It was on a fateful day in May 1928, when Socialist presidential candidate and Portland resident Frank T. Johns came to Bend to give a speech to rally the workers at the Mills in Bend.
Frank was a carpenter himself, a handsome young man who was now launching his second run at the White House.
“So, he comes down to Drake Park the evening of Sunday, May 20th and at the grandstand where local music and things happened quite frequently, he goes to give his campaign speech,” explains Kelly Cannon-Miller, the Executive Director of The Deschutes Historical Museum.
But while his speech may have started off well, it doesn’t end that way.
“There were three boys fishing on the footbridge. One of them was 11-year-old Jack Rhodes and his line got caught on the bridge and as he was leaning over to try and free his line, he fell into the river.”
Legends say he was in the middle of the speech when voices rang out sounding the alarm of young Jack in the freezing cold waters.
“But it’s Frank who jumps into action. Takes off his coat and immediately launches himself into the river and starts swimming towards Jack,” Cannon-Miller said.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Look how calm it is around here. How could a healthy, strong man in his 30’s not survive jumping into water like this?
“The river was very different in the 20s. You didn’t have the same number of dams on the river,” Cannon-Miller said. “The control of the flow was different, and it was brutally cold. That was the biggest problem with this, was the temperature the water.”
The body only needs to lose about three degrees of its core temperature to become hypothermic and the temperature of this water is a bone-chilling, 43 degrees.
“Immediately the cold is setting in. It’s already set in on Jack. Frank gives one last herculean effort of a push to try and push Jack to the shore and goes under himself,” Cannon-Miller said.
Jack’s body was found later that night and Frank was found the next day. The city immediately fell into a deep feeling of empathy on both sides of the political aisle.
“The town raises over $700 in 1928 to give to the widow to help her, because she’s now lost Frank, the breadwinner of the family,” Cannon-Miller said.
And in a strange twist of fate, it is a foundation founded by a robber baron capitalist that comes to the rescue for Frank’s family.
“John Rhodes, Jack’s father, filed a petition to the Carnegie Foundation. Andrew Carnegie, you know, a wealthy businessman. Kind of the opposite of the political spectrum of Frank,” Cannon-Miller said. “But the Rhodes family petitioned the Carnegie foundation to award the family, and Frank posthumously, with a Carnegie medal which the foundation did do. He was awarded the Carnegie medal and that came with a monthly stipend for the family that helped support his widow and two small children afterward.”
And over the decades, Frank’s political party rallied for one more appropriate tribute to the man who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
“In 1970, this memorial was finally erected in Frank T John’s memory, so that everyone would know the sacrifice that he made here.”