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Franz Josef Froelicher
(January 11, 1936 - April 25, 2014)

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Franz Josef Froelicher

FRANZ JOSEF FROELICHER, January 11, 1936 – April 25, 2014

Savannah

Franz Froelicher was born January 11, 1936 in Ridgewood, New Jersey, the fifth and youngest child of Victor and Helene Froelicher-Stehli, natives of Switzerland.

Franz’s childhood home offered a unique environment for his young and impressionable mind. Many scientists and Nobel Prize recipients of the time including Albert Einstein were guests in the Froelicher home.

Franz attended school in Switzerland and the United States. He later joined the Salesian Order while enrolling at Don Bosco College in Newton, New Jersey, where he earned a degree in theology and philosophy. He left the order in 1955 and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, which took him to Alaska and to many places all over the world.

Alaska and the challenges it offered suited his adventurous spirit and his zest for life. He worked as a bush pilot, and as a pilot for Alaska Airlines and Lufthansa flying the polar route, worked as a ski instructor, building contractor, commercial fisherman, gold-prospector and “a few other things to keep body and soul together.”  He married Julie Little and had two children, Katherine (Kari) and Christopher. The marriage ended in divorce. He experienced Alaska receiving statehood in 1959 as well as the massive earthquake that shook southern Alaska on March 27, 1964 with a 9.2 on the Richter scale, the second strongest ever recorded. While it destroyed large parts of Anchorage and other parts of Alaska, it would also change the life of Franz Froelicher by igniting a passion for geology: "I just had to know what happened.” In his typical zest for life and curiosity, he went back to the university, finished a bachelor’s in biology and geology at Alaska Methodist University, followed by doctoral studies at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, where he had been invited by the Department of Geology to pursue a PhD in Paleoecology. 

A post-doctorate took him to the University of Tübingen in southern Germany where he met and married Margarete Grundmann in 1976, “the best thing that ever happened to me.  I can really say that my life has been filled with love...” Franz once again moved across the Atlantic as he began a geology professorship in Hattiesburg, MS at the University of Southern Mississippi, a place he “never in my wildest… thought I would land.” As an extraordinarily gifted and enthusiastic teacher and scientist, he was able to open his student’s minds to the larger connections in the scientific field. He ran an annual summer Geology Field Camp in Switzerland exposing students to geologic formations as well as unique cultural experiences. In the words of one of his students,

“He was the one there to accept fully who I was, where I'd been and in his ever giving and accepting way, Doc shined a light into the corners of life that allowed eyes otherwise shut by cultural myopia, ignorant not by choice but by circumstance. He kept shining that unique light for countless others, I think because it was his great joy to watch others awaken and unfold, and he did this in a certain style I I've not known since, nor likely ever will. If there ever was a place for such a joyful, piercing, wise and giving teacher of ever widening view, certainly Doc occupies it. Not much in life inspires such as the memory of one who... mentored so many, so adroitly and skillfully, so unselfishly, always while maintaining naturally his own humanity. I'm overwhelmed at this loss, yet heartily grateful to have crossed his path.”

In 1992, he joined the US Army Corps of Engineers in Savannah, GA as a Geochemist. He soon became one of the leading experts on toxic-waste clean up in the southeast. He led efforts to clean up after hurricanes throughout the region and in Puerto Rico, removed nuclear and chemical weapons waste in Georgia and Alabama, and cleaned up the primary DDT production site in Florida among many other projects. One of his more unusual projects was that which would garner him the title “Doctor Garbage.”

He and other scientists and engineers from the Army Corps of Engineers volunteered to aid in Iraqi reconstruction. In the spring of 2003, he entered Baghdad with the first crew to help in the clean-up and reconstruction effort. Franz went to work solving a more immediate problem for the occupation authorities-removing the hulks of about 10,000 burned-out military vehicles abandoned by Iraqi defense forces, and tons of rotting garbage clogging the streets of Baghdad. His work earned him the title “Dr. Garbage.” Both during his work at the Corps and after retirement, the ever-active Franz returned to teaching, serving as an instructor in Geology at Armstrong Atlantic State University until ill health forced him to cease in 2011. Franz continued at the Corps until 2007 and remained actively involved in many other activities. He was an enthusiastic sailor and cyclist, taking part five times in the Bike Ride Across Georgia and organizing bicycle trips across Switzerland.

Franz Froelicher is survived by his wife, Margarete Grundmann; son, Niels; daughters, Katherine (Kari) and Britta; grandchildren, Devin Froelicher and Margaret (Maia) MacMaster; sisters, Marie Therese (Esi) Waldstein, Madeleine Stebbins and by his large extended family, including many nieces and nephews.

A person with an unbeatable zest for and a constant positive outlook on life, always in search of and generously sharing his knowledge, a great friend who has touched so many lives in different ways and changed them forever has left us.

A true Renaissance Man, he will be deeply missed by his many friends, family, colleagues, and students.

Memorial services will be held 2:00pm Sunday, May 25, 2014 at Knights of Columbus Lodge, 3 West Liberty St. in Savannah.

Bradley B. Anderson Funeral and Low Country Cremation Services is serving the Froelicher family.

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