Frank Lamendola, a founder of the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus, died Jan. 11 from complications due to HIV/AIDS. A nurse known for his dedication to the terminally ill, Lamendola, 48, had lived with his own illness since 1982. At the time of his death, Lamendola was living with his partner, James Haines, and working toward a Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing. His Ph.D. dissertation, "Patterns of the Caregiving Experiences of Nurses in Hospice and HIV/AIDS Care" was near completion and reflected some of his life's work.
An adult nurse practitioner with a master's degree from the University of Illinois, Lamendola had worked in the health-care industry for many years. He served as a hospice home-care nurse at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale and as a grief counselor and nurse case manager at the Minnesota AIDS Project.
Yet Lamendola may be best known in the Twin Cities for his role in founding the Twin Cities Men's Chorus in 1981 (the word "gay" was added prior to the 1990-91 season). A second tenor, Lamendola was inspired to start the chorus after hearing to the San Francisco Gay Men's
"Frank had a vision," says Terry McEowen, a friend and former chorus board member. "He wanted to give the community a sense that gay people have value and worth."
As one of the original 45 members, Lamendola watched the chorus grow dramatically during the last 17 years. About 120 people now participate in the three ensembles of the chorus, and the group regularly performs with the Minnesota Orchestra and Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. "We're realizing the dreams our founding fathers had for us," says Craig Carnahan, Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus music director and general manager.
Lamendola was a native of Kingston, N.Y., who grew up in Queens and attended parochial schools. He also had sparkling hazel eyes and a knack for startup ventures. Besides TCMC, he co-founded Spirit of the Lakes United Church of Christ and Journeywell, a training and education business dedicated to inspiring caregivers who work with terminally ill individuals.
"He started a lot of things and turned them over to other people," says Frank's sister Virginia Lamendola. "He didn't feel he had to be the one in control."