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The 100 Club

At 107, Clifton's 'oldest citizen' adapts to not living alone

On January 1, 2012, Joe Frost turned 107.

Honored last year by the city of Clifton as its oldest resident, Frost has lived in that city since the age of 12.

“He was born in Passaic in 1905,” said Bill Frisch, Frost’s 80-year-old nephew, also a Clifton resident. “We have his birth certificate.”

His uncle, however, moved to the neighboring town as a child and is still there, albeit now at Daughters of Miriam.

“Joe’s been a member here forever,” said Karen Schutz, executive director of the Clifton Jewish Center, where Frisch is immediate past president. The shul “is very proud to have the oldest living resident in the City of Clifton,” she added. “Last year, a proclamation and the key to the city were presented to him by Mayor James Anzaldi at our center.”

Schutz said Frost was a “regular” at the synagogue.

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Joe Frost courtesy CJC

“He was an avid minyannaire,” she said, noting that, until this year, he was a fixture at Saturday and Sunday services. “He’s an incredible person. Until this year, he was living alone in his home, taking care of his own needs. He’s mostly blind and deaf now, but he knew where he was going. This year, we finagled him into Daughters of Miriam, since it was not a safe situation.”

Has Frost adapted?

“He started riding the stationary bike and singing,” said Schutz, whose congregation made a birthday party for Frost last month. “Channel 9 did a spot on him. They asked him, ‘Why are you singing?’ He said, ‘It makes me feel happy.'”

The birthday party, said Schutz, had a large turnout.

“He’s a very warm and friendly person, beloved by the center. Everyone came to see ‘Uncle Joe,'” she said, noting that Frisch picked up his uncle from Daughters of Miriam and brought him to the event. “It’s unreal. You wouldn’t know he’s 107.”

While Frost has some physical disabilities, said Schutz, his memory remains keen, except for events that have happened recently. For example, he has much to say about the “gazillion presidents” he has seen come and go.

“But I ask him what he had for breakfast and he doesn’t remember,” said his nephew. “He says, ‘Breakfast is always the same.'”

Growing up in Clifton with his parents and seven siblings, Frost lived on Market St., which, said Frisch, contained many Jewish families.

“My mother was his sister,” he said. “He’s the only remaining one in family. Most of them went in their 80s.”

Frisch said Frost has some 10 nieces and nephews, all of them retired and many now living outside the area. “But we all keep in contact,” he said.

Frost, he said, was a trained dental technician who worked in laboratories. In the Navy during World War II and attached to the Seabees, he was posted to Guam.

“When they heard he was a dental technician, they switched him to the medical corps,” said Frisch, noting that after the war, when Frost returned, he took over the meat market and grocery store his parents had built on Van Houten Avenue.

“It was the first business on the avenue,” he said. “They had built the first home there. It was a dirt road at the time. There were no cars. Even doctors came to see you in a horse and buggy.

“He came home and modernized the store,” said Frisch, noting that it had been run during the war by Frost’s sisters and his brother Harry. “He was a good craftsman – a carpenter and a plumber.”

Frisch said he worked in the family grocery store every summer throughout his high school years. So did many of his friends. “I still meet fellows who worked there,” he said.

When Frost returned from the war, said his nephew, that area of Clifton was mainly Polish and Italian, and his uncle soon realized that the children of the original residents could no longer make the ethnic dishes cooked by their parents. “He saw the need for Polish and Italian recipes, the stuff their parents made at home, like Italian sausage and Polish pierogies. So he started to make them. It was so good, the people who moved away from there still ordered them.”

Frost did not like to work for others, “only for himself and with family,” said Frisch. “He had a very good mind, he saw the future, and he saw the changes,” often advising his family on career choices.

“He’s very intelligent. He should have gone for a doctorate,” said his nephew, explaining that in a family with so many siblings, there was money enough to send only one son for professional training. Frost’s brother Michael was able to become a dentist, thanks to financial help from his brothers and sisters.

Still, he said, “He was proud of his work as a dental technician and was honored during his time in the service.”

“If you ask him, he’ll say you should live a simple life, eat proper foods, and that’s what he attributes his long life to. When he spoke with his doctor, he said, ‘Hey Joe. Why are you living so long?’ My uncle said, ‘I don’t know. You’re the doctor. You tell me.'”

According to Frisch, the doctor did offer a reason.

Since Frost was a lifelong bachelor, the doctor suggested the reason for his longevity is, “You don’t have a mother-in-law.”

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