Herbert ‘Herb’ Franks dies: Trailblazing attorney, Marengo law firm founder, Jewish leader ‘was everywhere’

Franks won 1st million-dollar lawsuit in McHenry County, helped found McHenry Jewish congregation

Just weeks before his death, Herbert Hoover “Herb” Franks was in his Marengo law office, negotiating a farm lease for a client, said his son, former lawmaker Jack Franks.

“He was a character – a guy who had a strong moral compass and who was thoughtful,” his son said.

Herb Franks, 89, died Tuesday at his vacation home in Florida, two months after being diagnosed with glioblastoma, a type of brain tumor. The illness was discovered when he had a seizure at the offices of Franks Gerkin Ponitz & Greeley, the law firm Herb Franks founded.

“He marched to his own drummer and was always into Democratic politics,” said Jack Franks, who served as McHenry County Board chairman and in the Illinois General Assembly.

According to a biography of Herb Franks on the Marengo-Union Chamber of Commerce’s Hometown Heroes website, he graduated high school at age 16. After graduating from Roosevelt College, he moved to Washington, D.C., and attended law school at American University at night, working on Capitol Hill during the day.

Shortly before marrying his wife, Eileen, Herb Franks was drafted into the Army. He was discharged in 1958, returned to law school and passed the bar in 1961.

In 2021, the law firm he founded lauded Herb Franks for his 60 years practicing law.

“He never retired,” his sister, Helen Lindow, said.

The two were “Irish twins” with Lindow born a year and a week after her older brother, she said.

She added they “didn’t always agree, but we were in a tremendous amount of businesses and partnerships together” – including founding two banks, First National Bank of Marengo and State Bank of Wonder Lake. Herb Franks was the first chairman of the First National Bank, a role Lindow later took over.

They also co-founded, along with Eileen Franks, the McHenry County Jewish Congregation, based in Crystal Lake.

“We always had something interesting going on,” she said.

His politics – a rarity in the Republican stronghold of McHenry County – led Herb Franks to become close friends with former Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White. The now-retired White called Lindow and Jack Franks Tuesday to offer his condolences, they said.

While typically taking a behind-the-scenes approach to politics, in the early 2000s, Herb Franks was embroiled in a federal investigation into the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board. In 2003, Franks filed Mercyhealth’s first application of the health system’s construction of its Crystal Lake hospital. That investigation, and others known as Operation Board Games, ultimately led to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment and corruption conviction.

Herb Franks only ran for office once, his son said, for Boone County state’s attorney. “We kid about that. That the best thing he did was run and the best thing was losing,” Jack Franks said.

The elder Franks was also known for winning his client the first million-dollar verdict in McHenry County. “A trucker had gone through a folk’s home,” in Marengo, Jack Franks remembered.

The two litigated a case together once – a slip-and-fall lawsuit in McHenry County. The defense said the defendant “had put up a cone, warning the person” of the danger, Jack Franks said. Herb Franks “crossed-examined the cone on the stand. It was hilarious.”

His legal standing in Illinois was cemented in 2000 when Herb Franks was elected president of the Illinois State Bar Association.

In 2014, to honor his 50th year as a litigator, Franks was roasted with several Illinois Democratic mainstays in attendance.

A few of those state names often joined Franks on his fishing trips. They had such a trip to Arkansas set for this coming spring, Lindow said.

Attorney Umberto Davi, past president of the Illinois Bar Association, said he first met Franks 30 years ago when he was running for third vice president of the association – a step towards gaining the president spot in the future.

Franks had thrown his hat into the ring late, Davi said, but still ended up winning the seat in the association’s elections that year.

“Imagine the amount of work he had to do. He was everywhere, no matter how small the event was” as he campaigned, Davi said.

Then – again, 30 year ago – Davi became one of the men invited along on the annual fishing trip to Canada.

The group changed from year to year, but included Davi, former Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and Gov. J.B. Pritzker one year, among others.

He isn’t a fisherman himself, Davi said, but he came to love the annual outing and always gave the prayer on the first night.

“I cared for that man, I did. He was a good man,” Davi said.

Franks’ love of fishing will definitely be a part of his eulogy, said Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein of Congregation Kneseth Israel in Elgin.

“Herb was that righteous person. Justice and righteousness and what we translate to charity but really is righteous giving,” she said.

That righteous giving included teaching people to be self-sufficient – much like teaching a man to fish to feed him for a lifetime, Klein said.

“That was Herb. He would fish as an act of justice,” she said.

He is survived by wife Eileen, sons David, Jack and Eli, several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

A funeral service is planned for 10:30 a.m. Friday at Congregation Kneseth Israel, 330 Division St., Elgin, with interment at the McHenry County Jewish Cemetery, 14307 Kishwaukee Valley Road, Woodstock.