Obituary for Arthur Christopher "Art" Fruncillo
October 14, 1944
November 5, 2017
Art died gracefully and unafraid, surrounded by his loving family at home on November 5, 2017. He is survived by his wife Susie, children Gina, Angie and Michael (Rebecca), grandchildren Hannah, Emily, Jake, Arthur, Francesca, Raena, and Harm, his brother John (Cornelia), along with countless friends throughout his life and many friends in the recovery community. His passion, brilliant humor, wisdom, guidance, joy, and love leave a huge empty place in our lives, which we intend to fill with love, great memories, music, and gratitude to have had him for 73 years. Please join us at Mueller Memorial, 4738 Bald Eagle Avenue in White Bear Lake for time with family between 3 and 6 pm, Sunday, November 12. We will celebrate Art’s life at 4 pm. In lieu of flowers, we will accept donations toward a memorial bench along one of his favorite bike trails.
Art's Life story:
Arthur Christopher Fruncillo was the son of a fiery, redheaded Irishwoman who always had to wear a hat in the sun, and a fiery Italian accountant, who meticulously counted the change in his pocket and recorded it, every single day.
And fiery was Art. He lived a full, hot life, with tons of love, many different occupations, big huge dreams, an abundance of humor, and a passionate love affair with Susie for more than 50 years.
Art was born in Ardmore, Oklahoma, on his grandmother’s farm, while his father was away serving in World War II. The Fruncillo family settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where Art grew up, along side his brother John, attending Catholic School, serving as an altar boy, and eating the delicious Italian food his Irish mother had learned to cook so well. He headed off to Georgetown University for college, where he kicked off his life as a shit disturber and all around rebel, being kicked out of school twice - the first time for missing bed checks and the second for missing class. It was at Georgetown that Art met Susie, and they made their hippie pilgrimage to California in 1967.
In San Francisco, Art and Susie protested the Vietnam war and were foster parents to Lori Lynn and Joey. Art finished his degree in English (with more than a little help from Susie), he dabbled in film, he lived in Haight Ashbury, he waited tables, he grew marijuana, and he volunteered in his kids’ schools. Art played softball, he spun vinyl records, and he rode his horses with daughter Gina Sunshine in the hills of Woodacre. He welcomed his second daughter, Angela Francesca, and before long, it was time for a change of scenery.
Art and Susie moved to Grantsburg, Wisconsin with their family in 1978. Where else would hippies live other than in a rustic A-frame cabin on a 40-acre plot of land on a river in the woods? While navigating the awkwardness of small town life and tending to their often-sick little Angie, they found themselves expecting baby number three. Enter Michael Christopher. The old school Italian in Art was pleased to have a son to carry on the family name.
In Grantsburg, Art sold cars, worked in real estate, and started his own firewood business. When Art wasn’t working, he loved to write. He also loved to fly his family off to warm weather destinations when winter was just too much. Art got his pilot’s license and enjoyed flying small planes whenever he could. The Fruncillo family likely still holds the title of loudest family ever to live in Grantsburg, even all these years later. And if you knew us then, you may remember the time when Art, so sick of winter, shoveled the entire front lawn of the house on Wisconsin Avenue, and filled it with pink flamingoes. He loved him some Florida flamingoes.
As much as Art enjoyed a good beer, a nice gin or a relaxing joint, there did come a time when enough was enough. He admitted he was powerless and his life had become unmanageable. Well, he admitted it after a lot of encouragement. But he did. And he walked into a long journey of recovery, which would define the second half of his life. Art was a passionate member of the AA community, attending weekly meetings right up until the end. He had many fine sponsors, and became a valuable sponsor himself, passing his wisdom along to many recovering men. Any time the birthday song was sung, for the past 25 years in the Fruncillo house, it ended with the same line each AA meeting ended with, “Keep coming back!”
Art was a force to be reckoned with, and he filled up every space he entered with his presence. He was a lover of life and all things Italian. He studied language and it seemed that he knew a couple of sentences of every language, or at least he was always willing to give it a try. He loved photography, had a darkroom for many years, and was constantly photographing and videotaping his family.
When Art became a grandpa, he brought his unique style and way of being in the world to all of his experiences with his grandchildren. They always knew they could expect the unexpected and grew to love all of the quirks and fun that only Grandpa Art could bring. Grandpa had a streak of dark humor and would periodically produce a skull, a WWII gas mask or some other strange artifact he came across in his travels. Whether it was a ride on the handlebars of his bike or sitting on his lap driving the car or singing and playing music with grandpa at the piano, the grandkids always, always knew that grandpa would bend the rules and show them a great time. He cultivated his grandkids’ love by spoiling them with treats and basically doing anything they asked him. His smile always seemed the happiest and his spirit the calmest when he was snuggling or rocking one of them.
In recent years, Art could be found at his favorite Bread and Chocolate, on Grand Avenue, meeting friends & family for coffee or the pastries he loved so much. He drove for Uber and Lyft. He spent time at the cabin in Herbster, Wisconsin, with Susie. Even after a quadruple bypass surgery, Art remained active, hiking in Utah and biking on the Gateway Trail.
