Meet a Longtime Member: Frank Prahl

Name: Frank Prahl.

Where and when I was born: 1933 in Richland Center, Wis., the same small town where Frank Lloyd Wright was born. My father owned a photographic store in Madison. He died when I was 18 months old in the throes of the Great Depression. My mother soon lost everything and could no longer hold the family together. Rather than adopt us out, she opted to have relatives and friends keep the five of us until things got better.

Where I live: St. Petersburg, Fla., since 2000.

Education: After attending some of the best and worst schools, I graduated from Madison East High School in 1952. After the military, I tried college but discovered I did not have the math background for engineering and dropped out. I went back to work as an electronic tech, mostly in the marine field. I traveled much of the world in this capacity, servicing radio, radar and other shipboard electronics, mostly associated with oil drilling operations worldwide.

Occupation: Electronics technician, retired.

Military service: Four years in the U.S. Navy in the Korean War era.

How I got where I am today: I never had the opportunity to bond to a family or to any one person in my early childhood. I was left, pretty much, to figure out the world by myself. I was never indoctrinated into a religion before school. My mother thought it was time and started me in a Catholic school. The Catholic Church has a saying, “Give me your children until they are 7 and I’ll have them for life.” (My mother got it backward.)

Being a persistent “why” child in a school stressing obedience and rote learning, I did very poorly in religion. In my second year, I developed a chronic ear infection (before the days of antibiotics), and my mother thought I was going deaf. She enrolled me in a public school that had a special program for the hearing impaired, where I quickly went to the top of the class.

The nearby University of Wisconsin-Madison campus became my playground. Instead of baseball and other children’s games, the campus museums and labs became my playground. What a great learning place for young children with inquiring minds!

Person in history I admire: Neil deGrasse Tyson is the greatest science communicator of my time.

A quotation I like: “Censorship is most effective when self-imposed.” It’s my email tagline. I have pages of freethought quotes on file.

These are a few of my favorite things: Active, healthy living. I quit smoking in 1978 and haven’t been sick since! I’m much healthier than most of my peers.

These are not: That some people have the misfortune to be isolated or forced to go to inferior schools, as I was, really alarms me — not only rural schools but bad inner-city schools. It mostly boils down to money priority.

My doubts about religion started: Maybe the greatest thing my mother did for my learning was to buy a World Book encyclopedia, which I read from almost every day. By fifth grade, I had learned that the real world was far more believable and meaningful than bible stories.

Ways I promote freethought: Despite all my travel experiences, I did not learn of the freethought movement or atheism until the mid-1970s when I heard Madalyn Murray O’Hair on a Houston radio station. I was truly amazed at how so much freethought literature had been hidden so thoroughly. I had never heard of most of the great American freethinkers. I decided to do something about that and went back to school to earn my journalism degree in 1986 at the University of Houston. I became active in the new American Atheists chapter, soon followed by FFRF in 1978 and the Humanists of Houston.

For many years my activity was mostly publishing chapter and national newsletters for the American Humanist Association. I also had many letters published in the two Houston newspapers and a few smaller papers throughout the state. This was mostly before the Internet and partly even before personal computers. The early newsletters were done on a typewriter.

In 1997, I started annual Texas statewide freethought conferences. FFRF’s Dan Barker was a speaker at my last one in 1999. I am still active in Atheists.

Freedom From Religion Foundation