He attended Central High School, named to the all-city and all-state high school football teams and earned All-American honors in his senior year at University of Dayton.
Beginning at age 15, he worked summers at the Dodge Brothers' plant for more than six years. After an intended career of teaching and high school football coaching in Ohio was crushed by the Depression, he returned home to Detroit to work full-time with Dodge, and studied law at night at the University of Detroit. He rose to the bargaining council of the company union at the Dodge plant, and later became leader of the movement that reorganized it into an independent union.
Frankensteen married Grace Callahan and they had three children: Carol Lee Vitale, Marilyn St. Cyr Fekety, and Richard T. Frankensteen, Jr. (Rick).