Published: June 1, 2009 By


From entertaining to inspirational, Frank Ellis’s (CivEngr’56) life is full of stories. As an entering freshman, he hitchhiked to Boulder from Ohio carrying a suitcase with a sticker that read, “CU or bust.” While a student, he hung a white flag with the hammer and sickle symbol on the university power plant smokestack as a prank.

“We were not communist sympathizers,” Frank says. “We did hold a great deal of sympathy for the girls who gave us their lipstick to draw with, though.”

And then there was the time Frank was playing softball on campus and looked up at the third Flatiron to see the lone “C” painted on its face, first painted in 1947 but never followed by a “U.”

“Everything else had the “CU” logo on it…and I thought, ‘Before I leave I’m going to put a “U” on that Flatiron,’ ” Frank says.

He made good on his word on an October night in 1955 when he climbed the third Flatiron and, hanging onto a rope with one hand, painted the 50-by-25-foot ‘U’ with white house paint.

When asked about the prank he is most proud of, though, talk of Flatirons and lipstick ends.

“Getting back on a flight status in the Navy after losing both legs,” Frank answers without hesitation.

With dreams of becoming a naval aviator, he entered flight training right after graduation. On a routine ferrying mission in 1962, however, Frank’s plane malfunctioned as he flew over a trailer park. Deciding immediately to sacrifice himself to save the residents, Frank stayed with the plane, then ejected at a dangerously low 65 feet, sending him sailing through the explosion of the plane crash. He ended up with an amputated right leg, a fractured left leg that would eventually be amputated and a fractured spine.

After the accident, Frank fought hard to return to an unrestricted flight status, completing water survival tests, ferrying missions and parachute jumps. Although he was placed in a restricted service group in the end, Frank’s positive attitude never dampened.

“I was just so grateful to be alive; I should have died in the crash, no question,” he says.

Now retired from the Navy, financial planning and real estate, Frank has reached what he terms “full-time geezerhood.” When told that the giant CU is still visible from campus today, though, a boyish excitement rises in his voice.

“You can still see it now?” he asks. “Well, yeh team!”