New biography chronicles life of Farmington physician, canyon guide
Connie Nordstrom pens book about late husband Frank
FARMINGTON — Tucked away in a new biography she has written about her late husband is a tale that author Connie Nordstrom acknowledges veers toward the sensational.
So much so, in fact, that Nordstrom fears that anecdote might otherwise obscure her effort to celebrate the life and accomplishments of her husband, an Air Force veteran, longtime Farmington physician and expert hiker who died in 2017. To be sure, her self-published book, "Frank B. Nordstrom — 20th Century Pioneer: Pediatrician and Canyon Guide," chronicles all those facets of his life.
But it also includes a short chapter on the aforementioned nugget that became a significant addition to his personal history years after it was alleged to have happened.
Connie Nordstrom rolls her eyes and smiles as she discusses the tale, laughing at its audacity but also expressing the hope that it doesn't overshadow her late husband's considerable — and very real — accomplishments. Despite her worries, she said, the story had become so much a part of family lore she didn't feel like she could leave it out of a book that purported to represent the totality of his life.
The narrative has its roots in Frank Nordstrom's days in the Air Force, when he was stationed at Walker Air Force Base in Roswell from 1951 to 1953, where he served as pediatrician to the children on the base. Decades later, in the middle 1990s, when the Nordstroms were living in the Cedar Hill area, Connie Nordstrom recalled her husband receiving a call one Saturday morning and remaining on the phone for approximately an hour. It was an inordinately long time on the phone for a man who typically liked to keep his calls short and businesslike, she said.
The aliens have landed or did they?
When he hung up, Frank told Connie he had been speaking to an Air Force captain from the Pentagon who was compiling a response to the now-popular rumor that an alien spacecraft had crashed in the desert outside Roswell in 1947, and that government and Air Force officials had conspired to hide that fact from the American public.
The officer, James McAndrews, told Frank that the man who was the main perpetrator of the story was claiming that he had been told in the late 1940s or early 1950s by a Farmington pediatrician named Dr. Frank Nordstrom that he had performed an autopsy on an alien body when he lived in Roswell.
The story somehow gained traction, and Air Force officials felt compelled to debunk it. According to Connie's book, McAndrews later traveled to New Mexico and obtained a signed and sworn affidavit from Frank claiming he had never performed such an autopsy and didn't know the man who alleged that he had. Frank's forceful denial was included in an official Air Force document released in 1996, "The Roswell Report – Case Closed."
Connie said her husband assured her the outlandish tale is patently false. Its biggest hole, she pointed out, is its timing. Frank was stationed at Walker from 1951 to 1953 – several years after the crash, which is generally believed to have involved an experimental military aircraft, not an alien spaceship. Additionally, the alleged conversation between the story's perpetrator and Frank is alleged to have taken place before Frank was stationed at Walker and years before he would take up residence in Farmington.
Her husband thought the whole episode was so foolish he tossed "The Roswell Report" in the trash after reading it, Connie said. But she got such a kick out of it, she retrieved it and cites it in her biography of her late husband.
The tale neither annoyed nor amused her husband, she said.
"It just was what it was," she said. "He just had more important things on his mind."
That's putting it mildly.
A growing love for Farmington
For 20 years, she noted, Frank was on call every day of the year for his patients, even leaving his personal phone number listed so he could be reached easily. In those days, with the oil and gas industry turning Farmington into a boomtown, there were always plenty of young couples starting families, and that left Frank Nordstrom with a busy practice.
But as he was busy treating generations of Farmington youngsters, Frank would go on to achieve additional renown for his status as an authoritative and accessible guide to the canyons of the Four Corners. When he began his explorations of them shortly after moving to Farmington — when he left the Air Force — those canyons were largely unknown to folks outside the Native population.
Her husband helped change that, Connie said, and now many of those destinations, especially those in the red rock country of southeast Utah, are extremely popular with outdoor recreation enthusiasts.
Connie said for the first several years, Frank found himself alone on most of those excursions.
"He couldn't find anybody in Farmington to hike with him," she said, noting that backpacking was not a popular pastime here in the 1950s and 1960s. "A lot of people went out one time and then would not go out again."
But Frank had discovered his passion, she said, explaining that every new canyon he explored featured the same objective — to locate a water source he would duly chart on his map.
Southeast Utah offered a seemingly endless array of exploration opportunities for her husband, she said, and he couldn't resist any of them.
"If he saw an expanse of slick rock that (went on) forever, he wanted to check it out," she said.
Eventually, Connie said, Frank found many other enthusiastic hikers through the Sierra Club, and he led many groups of a dozen people on weeklong trips. But he had high expectations for his hikers, she noted, and that resulted in friction with organization officials.
"You had to take the first 12 applicants you got (for a trip)," she said, describing Sierra Club protocol.
Frank would have none of that. Instead, he required his applicants to write him a letter describing their hiking experience and suitability for such an extended outdoors experience. Then, he would select the 12 best-suited applicants, Connie said.
When the Sierra Club tried to put a stop to that, she said, Frank promptly rebelled.
"He said, 'I quit,'" she said.
That was a typical response from a man who loved sharing his knowledge of the region with others, but who wanted to do it on his own terms, she said.
The book retails for $20 and will be sold at two book-signing events for Connie in the weeks ahead at the Artifacts Gallery, 302 E. Main St. in Farmington. The first will be held from 10 a.m. to noon Sept. 14, and the second takes place from 5 to 9 p.m. Oct. 11 during the fall art walk. Buyers also can contact her directly at 505-564-8802 to arrange a purchase.
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.