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Former N.J. fire chief turns 110

Vincent Dransfield remains on the Singac Volunteer Fire Co. No. 3 roster, where he signed up more than eight decades ago and once served as fire chief

By Rob Jennings

PASSAIC COUNTY, N.J. — Vincent Dransfield turns 110 years old Thursday, but the lifelong Passaic County resident doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

He still lives at home, socializes with a wide range of friends and family, keeps up with the New York Yankees — opening day is his birthday — and even continues to drive his Hyundai sedan on local errands.

“I guess I’m doing all right, for my age,” Dransfield said by phone from the Little Falls house where he has lived since 1945.

He playfully gave some of the credit for his longevity to a half-century of drinking Ovaltine, the flavored milk drink. Though, he said he sticks with the simple malt version, “not the chocolate Ovaltine.”

“I guess that contributed to it, and being a nice guy,” he said.

He remains on the roster of Singac Volunteer Fire Co. No. 3 in Little Falls, where signed up more than eight decades ago and once served as fire chief. The fire company held an early, 110th birthday party for Dransfield on March 16.

About 50 showed up for the three-hour party, said Erica Lista, his granddaughter. Her in-laws came up with the perfect gift for the occasion. They presented him with $110.

“He got such a kick out of that,” Lista said.

Supercentenarians, the term for those 110 or older, are exceptionally rare. Experts estimate there are no more than several hundred supercentenarians in the world. While official records are maintained about the oldest residents in New Jersey, another New Jersey resident, Launa Mitchell, turned 110 in Lakewood last May.

Dransfield has one daughter, three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. His wife of 54 years, Ann, died in 1992.

He has had a remarkable run of good health, his granddaughter said.

“He’s really never had anything wrong with him,” Lista said.

Challenges pertaining to aging, though, are unavoidable.

“My knees are bothering me now. When you get older, the bones don’t work the same as when you’re younger,” Dransfield said.

He said he is grateful to be able to drive. He typically swings by the local QuickCheck and ShopRite for coffee, newspapers, groceries and conversation.

“I still do all right. Thank God for that. I’m driving pretty good,” he said.

Dransfield has never lived anywhere other than Little Falls and Paterson, where he was born in a house on Preakness Avenue on March 28, 1914 — the same day as 1968 vice presidential candidate Edmund Muskie. Woodrow Wilson was president, the U.S. was about to enter World War I, and Yankee Stadium had not yet been built.

“I graduated from School 5. The old School 5,” Dransfield said, refering to the building in Paterson down the street from where classes were relocated starting in 1939.

He quit school after the eighth grade.

Lista said he was delivering milk in his early 20s when his customers included legendary boxer Joe Louis , who trained in Pompton Lakes in the mid-1930s.

When World War II broke out, he was working as a manager at the Schmid company, which supplied condoms to U.S. troops overseas. He told his granddaughter he was not drafted into military service because his job was classified as a civil defense position.

He later worked as a manager at Crane Motors in Little Falls for 25 years, followed by several years at another job dealing with car parts, before retiring.

Dransfield got married in 1938, when he was 24, and his wife introduced him to Little Falls . When they moved into their house in 1945, it was located where a road did not yet exist.

He is especially proud of his long tenure at the Singac fire company, which was organized in 1912, two years before he was born. For his birthday party, he was wearing a cap reading, “oldest active firefighter in the U.S.A.”

Firefighters unveiled a plaque honoring Dransfield on his 100th birthday in 2014.

Harry Seebode , a longtime friend, was among those greeting him at the March 16 party.

“He was chief of the fire department when I joined in 1962,” said Seebode, 87.

“He’s amazing, just put it that way,” he said.

Dransfield is a longtime New York Yankees fan — ever since the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1957, he explained. This year, opening day, for only the second time in his long life, is coinciding with his birthday.

He said his favorite player over the decades was Derek Jeter, the retired Hall of Fame shortstop. And he tries to keep informed on all the roster changes.

“It’s hard to keep up as you get older,” Dransfield said.

Lista, a West Caldwell resident, and several of her relatives will be visiting Dransfield at his home Thursday. They have a pretty good idea what he will want to eat.

“He always loves pizza. Same as last year,” Lista said.

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