99 and in his prime

Resident gets Obama portrait as birthday gift

A soft-spoken Frank Augustine, who turned 99 on Jan. 5, can tell his story with a collection of photos. Some populate his mantelpiece and others he keeps stowed away in a folder at his Fifth Street home.
There’s one of him with his late siblings Joe, Mary and Anthony, with whom he was very close. Another show him with a friend in Idaho catching rabbits along the mountainous landscapes.
Now he has one more photo to add to the collection.
Earlier in January Augustine, a Hoboken resident since 1939, was honored with a signed photo from President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and daughters Sasha and Malia Ann. He served seven years in the U.S Army as a head chef.
“I’m very happy and proud [to have received it],” said Augustine. His eldest son, Dennis, who lives in California, adding, “The acknowledgment by the president and first lady is the final feather in the cap of a humble, affable, and generous man, and has made our family very proud.”
A wise white-haired man sporting a red plaid shirt, Augustine likes to remind the forthcoming generation, whom he refers to as “young chickens,” to be accepting.

“He has outlived many doctors, even outlived the buildings and places of business he used to work.” – Dennis Augustine
“My philosophy in life is to keep peace. Don’t discriminate against anybody for his or her nationality or ethnicity,” he said in an interview last week, sitting in the dining room of his home. “A lot of people think they’re better than somebody. None of us are better than anybody else.”

A life for the books

No written memoir could do Augustine’s story justice, with a life indelibly filled with hardship and triumph. He was born in Pittston, Pa. in January of 1917 and has lived at a five-flat apartment building in Hoboken since 1952.
Augustine, who was also known as “Augie” and “Francis” throughout his life, said he became a Boy Scout to follow in the footsteps of Franklin D. Roosevelt – one of 17 presidents he has lived through beginning with Woodrow Wilson.
He is the son of Italian parents: father Michael, a coal miner and railroad worker, and mother Frances, a homemaker. Frances suffered from a chronic debilitating illness and Michael had arduous work hours, which led them to send Frank and his siblings to an orphanage when they were still young.
He spent ages 6 to 18 at St. Joseph’s Hospital Orphanage and St. Michael’s School for Boys both in Pennsylvania. In 1934 he left the orphanage to live in Union City with an aunt and soon began cooking for Hoboken’s historic Clam Broth House (now Biggie’s Clam Bar) for $10 per week room and board.
In 1935, he hitchhiked across the U.S to Texas to join older brother Joe in the Army. He would go on to serve seven years in the U.S Army as a head chef and personal aide to his mentor, Army Chaplain Capt. William Walsh. In November 1942, he was honorably discharged just prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
He has worked at many of the factories that used to mass produce in Hoboken. After the Clam Broth House, he went on to work 15 years at the old Janssen Dairy and 25 years Maxwell Coffee House, before both closed.
“He has outlived many doctors, even outlived the buildings and places of business he used to work,” Dennis says. “Material things don’t matter to him. He would give you the shirt off his back and loves to give things away.”
In the last two years, Augustine has been honored by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, State Senator Brian P. Stack, and Freeholder Anthony Romano.

How he met his sweetheart

Augustine’s wife of 66 years, Marie, passed away over two years ago around Mother’s Day at the age of 88. Augustine manages a smile when recalling how they first encountered each other.
“I was living at 131 Clinton St. at the time. I was single, and next door to me there was a girl. I started talking to her [and] she asked, are you married?”
But that woman next door wasn’t Marie — it was her cousin.
“She showed me a picture of a woman. I gave her my picture to mail to Marie, who was in Italy at the time and spoke little English,” continued Augustine.
If Augustine found her cousin favorable, Marie’s cousin said, then Augustine should send for her.
Augustine, who was 24 at the time, laughed when asked if he considered it a blind date.
“I guess you could say that,” he said. “How did we fall in love? I couldn’t tell you.”
A month later they were married in City Hall.
“I know she was beautiful, happy, and always smiling,” he added.
The couple had four children (Josephine, Michael, Stephen and Dennis) and despite the fact most of his life is behind him, he couldn’t be more hopeful.
“God has a plan for all of us, and when he’s ready for me, he’ll take me,” he says, the final words trailing off as he stares at a picture of himself from when he was 11.

Dennis provided some of the information for the above story from a biography he wrote about his dad, available on the Civilian Conservation Corps website, www.ccclegacy.org.

Steven Rodas can be reached at srodas@hudsonreporter.com.

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