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The Life and Times of Frank Trisko

 

Frank John Trisko was born in Alexandria, Minnesota, on January 8, 1943, to parents Mildred and Frank Trisko. He had a younger brother, Billy, who died before he was born and an older sister, Joan (Trisko Fezler), who is still living. Her husband is Myron (“Mickey”) Fetzler. Frank graduated from Alexandria High School in 1961.

Shortly after graduating from high school, Frank Trisko moved to the Twin Cities. He worked at the Fisher Nut Company and at Porky’s drive-in restaurant for three years apiece and then took a job with the Minneapolis Public Schools where he worked for eleven years maintaining boilers. He married in 1962 and with this wife had two children, Mike and Pat. They were later divorced. Pat’s daughter is Elissa.

Frank bought a house at 31st and Longfellow in 1967 and shortly afterwards a second house at 202 E. 27th Street. This was the start of a prolific career as a landlord. Frank bought a number of rental properties in Minneapolis (and one in Columbia Heights) during the 1960s and 1970s from personal acquaintances including landlord Ed Settevig (who had led a landlord organization in the 1940s), attorney Henry Levine, and Glenn Erickson. He purchased his current home at 1907 Dupont Avenue South from Settevig in 1985. (See story of Ed Settevig.)

At one time Frank Trisko owned twenty-five to thirty buildings, or around 80 units, in various neighborhoods around Minneapolis. His fifteen-unit apartment building in Columbia Heights, which he still owns, was purchased in 1970. One man has been a tenant there for the entire 41 years. He is a bearded gentleman with conservative political views, similar to Frank’s, who has still not unpacked some of the boxes brought with him when moving into the unit.

Quitting his job with the Minneapolis schools, Frank began working full time as a landlord in 1974. He once owned a house at the site of a Control Data building on 6th street, apartment buildings near the Minneapolis Institute of Arts at 2533 and 2625 3rd avenue, and other buildings in south Minneapolis. He was married for a second time in 1971 but this marriage, too, ended in divorce.

Frank recalls that the Minneapolis police once informed him in the mid ‘80s that some people were planning to rob him when he made the rounds of collecting rent in cash at his two 3rd Avenue properties. He was given a police escort and wore a bullet-proof vest. Fortunately, nothing unusual happened that day.

In 1976, Frank also bought a farm near Balsam Lake, Wisconsin, with land totaling 250 acres. He has raised Angus cattle on this farm, used the property for deer hunting, and created trails for a horse ranch. There are also several rented houses on the property. Frank himself often stays there.

Frank started selling off his Minneapolis properties around 2001 and 2002 and used to proceeds to buy properties near Cape Coral, Florida. He owns a house, an eight-unit condo, and a duplex in Florida, having weathered both hurricanes and the rise and fall of the Florida real-estate market. His good friend and fellow Minneapolis landlord, Bob Anderson, owns property nearby.

It was Frank Trisko who started the Minneapolis landlord insurgency of the 1990s that became known as Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee. For many years, Frank had no trouble with the city. He maintained his properties well. The city council had both Republican and Democratic members. The trouble started in 1991 when the city decided to license rental properties.

Rental licensing was aimed at controlling the city’s worst landlords, according to inspections supervisor Mike Osmondson. Frank was shocked to learn that his 15-unit building at 301 17th Avenue N.E. in Minneapolis was scheduled for one of the city’s first rental-license inspections even though this building had not had an inspections citation in twenty years. The inspection was done and a few work orders were issued which Frank easily satisfied.

But then, two years later, the city did another inspection on the same building, this time led by inspections supervisors Ricardo Cervantes and Woody Dixon. The inspectors issued more than a dozen pages of work orders including allegations that the hand rails were not at the right height (although they were) and that a screw was missing in a combination window. Also, the furnaces had to be replaced on all the units. When these inspectors reinspected to check compliance with orders, they kept adding to the list. Frank took the city to court which ruled in his favor on most counts.

Frank suspected that the city wanted his building gone because he was next to a high rise recently built by a city-favored contractor. Also, he had spoken out against leaflets distributed by the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority which tried to lure his tenants away by subsidized rents. Frank had made up a petition expressing his dissatisfaction with the city which was distributed in Welna’s hardware and other places. More than a dozen landlords sign. A reporter for an alternative newspaper had interviewed Frank.

The political pressure was becoming a bit too much for Frank to handle. He consulted with fellow landlord Chuck Mesken (stepfather of R.T. Rybak, the current Minneapolis mayor) who referred him to Ed Johnston, a realtor and landlord, who in turn referred him to Charlie Disney, former operator of Disney’s Table Tennis center and owner of several rental properties. The rest is history. Disney, an able promoter, launched the movement that shook city politics to its foundation in the late 1990s. The resulting organization was called Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee.

Frank Trisko was content to play a supporting role. He set up chairs and tables before the meetings. He installed yard signs for friendly political candidates. He sold advertisements for free-circulation newspapers published by group members. One of his most colorful activities was to help erect signs on the upper story of buildings condemned by the city. They said: “Another example of failed city housing policy.” The telephone numbers for the the mayor and city council president were given.

Frank Trisko is a man much respected and beloved by his fellow landlords and others who knew him. He is a doer rather than a talker. He belonged to fraternal orders such as the Eagles, Masons, and Shriners (Lake Harriet Lodge), and, down in Florida, to the Retired Police Officers Association and the Moose. Both a man of the big city and the country side, he has lived a full and productive life.

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