It’s too bad that Joe Franke – who is a junior at John Carroll University in Cleveland – is just a tad too old for the archetypal back-to-school essay assignment, because he’d have a great one this year about what he did during summer break.
After penning an op-ed for OnMilwaukee in 2015 about the importance to Milwaukee of a new Bucks arena, Franke, then a senior at Shorewood High, launched ActivakeMKE, whose mission is "to connect the community by activating people and unused space through the idea of sports and fitness, thus providing focal points where all can gather."
A week before Franke returned to school, Milwaukee reaped one of the first fruits of ActivateMKE with the recent renovation of the basketball courts at Tiefenthaler Park at 25th and Galena in the Midtown neighborhood.
"We believe basketball brings people together in a powerful way," Franke said from Cleveland, where he is back at college. "Milwaukeeans from all walks of life can coexist and share the experience through sport, music and art.
"So, with this (project), we were lucky to take a step in the right direction. We updated the nets, rims and paint lines at Tiefenthaler Park. This is the first of many series of renovations to not only Tiefenthaler Park, but ideally more parks around Milwaukee. It will not only be basketball renovations, but bringing in art and music, as well."
The renovations were done with the help of Menomonee Falls-based SportCourt/Precision Sports, which installs basketball courts and other sports and fitness equipment, and Lake Valley Camp – a nonprofit camp that focuses on teaching youth from under-served neighborhoods to be inspirational leaders – and some unexpected helpers.
"Coincidentally, some little boys were playing on the hoops," said Franke. "They ended up helping."
The work, however, is not done for ActivateMKE. Not at Tiefenthaler and not in Milwaukee at large.
"Right now, we are working towards launching a full scale fundraising campaign to paint the courts next summer," says Franke. "We are working with the owner of the MECCA floor to brainstorm ideas for the design. (It) will be something big, showy. Something that will pop off the court or be able to be seen from an airplane.
"We would like to see many Milwaukee artists get together to make this project possible. That is the end goal of this whole thing. Just getting people together. Talking, laughing, hanging out."
If Franke seems to have caught the philanthropy bug earlier than many, it should come as no surprise, considering his lineage. He is the grandson of Harry Franke, who launched the Harry and Mary Franke Idea Fund in 1991.
"We got our grant from the Harry and Mary Franke Idea Fund from the Milwaukee Foundation," says Franke. "I would like to pay my respects to him. We would not be able to kick start this campaign if it were not for him."
Here are some photos from ActivateMKE’s late August renovations at Tiefenthaler Park:
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in an episode of TV's "Party of Five," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.