By Margie Wuebker
New Knoxville-area residents Cletus W. and Mary C. Frankenberg spent most of their married life working side by side on the farm.
They died Friday as they had lived for nearly 52 years -- together, the victims of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the Auglaize County Sheriff's Office.
The 75-year-old Frankenberg and his 71-year-old wife had been using a generator in the basement of their home to keep the furnace, water heater and freezer going due to a storm-related power outage. They are among five Ohioans killed in such fashion since Friday.
The latest victim, Reuben Hibner, 84, of St. Johns, died Sunday from fumes produced by a generator set up a day earlier by his son, according to Auglaize County Coroner Dr. Robert Freytag.
Steve Frankenberg found the bodies of his parents around 5:40 p.m. Friday when he went to check on their welfare. "They were lying together in the utility room," he told The Daily Standard this morning. "It appeared Dad was overcome first and Mom had come to his aid when she, too, was overcome. The steps to the basement lead from the utility room and the door was open."
Authorities detected an elevated level of carbon monoxide in the home, according to a sheriff's office news release.
"Dad was a person who could fix all kinds of things," he added. "He and a neighbor man had worked on the generator the previous day in hopes of getting it up and running."
Cletus Frankenberg intended to use the device to pump water to heifers at the farm and then to run the furnace as well as other electrical appliances like the furnace and hot water heater.
The son headed to his parents' home later in the day when repeated telephone calls went unanswered.
"They were an extremely hard-working couple who did everything together," Steve Frankenberg said. "When you saw one, the other wasn't far behind."
The couple first lived in Sidney following their May 1953 wedding at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Botkins. They initially worked at factory jobs and purchased a home they fixed up and then sold.
"They did the same thing several times building up enough equity to purchase the farm where Kathy and I now live," he said. "It was rundown, but they worked together to improve everything inside and out."
The Frankenbergs, who have three grown children and eight grandchildren, also purchased another farm near New Knoxville, which is where they lived.
"My mom watched over cows, heifers and cats," their son recalls with a chuckle. "I often considered her a veterinarian without a license. She would get up at night to check on a cow about to give birth to a calf. She could nurse sick animals back to health."
Steve Frankenberg said his mother had slowed down somewhat following knee surgery last spring and no longer helped with the milking, but his father still helped every day on the farm.
"We were all together over New Year's for our Christmas gathering," Steve Frankenberg said. "Their presents are still setting there at the house ... they never had much of a chance to use them."
See obituaries on page 5A.