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May 26, 1988 Bishop Frensdorff Dies in Air Crash 88113

Episcopal News Service

NEW YORK (DPS, May 26) -- The Rt. Rev. Wesley Frensdorff, 61, former Bishop of Nevada and most recently assistant bishop in the Diocese of Arizona, died on the evening of May 17, when the small private plane in which he was flying from Page, Arizona, to Tucson crashed near the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

The news of the popular church leader's death was announced by Presiding Bishop Edmond L. Browning at the meeting of Executive Council in Rapid City, S.D., on May 18, shortly after search teams had discovered the wreckage of the plane.

Pilot Charles Arnold was also killed in the crash. Bishop Frensdorff, who was born in Hannover, Germany, in 1926, came to the United States in 1940 as a 14-year-old, and completed high school in Elmhurst, N.Y. He graduated from Columbia College in 1948 and entered General Seminary in the same year. In 1951, the year of his graduation from General Seminary, Frensdorff was ordained to the diaconate and to the priesthood, and began his ministry in the West, the part of the United States with which he was to be most closely identified throughout his career.

He met and married his wife, Dolores Stoker, in 1953, while serving as vicar of St. Mary the Virgin, Winnemuca, Nev. In the early years of his priesthood in Nevada he served congregations at St. Andrew's, Battle Mountain, St. Anne's, McDermitt, and other congregations in the state's mining and ranching country. From 1954-1959 he was rector of St.Paul's, Elko, and vicar of St. Barnabas, in Wells, Nev.

Frensdorff's ministry also took him to other parts of the West. He served as vicar of three small rural congregations in the North Cascade Mountains of Washington (Diocese of Olympia) from 1959 to 1962. In 1962 he became dean of St. Mark's Cathedral in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he served until 1971, having a great impact on the life of that city. He was elected Bishop of Nevada in 1972.

As bishop, Frensdorff became increasingly known for his keen interest in a variety of human concerns in his own state, across the country, and overseas. From 1978 to 1980 he served as chairman of Coalition-14 and in 1983 became Interim Bishop of Navajoland, a post held in addition to his Nevada see. His work in Navajoland was, in part, an expression of his longtime friendship with American Indian people and concern for their problems.

When, in 1985, Bishop Frensdorff left Nevada to become assistant bishop in Arizona, he retained his relationship with Navajoland and had just completed a visit to that area at the time of his tragic death. Only minutes before the Presiding Bishop's announcement of his death to Executive Council, the Rev. Steven Plummer, Presiding Elder of Navajoland, had spoken movingly before Council of his longtime mentor and friend, expressing thanks that Bishop Frensdorff had agreed to remain in close contact with Navajo Episcopalians. The coincidence of the Presiding Bishop's announcement left members of the Council visibly stunned.

Frensdorff is survived by his wife, five children, and his mother.

A Eucharist of Thanksgiving for his life and work was celebrated at Trinity Church, Reno, on May 23. Presiding Bishop Edmond L. Browning, a longtime friend and colleague, was celebrant. Memorial services were also held on May 22 at St. Mary's, Winnemuca, Rt. Rev.William B. Spofford, retired Bishop of Eastern Oregon, presiding; on May 25 at Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix, the Rt. Rev. Joseph T. Heistand, Bishop of Arizona, presiding; and on May 26 at Christ Church, Las Vegas, the Rt. Rev. Stewart C. Zabriskie, Bishop of Nevada, presiding.

It has been suggested that contributions in Bishop Frensdorff's memory be sent to the Frensdorff Memorial, Camp Galilee, in care of the Nevada diocesan office in Reno.


[thumbnail: Bishop Wesley Frensdorff,...]