We will miss Art’s witty banter, his fiercely intelligent mind, his quirky habits and all the great conversations, where he was always such a great listener. There is a huge hole in our hearts and our lives. We will love and miss you forever….
He’s a poet, he’s a picker
He’s a prophet, he’s a pusher
He’s a pilgrim and a preacher, and a problem when he’s stoned
He’s a walkin’ contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction,
Takin’ every wrong direction on his lonely way back home.
“The Pilgrim”, Kris Kristofferson
“Area Man Has Last Laugh After Dying In Front Of Family Who Tried To Convince Him He Was Not Dying” -in the spirit of The Onion, which Art loved
What happened to Art?
Whenever a person dies there are always unanswered questions. We may want to know, in the case of a car accident, who was at fault, if anyone had been drinking, etc. In the case of a young person, we wonder about drugs, suicide, tragedy. When it’s chronic illness we want to know the type of cancer, which treatments were sought, instituted, or refused. Why? Perhaps as human beings we believe that information gathered after the passing of a loved one could prevent the death of another loved one or ourselves. In the case of the Fruncillo family, we often seek out details in the interest of our own morbid curiosity and fuel for speculation. A narrative may or may not serve to ease the grieving process, but of course it can never bring the loved one back. Nevertheless, we feel it may help bring some closure to some of Art’s family and friends to connect the dots from a seemingly healthy man a few weeks or months ago, to the sudden absence of an enormous spirit, husband, father, grandfather, brother, son, sponsee, sponsor, friend, man.
I think lung failure is the simplest explanation of what ended Art’s life. In his final days, hours, and seconds, it was the ability of his lungs to take in air and move the oxygen therein to the rest of his body that failed him. The last week was a confusing struggle to maintain oxygen saturation levels and deliver supplemental oxygen via nasal cannula and various breathing apparatus.
It probably started about four or five years ago with a diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis. His lungs had begun to deteriorate, but not in any significant way that would require immediate treatment. He was, after all, a senior citizen and at some point I suppose everyone has a diagnosis or two. The next thing that happened was a heart attack almost three years ago, followed by a coronary bypass procedure. To what extent this surgery extended his life is uncertain, but it was obvious to anyone that spent significant time around him that the surgery left him beat. I don’t believe he ever fully recovered from the bypass surgery, if one can ever be said to fully recover from such a thing. Life after was a balance of many medications, tests, and questions. However, Art had a few full years of life with his family.
Sometime during the summer of 2017, Art started to have some trouble breathing, his appetite began to subside, and he began to lose weight and weaken. His great love affair with food slowly came to an end. In retrospect we all saw concerning signs, but of course we are all busy with our own lives – raising little kids and big ones, buying and selling books and houses, finding and losing love. All the while Art was living his life too. He continued to sponsor recovering alcoholics, teach his daughter Angie how to get around town on the city bus, bounce his brand new granddaughter, Francesca, on his knee, argue politics with his friends, watch the new Ken Burns documentary with his wife, drive up to the cabin just to mow the lawn, and love his whole family with the same inspiring strength he always had.
During September and October he began to lose a lot of weight as his appetite continued to dwindle. He sought advice from his cardiologist and pulmonologist. We called a family meeting in late September and we, his children, gave him classic Fruncillo family amateur diagnoses, demanding he seek treatment for possible depression or other psychological conditions. We recommended our chiropractors and acupuncturists. We offered to go to yoga with him. That evening, through rare-seen tears, Art tried to communicate to us the gravity of the situation. We would not or could not hear it. Perhaps to humor his family, or perhaps out of a belief there may be an undiagnosed underlying condition, he sought answers from the Mayo Clinic. He subjected himself to an intense barrage of testing during the second to last week of his life. Echo cardiograms, CT scans, head scans, blood tests - all with inconclusive results. He told us he was growing weary of being a lab rat.
On Monday, the 30th of October, Art drove himself home from Rochester after a day of grueling tests, culminating in the decision to skip the heart stress test due to his weakened condition. The next day he was having trouble using his right hand, was struggling to breathe normally, and he had become severely dehydrated. Insisting on waiting until after the completion of game six of the World Series, Art agreed to go to the hospital on Tuesday night. His condition deteriorated throughout the week. However, with robust oxygen support he was able to remain stable enough to see and hug his immediate family, perhaps giving us all a chance to wrap our minds around the inevitable. Art’s wishes were well known to his wife and children, most notably, that he wished to die not in a hospital, but at home with his wife and family. He reiterated those wishes on Thursday, the second of November. His decision was to stop any further testing, poking, prodding, and scanning, and return home to be at peace with his wife. He was prescribed three large tanks of oxygen and a small amount of morphine to keep him comfortable.
It was a blessing to return home Saturday, and Art passed very quickly, leaving us on Sunday at 5 o’clock.
Looking back, there were signs, but it still came as a shock to see a man so full of life deteriorate so quickly. Perhaps he felt it coming for longer than he let on, because he was unafraid and at peace when he died, making jokes right up until then end.
He was always the life of the party, and the first one to leave.