Communicating through Lens, Language and Stories

Never sure where life would take him, Frank Semmens ’64 M’68 found direction through travel and education. Now, he is celebrating 25 years of successful business with Translation Services International in Naples, Fla., which helps companies translate their documents into more than 30 languages.

Frank Semmens ’64 M’68An Oswego native, Semmens says his first immersion in another language was U.S. Navy service in Puerto Rico after high school. However, what “set the foundation” of his Spanish comprehension was a talented teacher during his undergraduate years at Oswego.

With a B.A. in psychology, Semmens spent two years in Bolivia with the Peace Corps, and briefly built rat mazes as a research assistant at the University of Toronto. Unfulfilled, he returned to Oswego for an M.A. in British and American Literature. This exposure to great fiction inspired Semmens to write creatively.

The degree landed him a job teaching English and Spanish at Mexico Academy and Central School in Mexico, N.Y., and then English composition at Genesee Community College in Batavia, N.Y. He got his students excited about composition with an assignment to write and film their own scripts. Semmens enjoyed this so much that he took a summer filmmaking course at Syracuse University. He pursued a Ph.D. in documentary filmmaking at Temple University, but dropped it in favor of making documentaries with PBS.

“It would have been nice to get a Ph.D. for my parents’ sake, but it wouldn’t have advanced my career at all,” he says.

From 1971-73, he made 30 documentaries, and in 1975, he formed his own film company, Image Productions.

In 1980, he made a film about Mohawk culture on the St. Regis Reservation. The documentary focused on Mary Adams, the last of the traditional basket makers. “Mohawk Basketmaking: A Social Profile” won a CINE “Golden Eagle” Award. With cuts to arts programs in the mid-1980s and the difficulty in securing grants for documentaries, Semmens went on to produce and direct industrial films.

His next career came by coincidence. While working as a freelance video editor and producer for Eastman Kodak, a manager overheard Semmens speaking Spanish with Venezuelan technicians, and asked him if he could translate. Although Semmens had never worked as a professional translator, he saw an opportunity before him.

“I immediately said yes,” he recalls.

That 1989 Kodak job was the beginning of Translation Services International LLC ( Semmens is still active in his business, and is planning a transition to writing full-time. He is working on finding the right voice for his stories; and he does have many stories to tell.

—Andrew Kowal ’15

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