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A Penny Saved: Frank coordinates local AARP tax aide effort

It was Ben Franklin who said "A penny saved is a penny earned," but it's Dickinson's Ben Frank who is putting those words into action. As an AARP volunteer, Frank coordinates the yearly AARP community tax aide program. A group of seven volunteer ...

Dickinson's Ben Frank coordinates the local AARP tax aide program every year and also leads a winter walking program at DSU. Here, Frank has just concluded another session of helping prepare tax returns for low income people at Dickinson Public Library's community room. (Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press)
Dickinson's Ben Frank coordinates the local AARP tax aide program every year and also leads a winter walking program at DSU. Here, Frank has just concluded another session of helping prepare tax returns for low income people at Dickinson Public Library's community room. (Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press)

It was Ben Franklin who said "A penny saved is a penny earned," but it's Dickinson's Ben Frank who is putting those words into action.

As an AARP volunteer, Frank coordinates the yearly AARP community tax aide program.

A group of seven volunteer tax return preparers, including Frank, and one reviewer, meet at Dickinson Public Library every Monday and Wednesday from 1 to 4 p.m.

"We've been running about 24 (returns) a day now," Frank said. "It's been pretty busy."

The free service is provided to low- to moderate-income individuals, primarily over age 60.

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"But we don't turn away anyone that might be younger than that," Frank said. "It's a service that's been here for many years. We have about eight counselors that work here, preparing returns, and every return we do is reviewed by another person."

Frank personally helps about three to five people per session.

"Last year we did 362 returns," he said. "It's a challenge, but I enjoy it. Everybody here who does this type of work really enjoys it. The people we help show their appreciation."

Frank also coordinates a walking program at Dickinson State University, held three times per week, from November to April.

"It's a wintertime program for people who like to walk and get some exercise over the winter months," he said. "I've been doing that since 1999, and I'm still doing it."

Frank comes from a background in banking. For 10 years in Dickinson, he worked at First National Bank.

"It's changed name a few times," he said. "Now it's Bank of the West."

After 1969, he went to work for the Comptroller of the Currency, a national bank regulatory agency based in Washington D.C.

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"I worked for them for 23 years examining national banks here in North Dakota, Minnesota, and I've been called to other states," he said. "When there were certain problems in the economy we went down south back in the 70s and helped out, but most of my work was done here in North Dakota."

Though the frequent travel could be burdensome, Frank said, he enjoyed the work.

"I met so many great bankers and it was just an enjoyable job," he said.

Frank has been involved with the Dickinson AARP since 1995.

"There was a gentleman who was doing this type of work before I even knew about it," he said. "He was a local retailer, many years back, and he asked me if I wanted to help out and I said yes, I'm interested, and kind of worked my way into that program. He became ill and had to retire from it and asked if I would take over the program, and I did."

There is no longer a Dickinson chapter of the AARP, with Frank alone coordinating volunteers to hold the tax aide program locally.

"The tax aide program is the main program we do here in Dickinson," he said.

In the time since he joined the program, paper and pencil has been replaced by laptops and calculating software.

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"It really made the work a lot easier," he said. "Your laptops do a lot of the computing for you. All you have to do is enter the information correctly."

Holding the sessions at Dickinson Public Library has been beneficial, Frank said.

"We have plenty of room. We can spread out," he said. "Doing tax work is confidential work. You don't want to be sitting on top of each other, so you have a little bit of space between you. It works really nice."

At each session, a greeter signs in the taxpayers. Some people have appointments, though it is not required, Frank said.

"Once the return is done it's reviewed and the counselor or reviewer then tells the taxpayer he or she is finished," he said.

Serving the community is a challenge, Frank said, but one he has enjoyed.

"It's something we do over the winter months," he said. "There isn't much gardening you can do in the winter months. There's not much outside activity you can carry on. It's just a good fit for me to do this over the winter months."

Being a volunteer has value, Frank said.

"I've been blessed all my life," he said. "I'm very thankful for what's come my way, and this is a good way for me to give back."

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