In a long, long life, Frank Andersen proved that gravel could be turned into gold—both for himself and for his community.
He was born on a farm near the little town of Dresden, New York, on April 13, 1889. His education was limited to a small rural schoolhouse; he later felt that “experience is the best teacher” although he did take a civil engineering course from the International Correspondence School.
At the age of twenty, he began his engineering career as a construction laborer with the Westinghouse, Church and Keir Company in New York City. At 25, he was a job superintendent and at 27, was a general superintendent of construction. During World War I, he was released from military duty to be in charge of the construction of the B & O Railroad shop and terminal in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
In 1923, he was hired by Consumers Power Company. There were problems in building a new plant in Zilwaukee and Andersen came to Michigan to help out. He became superintendent of Consumer’s eastern Michigan division until 1929 when he went into business for himself.
Sand and gravel are necessities for making concrete but there were no suppliers in this area. Andersen was president of the local engineering society when a Detroit firm asked him to check if there was gravel on some property in Juniata. Andersen found that there wasn’t gravel there but a local farmer pointed out some land that he thought had possibilities. Andersen bought 60 acres from the farmer and built Andersen Sand and Gravel, a plant that, over the years, was joined by Andersen Ready Mix and Andersen Builders’ Supply Company. He also brought in a railroad to ship the products. In a 1976 interview, Andersen recalled, “The first load I ever shipped was on the day the stock market broke. I was left with a gravel plant and not much else.”
Andersen hung on, made it through the Depression and was even able to begin his long career as a philanthropist. In 1939, he donated the concrete for Andersen Pool and later, furnished money to double its spectator capacity. The building lives on today as the Andersen Enrichment Center and Rose Garden. The pool itself was replaced by the Frank Andersen Celebration Park.
As a long-time director and president of Saginaw General Hospital, he could remember the days when buying a few new mattresses was a major expenditure but with the continued success of his company, he was able to donate Andersen Hall to the hospital and to create a nursing scholarship. He also was chairman of the building committee for St. Mary’s Hospital.
His association with Saginaw General led to his marriage in 1948 to a nurse, Lucille Lee. The next year, they built a spacious concrete house on the Dixie Highway in Bridgeport. Their 48 beautifully landscaped acres were surrounded by a concrete fence Andersen built himself. Mrs. Andersen, an avid gardener, tended 350 rose bushes with the help of their gardener. They travelled extensively and especially enjoyed summer vacations in Europe. They had no children and were members of the First Congregational Church of Saginaw.
In 1950, Andersen was chosen to head what became a successful $1.4 million fund drive for Saginaw’s YMCA.
He was a life member of Masonic Lodge 31, the Saginaw Gun Club, Royal Arch Masons and Elks Lodge No. 47. He was also a member of St. Bernard Commandery No.16, Elf Khurafeh Temple, the Saginaw Club, the Saginaw Country Club, and Rotary. The chapel for Boy Scouts at Camp Rotary was one of his gifts. He also donated the old gravel pit at Juniata to the community along with funds to help make it a popular swimming and picnicking spot.
He was an organizer and one of the first directors of the Michigan Good Roads Federation. He served as president of the Greater Saginaw Chamber of Commerce, director of the Community Chest, an organizer and director of Valley National Bank, director of the Wickes Foundation and president and treasurer of the Michigan Sand and Gravel Association.
In 1962, he was awarded Delta College’s President’s Medal, the highest award Delta can offer, for “his contributions to his community and the Tri County area.”
In 1971, at the age of 81, Frank Andersen started the biggest part of his concrete operation when he built a Prestress plant in Zilwaukee. In a 400 x 130-ft. building, complete buildings were fabricated, to be assembled on site. Offices, bridges, parking ramps, and stores were turned out in half the time of regular construction. Everything was automated and a seven story parking ramp for a Detroit hospital was finished in four months. The floors and roof of the Holiday Inn East were done there as well as a building in Holland, Michigan, which grew mushrooms for Campbell’s Soup.
Frank Andersen died in 1997. He was 108 years old and active almost to the end. His last major project was a beautification of Saginaw’s river, by placing colored lights under the bridges. The Court Street Bridge was renamed the Frank N. Andersen Bridge as a final tribute.
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