Dr. Frank Olu Apantaku passed away at his home surrounded by his daughters and
two of his sisters on Tuesday, February 22, 2022 at the age of 75 from multiple
Frank was born Olusegun (“Lord is victorious”) Olukayode (“Lord brings joy”)
Olatunde (“Glory comes again”) Apantaku in Lagos, Nigeria on August 20, 1946
to Ezekiel Kariola and Mary Idowu Apantaku. As a boy, he was adored by his
grandmother who carried him around on her back until Frank was ten years old. As
a child, he loved to pull pranks and play sports. He developed an aptitude for tennis
and played for the Nigerian national team, traveling throughout Africa playing the
sport. Frank’s father believed education was paramount and made him prioritize his
schoolwork. He was captain of his class at King’s College (a boarding secondary
school) and was well-known for quoting the Declaration of Independence among
other notable American writings and speeches, an act that drew ire from the British
colonials in charge at the time. (His personal hero was General Douglas
MacArthur.) A paper he wrote arguing for juniors to be able to stay up as late as
the senior classmen began with “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind
requires that they should declare the causes which impel them” and got Frank
suspended for two weeks. While at King’s College, he chose Frank as his
anglicized name because he valued sincerity.
Frank’s admiration for the United States grew when he met and played tennis with
an American Peace Corps volunteer who shared his coke bottle with him. Frank
applied to 50 colleges and universities in the United States, by hand, and only
received one full-ride scholarship offer because at the time, most American
colleges were only accepting Africans interested in political science whereas Frank
wanted to study the physical sciences. In 1967, Frank matriculated at Colby
College in Waterville, Maine. He unfortunately thought Maine was Miami, but his
father corrected his misapprehension by sticking Frank’s hand in the ice box.
His father’s actions proved to be helpful, because one of Frank’s daughter’s fondest
stories of his time at Colby College involved Frank jumping out of a two-story
window during the blizzard of 1968 into a snowbank that had covered up the front
door of his dorm. He also almost got frostbite once because in Nigeria, unlike in
Maine, there was no need to know that going out in damp socks in freezing
weather is dangerous. Despite the climate, Colby College was overall a very good
environment for Frank. He enjoyed the varied nature of his studies and the focus
on critical thinking in the liberal arts tradition. Frank played tennis and soccer for
the Colby White Mules, and won several semi-pro tennis tournaments in New
England. In his senior year, Frank won the Condon Medal and was chosen by his
class, the Class of 1971, to speak at graduation. His dedication to Colby lasted the
rest of his life, as he served on the board of trustees, helped mentor Colby students,
and consistently gave money to the college so that others could benefit from the
educational environment that so inspired him.
While in undergrad, Frank had wanted to go into biological research, but after
witnessing his friend being rushed to the hospital, Frank realized he wanted to be
able to help people directly with their medical emergencies. At Colby, Frank was
awarded an IBM Watson Fellowship and for that fellowship he traveled to India to
study culture and the development of tropical medicine. He applied to
Northwestern University medical school because he liked being near water and
was attracted to the beautiful photos he saw of Lake Michigan beside the campus.
While in Chicago, Frank taught Playboy bunnies tennis during his free-time to
make extra cash.
Northwestern proved to be a difficult time for Frank. The demanding academic
curriculum did not prove to be a problem; however, the medical school’s social
politics were incredibly onerous. Frank never made any friends at Northwestern
medical school, and he experienced his most difficult instances of racism while
there. For example, when Frank had questions during lectures, his first year
roommate would tell him to put his hand down because Black men were not
supposed to ask questions of White men. Luckily, the chairman of surgery at
Northwestern liked Frank and was able to arrange for him to do a cardiothoracic
surgery rotation at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Later, Frank
transferred to Chicago Medical School (now a part of Rosalind Franklin
University) to complete his residency in surgery. His time at Mass General inspired
Frank to become a general and vascular surgeon.
After completing his residency, Frank began his practice of surgery. He was a
dedicated surgeon to the South and West Sides of Chicago, serving as chairman of
surgery at St. Bernard, Norwegian American, Jackson Park, St. Mary of Nazareth,
and Provident hospitals at various times in his career.
Frank estimated that he saved and impacted thousands of lives during his four
decades of work in Chicago hospitals. During his heyday practicing surgery, Frank
could be seen speeding from hospital to hospital in his car (always a Ford because
of the influence of a Ford Foundation worker in Nigeria encouraging him to apply
to schools in the United States) with the license plate TRAUMA1. Because of
Frank’s training in vascular and cardiothoracic surgery, and the increase in
traumatic injuries on the South and West sides, he quickly positioned himself as
one of the first practitioners of trauma surgery in Chicago before it became a
specialty. He also wrote a column on health and wellbeing for the Chicago
Defender, and became a hospital golfer, competing in, and placing in, local hospital
charity tournaments. His colleagues remembered him as a humble, reliable, and
compassionate surgeon who was always ready to help or advise on difficult cases.
In part due to his parents’ magnanimity and the overwhelming assistance of those
in the Colby community (most notably Dr. John Poirer and the Vaughan Family)
during his first years in the United States, Frank became a beacon of generosity to
his family, friends, and the broader Chicagoland community. Frank believed “to
whom much is given, much will be required.” He helped his two younger sisters
Ebun and Funlayo immigrate to the United States and acclimatize to life in
Chicago. He supported their families as he did his own daughters. Frank said he
was proud of four things in life: his three daughters Elyse, Elora, and Erisa; and the
sunroom he had added onto his house.
Everything Frank did was for the benefit of his daughters and their education.
Years before he met his wife, Frank bought a set of encyclopedias for his future
children. Frank’s life provided his daughters with an example of hard work,
compassion, generosity, and scientific inquiry that allowed them to develop a
strong moral core, and instilled in them a curiosity for knowledge and exploration
of the world. To this day, all his daughters enjoy reading encyclopedia entries.
As a surgeon and as a cancer patient, he was adored by the doctors and nurses on
his staff and those who provided his care in his final years. He used humor to ease
the stress of difficult surgeries and to build a relaxed rapport with people. He
always prioritized the comfort of others. When he chose to start hospice, he hand
delivered thank you chocolates to the nurses and staff at NorthShore Hospital in
Evanston, to thank them for all they had done for him. His interactions with others
were almost always informed by his core values of kindness, respect, and humor.
Dr. Frank Olu Apantaku is survived by his three daughters Elyse (Ben, son-in-law),
Elora, and Erisa; and his four grandchildren Lexi, Bella, Aaiden, and Luther.
In lieu of flowers, please donate to The Parkinson’s Foundation, Gilda’s Club Chicago, and/or Colby College.
Funeral info: 847.673.6111.