gravestone is one of the few in the cemetery provided by either a family member or friend. Most of the other markers are very plain with only a name and death date. I can only imagine what her last months were like, sick and alone in a mental institution. I hope she knows her children did grow up and do well in life. She did not deserve the sad end she got.
(photo of Mary's gravestone)

Mary's oldest son, Joseph, landed at the Iowa Soldier's Children's home in 1925. He would end up enlisting in the U.S. Cavalry but eventually made his way back to Iowa and died in Cedar Rapids in the 1990s. Sister Ida became a servant but would eventually marry and live a long life. Youngest brother Guy was adopted by age 6 and also lived a long life.

Frank's father, Lewis, was an Italian immigrant who arrived in 1902. His birth name was Luigi Fiorini. He and Mary married in Ottumwa in 1908. He is listed in the Des Moines city directory in 1916 and 1917 as a miner. His WWI draft card states he was supporting "father, mother, wife and three children". He vanishes until he surfaces again in 1940 as a machinist. He was naturalized in 1943 and died in 1951 in California. Ironically, his marker says "dear husband" on it, although no wife is buried with him. He married a woman named Josephine in 1941. It is interesting to note on his 1943 application for naturalization that he lists TWO aliases, Lewis Freno and Tom Davis. He also lists all four of his children, their birthdates and where they were all born.


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