Big Frank Wilson and the Fire: Aspiration and Perseverance

By on August 16, 2018

“I know that You can do all things and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.”

The Book of Job 42:1

by Tom Finan, Executive Director, Construction Forum STL

Big Frank Wilson has been an inspiration to many — from young people thinking of entering engineering or the construction industry to local and national business and government leaders.

When Frank’s family was awakened early on the morning of Aug 5 by a fire that gutted their living quarters on the second floor of the Wilson home in the City’s West End, it provoked a strong response. “Any special word or way to contribute to Frank’s house that burned?,” one emailed. To understand that concern requires understanding Frank Wilson’s rise in our industry and the drive and perseverance it took for him to get there.

Wilson was a product of the Construction Prep Center pre-apprenticeship program. From there he just took off: “It was always a new aspiration,” he said. “When I was a laborer I wanted to be a foreman. When I was a foreman I wanted to work in the trailer. When I worked in the trailer, I wanted to own my own company. When I attended Washington University  (construction management Masters program), I thought, ‘Can I teach there?'”

In 2006, while still working as a laborer, he incorporated BFW Contractors. The BFW, of course, stands for Big Frank Wilson. “I was never little,” he said. When he was young he always said that he would start a company by that name. BFW Contractors provides construction management, general labor and demolition services.

He received a bachelors degree from Albany State University in Georgia on a football scholarship. He completed the Masters in construction management program at the Henry Edwin Sever Institute at Washington University School of Engineering and Applied Sciences in 2010.

Frank was honored in the St. Louis American Salute to Young Leaders in 2017. He received the Lambert International Airport Authority Business Diversity Champion Award in 2016. He was selected for Leadership St. Louis and was honored in the St. Louis Business Journal’s 40 Under 40.

Wilson began teaching in the UMSL/WashU Joint Program in engineering in 2011. In addition, he provides education and workforce development initiatives and advocates for minority participation in construction. In January 2017 he was named the founding chair of the AGC of America National Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee. This past spring he coordinated two STEM events for at-risk young people at Washington University.

He serves on the board of Rainbow Village, an organization that provides homes for people with developmental disabilities in St. Louis. He was a member of the FOCUS-Leadership St. Louis Program Class of 2013-14. He has been a board member of the EAGLE Endeavor College Preparatory Charter School and of the Marian Middle School.

Near-Tragedies Amid the Accolades

But amidst all the accolades and achievement there has been personal and family challenges and near-tragedies. Less than two weeks before he was presented with a certificate proclaiming Oct. 5, 2016 “Big Frank Wilson Day” in the City of St. Louis, Wilson and his family were on a boat that sank at night while fishing on the Mississippi.

“All I could think about was that I had my kids out there, and I might lose the most important things in my life,” he said at the recognition ceremony at the Sever Institute. “All of a sudden, all that is important came to light. I’m grasping my children, praying to God to help us find a way out and to find safety.” After hours floating in the dark in life jackets, all the boaters were rescued.

On Aug. 5, Frank Wilson was again in the position of worrying that his family would make it out alive. While none of the Wilsons were injured, all of their personal belongings and clothing in the bedrooms were incinerated. Much of the rest of the house was damaged by smoke, water, and mold. Investigators said the fire appeared to have started in a faulty surge protector. Frank Wilson counted it as a blessing that he and his wife Juanita had found better homeowners insurance after a neighbor’s house fire had damaged their home a while back.

On Wednesday, Frank Wilson was focused on getting his daughter, a fifth-grader, and son, a high school freshman, off to school. He said his kids are putting on brave faces, but he believes that they are dealing with stress. “It is a blessing that nobody was hurt,” Frank Wilson said.

People both within and outside the construction industry have expressed a desire to help the family get back on its feet with basic necessities as they move into temporary housing and begin to rebuild. For that reason, Construction Forum STL has organized a GoFundMe page for the Wilsons. Persons wishing to help, can go click here to go to the page. For more information contact me at 314.743.7505, or email tom@constructforstl.org 

But, when asked, Frank said that the best way that folks in the industry can help is to continue to support his efforts to grow BFW and to help support his education development efforts.

 

About Tom Finan