My friend Eddie Dresher died last week, exactly one week after celebrating his 106th birthday.
Although he was born in Long Branch, Eddie and his family moved to Hackensack and then to Teaneck when he was a kid, and he was nearly a lifelong resident of Bergen County — probably more like two lifetimes. He died in his Hackensack apartment, alone, isolated by covid-19 from his extremely large fan club of friends, acquaintances, and family.
Under normal conditions, Ed would have a very busy schedule of visitors and lunch and dinner plans, with mayors, police and fire chiefs, politicians, CEOs, doctors, nurses, building managers, pilots, or just a neighbor in the apartment building. Over 100 years, he knew everyone. He regaled them with stories of a young Bergen County, going to high school in Hackensack, then college at the University of Maryland, with his roommate and friend, the Yankee great Charlie Keller. He told stories of watching games at the old Yankee Stadium with Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle. He remembered the construction of Teaneck High School in the early 1930s — before then, Teaneck students attended school in Hackensack.
Eddie was married to the love of his life, Sylvia, who died too soon in 1982. They had three wonderful daughters, who were raised in Teaneck — Sharyn Rodas, who died in 2015, Carey Fosso, and Roz Blau, who all adored him.
After World War II, Eddie entered the family business in Hackensack, Dresher Brothers, which at the time was mostly gifts and cards. He grew the business, with an emphasis on office supplies; in 1991 he sold the business to Kidde, and soon afterward he retired.
Although I first knew Eddie as a customer of ours, we became closer through a mutual friend, and the three of us began having lunch together a few times a month. He usually would stop by my office to pick something up and he would flirt with all the single women, who usually were two or three times younger than he was. Years after his wife died, Eddie was dating a woman who was a good friend of my mother’s. My mom was a recent widow, and very lonely, and Eddie always would invite her to join them for dinner or a movie. It was a simple act of kindness, but one that my brothers and I never forgot.
After he retired, Eddie got bored, and he took a part-time job at a golf store on the highway. He worked with other retired executives, who all were working for the fun of it — and no doubt also for the discount on clubs. After quickly becoming the store’s top salesmen, he quit when the job began getting boring. He was probably around 90 or 91 at the time.
A few years later, I was out to lunch with him when he was approached by a much younger man who knew him. He offered Eddie a job selling office furniture. He could work whatever hours he wanted, the man told he; he knew that even in his 90s, Eddie could outsell any of his existing salesmen. Eddie thought about it and told the guy that he would do it, for no salary or benefits; he just wanted a higher commission. The man agreed, and Ed started working.
Not long after, he closed a large deal for a large electronics company’s new headquarters. The commission was so large that he decided to retire again, this time for good.
Eddie continued to enjoy playing golf until he reached 100, when he started feeling too tired to play. He tried substituting the driving range, but that also left him too tired to continue. He finally went to a cardiologist, who found he had a bad valve — but the doctor said that he was too old to undergo surgery. Eddie didn’t accept that answer, and decided to go to Columbia for a second opinion. The head of cardiac surgery reviewed his file, smiled, and agreed to the surgery, saying that Eddie had to be in decent shape to make it to 100 years without ever being hospitalized.
Two days after the successful surgery, Eddie was released and went to a rehab facility two doors down from his apartment. He was back in his apartment by the end of the week. He diligently went to rehab and worked out in the gym until he felt much better. He went down to a nearby car dealership to renew his car lease sometime around his 102nd birthday, but this time he convinced the owner to give him a one-year lease rather than the usual three-year one.
He always offered to drive when we went out to lunch or dinner, and if my wife would hesitate, he would simply say, “C’mon, Toots, I still have it.” We had a routine — once or twice a month we would go to Hiram’s in Fort Lee, a classic landmark hot dog joint that Eddie loved. His doctor had told him that he should only go there twice a year, once at the start of baseball season and then again during the playoffs. Eddie quickly blew off that advice, saying that at 103, a hot dog would be the least of his medical problems.
He finally gave up driving after turning 103. Between his five grandsons, his seven great-grandchildren, and countless friends, he never had to worry about getting a ride anywhere. One grandson also had programmed Uber into Eddie’s cellphone so he’d always have a back-up.
I was always amazed at all the memories still stored in Eddie’s head, and at how he was able to retrieve information and a story much more easily than someone half his age often could. He loved to tell stories about Teaneck and Hackensack, about the loss of the Hackensack Golf Course and all the homes that were built on the property, and about anti-Semitism in Bergen County; he also would love to tell stories about the kindness and compassion most people have inherently.
Eddie was born just a few years after the Wright brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk; before the great flu epidemic of 1918. He lived through two world wars, and although he was in the hospital more in the last two years of his life than during the first 104 years, living through the isolation of this current pandemic just may have sapped his will to live any longer.
He was one of the kindest and generous men I ever have known, and perhaps he finally had enough. He wouldn’t see another Yankee championship or a successful Knicks season, and he wouldn’t get to vote once more to try to heal our country.
But as he always said, he had a pretty good run.
Russell Rothman grew up in Teaneck, lived in Oradell for 32 years, and moved to Dutchess County with his wife when he retired from his family business three years ago. His jam-packed resume of lay leadership includes stints as co-chair of ASPNI and as board chair of Alzheimer’s NJ.