Abe Mishkin for Peper column

Abe Mishkin turns 97. Warren Peper/Staff photo

There’s a fairly large birthday party planned this morning for one of the regulars who works out at the West Ashley Planet Fitness.

Today, Abe Mishkin is 97 years old. The day itself is rather routine for Mishkin, because he’s intentional about such matters. He goes to the fitness center seven days a week and during his hour stay generally cycles through 15 or 16 machines. “I don’t use as much weight anymore, but without it, I’m worse. That’s all I know,” says Mr. Abe.

That’s what they call him in Planet Fitness — Mr. Abe. Peggy Jenkins, a workout regular, says she marvels how he spends time with others. “He’ll say, ‘I like your outfit, or how’s your daughter?,’” Jenkins says with a smile. “Mr. Abe is the fitness center grandfather and never uses his age as an excuse.”

My guess is that he doesn’t have time. Once he’s finished on the machines, he locates his parked walker, and he’s off. A friend, Sid Stark, takes him to Bagel Nation where this self-described Jersey Boy places the same order — smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomato and onions on a bagel. He knows what he likes, and likes what he knows.

After that, he returns to his daughter’s home on Johns Island where he takes a swim in the pool. This is his daily schedule. There’s one other regular part of his day that I’ll share later.

If that’s all you know about Mr. Abe, it barely scratches the surface. If you like candy and/or coffee you’ll want to stay tuned.

TNT-Snap, Crackle and Pop

Mr. Abe graduated college in 1942 and was drafted into the Army. Because of his intellect and science background, he was assigned to work in a bomb factory here in the states. When the war ended, he enrolled in graduate school at Ohio State where he received a PhD in Organic Chemistry.

Defeating the Germans in World War II did not eliminate certain feelings and prejudices here in our own country. “It was actually tough finding a job as a Jewish man,” Mishkin says matter-of-factly. In 1950, the Nestle Company hired him to work in their research lab. The going rate for someone with a PhD then was $600/month. Their offer was half that, “... but I had a job.”

While at Nestle for 34 years, Mishkin made his mark. He owns close to 50 patents for such items as freeze dried coffee. He still receives a regular package of products from Tasters Choice. Ever put a Nestle Crunch bar in your mouth? It was Mishkin who figured out how to continuously produce Rice Crispies so that they could be incorporated into this product. He’s especially proud of something we all know as Nestea. There was no such thing as cold water tea before Mishkin read the scientific tea leaves.

When you question Mr. Abe about his smarts, his response is that everybody has about the same ability, but not everybody uses what they have. I’m not so sure I buy that premise, but I’m also not as smart as Mr. Abe, so who am I to question his thinking?

The Depression’s impression

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Born in 1921, Abe Mishkin remembers living through The Great Depression as a child. “We never knew what my dad might bring home for supper. Would the butcher give us more credit? It was tough.” Mishkin developed his own work ethic during those days. He’d cut grass and rake leaves for a quarter an hour. “People just don’t realize what we went through ... jelly sandwiches and cardboard in our shoes.”

Of all the things he’s seen in his lifetime, he’s most amazed at the intelligence of the computer. “It’s got a brain I don’t have,” he declares.

What amazes me most about Mr. Abe is how he interacts with the various age groups and different people who populate the machines in the various aisles of the fitness center. “I love people and how their brains work,” he’ll say after telling somebody it looks like they’ve lost weight.

He never thought he’d live this long. He figured he’d go before his wife, who died in 1998. He’s fond of telling people that “... the first hundred years are the toughest, after that, it’s a breeze.”

Oh yeah, that other daily regimen he faithfully follows. Every afternoon, from 2-4, he sips a special 6-ounce cocktail of equal parts gin, vodka, and vermouth. He’s the scientist, maybe there’s some preservative powers included nobody else has discovered.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Abe.

Reach Warren at peperwarren@gmail.com

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