OCEAN CITY — Diakonia prides itself on helping people live their lives with dignity, even in their toughest times. Now, the organization is hoping to help give a local man dignity in death.
The county’s longstanding and lone homeless shelter lost one of its beloved family members earlier this week after 69-year-old Frank Arms was found dead last Sunday in his West Ocean City apartment by his landlord.
Arms, who had struggled with homelessness for more than 15 years, had been in and out of Diakonia as a resident more than a dozen times, according to Diakonia Executive Director Claudia Nagle.
“Frank was one of the first people I met when I took this job in 2003,” said Nagle. “He was just a kind man with a good heart and he always wanted to help others, even though he had a hard time helping himself sometimes.”
Arms had no family, and had struggled with homelessness and disability since a freak accident involving a defibrillator while working as an EMT in New Jersey, according to Nagle.
“We only have Frank’s story to go by, but he was certainly carrying some physical disabilities,” she said, “but mentally, he was sharp as a tack. He was incredibly funny and was always the first one to volunteer here at Diakonia. Even when he wasn’t living here, he would stop by on his moped from time to time. We became his family and to us, he was family too.”
Because of that bond, Nagle felt compelled, upon learning about Frank’s death on Sunday to give him a proper burial and memorial, and the organization is in the process of raising funds to do just that.
“The news of Frank’s death hit everyone pretty hard around here,” said Nagle, “and as we started talking about it, the feeling was that we had to do this. It’s just the right thing to do.”
Yet, this is unprecedented territory for Diakonia, as the organization has never helped to handle the funeral arrangements after a resident or former resident’s passing. Nagle says it will likely cost several thousand dollars to do this she knows there may be critics of the decision to dedicate funds to the dead that could be used for the living.
“This is what family’s do for one another,” said Nagle, “and Frank was family. He personified the entire mission here, and his spirit and his friendship has been a constant reminder over the years of why I love my job.”
Nagle says the plan is to cremate his body and hold a small memorial service at Diakonia to remember a man who loved electronics, planting tomatoes, and making people laugh.
“He may have had one of the best and biggest laughs I’ve ever heard,” said Anna O’Neill, who met Arms a little more than a year ago when she began working at the shelter. “Everybody liked Frank, so, as you can imagine, the residents and the staff have been really somber and quiet this week.”
Nagle says Frank had become such a well-known figure that current and past residents would keep an eye out for him while they were out seeking jobs and running errands in town.
“It was not an uncommon conversation at the dinner table for someone to say ‘has anyone seen Frank lately?’”, said Nagle. “I remember he used to make me these tuna fish sandwiches with celery and onions, and while it’s a small gesture, it just kind of shows the kind of guy he was.”
Arms may have struggled to keep a roof over his head for much of the latter part of his life, and while he didn’t have many possessions or a traditional family to share those few possessions with, his life and his death will not be insignificant, according to Nagle.
“He will be missed and we will remember what a good man he was at the memorial service later this month,” said Nagle. “And, there will be tuna fish sandwiches, with celery and onions.”