Frank Fortino has a head for enterprise, a heart for fun and a knack for combining them.
He’s also a natural problem solver and strategist. Two years ago, his family faced a problem that he could not crack.
His mother Rita was diagnosed with biliary duct cancer. Shortly after, two of his high-school friends died of cancer. He came up with a strategy.
For years, he’d been thinking about staging a reunion dance harkening back to the teen parties he and his friends hosted at Oakville’s Knights of Columbus and Galaxy 707 halls in the 1980s. The two friends he lost were among the keenest advocates of getting the party restarted.
In March 2017, 30 years to the day of their first dance at the Knights of Columbus hall, Frank put on Return To Columbus, a retro dance party for friends old and new. This April, more than 400 people attended Back to the Galaxy, the party again named for its location.
As deejay Frankie F Fresh, Frank spins an opportunity to travel back in time for a few hours. Big hair and neon rule. Strobe-lit halls are decked with pop culture nostalgia. Robert Palmer backup dancers languidly strum electric guitars. Stormtroopers socialize with Ghostbusters. Guests play arcade games and pose with Hollywood cars from their favorite childhood movies.
“My hope is that I can make everyone feel like a teenager again. Even if it’s just for 5 minutes,” says Frank, who is already working on next spring’s event: Back to the Galaxy II. These are also parties with a purpose. So far, they’ve raised more than $37,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society.
“My mom is battling cancer and everyone is affected by this disease in some shape or form,” he says. “As you grow older, these things start to mean more to you and you start to realize that you can and should contribute and give back to the community. If everyone makes an effort, big things happen.”
Putting his passion into action means a lot to CCS, because money from independent fundraising events can go directly towards finding a cure.
“Because there are no administration costs or staff hours involved, all funds go straight to the fight on cancer,” says Shelley Frank, CCS Community Fundraising Specialist. “We hope Frank can take a moment to reflect on the meaningful difference he has made and feel proud of what he has achieved.”
Rita, always her son’s biggest supporter, is proud of how he’s made his parties matter.
An only child, he credits his mother with his most lasting life lessons: Don’t complain. Always try. Nothing is impossible. Everyone has something to teach you. His first afterschool job was by her side – he washed dishes in the kitchen of Appleby College, where she worked for 27 years.
He’s lived here for 44 of his 47 years and the rest of his teen resume reads like a tour of Oakville past: Pedigree Pets in Hopedale Mall, The Oar House, Puppazi restaurant, landscape crew at the Town Centre plaza on Dorval. He went to St. Dominic’s Catholic Elementary, then St. Ignatius of Loyola, then on to University of Toronto for a science degree.
A passion for technology was inspired by Walt Disney, Stephen Spielberg, Jim Henson, George Lucas and Steve Jobs. (His shinny pastime was inspired by Wayne Gretzky and Daryl Sittler.)
He’s currently the VP of Technology and Customer Care at Cardinal Health Canada after a senior role at Workopolis.
On the side, he launched two online startups: difficulty finding netkeepers for hockey games led to goalie-team matching service MeshMinder.com; the search for recommended personal and home service providers birthed ServiceHorn. (He retired MeshMinder, but ServiceHorn can still find you a goalie.)
Oakville hockey is the beneficiary of his next fundraiser, the Halloween costume, dance and karaoke party Monster Mash 18, scheduled for Oct. 26 at Knights of Columbus.
Frank’s sons both play for Ranger Rep teams - Gianluca, 14, for Bantam A Red, and Marco, 12, for PeeWee AA Blue.
Grandma Rita, who had a stroke in hospital in June (and has since recovered), attends all of their games.
“My mom is still battling,” says Frank. “She’s a fighter.”
Raising their kids, Frank and wife Stephanie rely on the values with which they were raised, a lot of fun and communication. “Given I haven’t grown up yet, it’s easy to build good relationships with the kids,” he jokes.
The family is completed by Chewie – yes, as in Chewbacca – their six-year-old Morkie.
Come Halloween night, Frank will fire up the smoke machines, strobe lights, full sound system, movie-themed pumpkin carvings and professional-grade costumes that have made their house a neighbourhood tradition for trick or treaters.
Tania Haldar Photography