Here’s a great story about Hoboken, NJ resident Frank Augustine, and his lifetime of achievements, as penned by his son Dennis. Enjoy (it’s a long read).
97 Year old Frank Augustine Recognized for Lifetime Achievements
“—A son’s tribute to his father”
by Dr. Dennis Augustine
My dad, Frank Augustine, whose name was legally changed from his former Italian name, Frances D’Agostino, was born in Pittston, Pennsylvania on January 5, 1917. He has been a New Jersey resident for almost 80 years.
In 1996 he became a life member of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Whenever he receives the latest issue of the CCC Journal he calls me to see if I got my copy. In time, I began to recognize how important a role the CCC experience played in his life.
But, first some back history. When my mother Maria passed away on Mother’s Day last year at the age of 88, it was a heart-felt loss. After all, mom was the matriarch of the family—the glue that held us all together.
After 66 years of marriage, dad lived alone and all the attention was focused on his well-being. We hired a live in caregiver named Margaret, a native of Ghana, to cook for him and assist him daily with his other home care needs. She has been a godsend to him and our family.
This makes it possible for him to continue living in the middle unit of a five-flat apartment building in Hoboken that he has owned and inhabited since 1952, which was of primary importance to him and my siblings, who live in neighboring towns.
A story to be told
I began calling him from my home in California every evening to see how he was doing and engage him in conversation. During many of these phone calls I felt an inner prompting to resume recording an oral history of his life I had begun documenting some years ago.
Dad was the son of coal miner and railroad worker named Michael, and his mom Frances was a homemaker, both of whom my siblings and I never met. Due to his mom’s chronic and debilitating illness, and his dad’s long work hours, his dad was ill equipped to take care of him and his siblings. Hence, they were given up for adoption.
As a result, dad spent his most tender years from the age of six through eighteen at St. Joseph’s Hospital Orphanage and St. Michael’s School for Boys in Scranton and Hoban Heights, Pennsylvania, respectively.
Dad is a survivor, and rarely engages in self-pity of any kind. On the contrary, whenever I asked him about his time at the orphanages, rather than telling some dark tales of woe, he said he was treated well by the Catholic nuns and had no complaints. He also expressed no ill will toward his father for giving him up for adoption. “There is always someone else worse off than me,” he would say regardless of the many challenges he has faced in life.
In 1934, he left the orphanage at St. Michael’s to live with my aunt Mary—his eldest sibling—who had become an R.N., and my uncle Carmine in Union City. A short time later he took his first job as an assistant cook at the historic former Clam Broth House near the Hudson River in Hoboken, N.J., for ten dollars a week including room and board.
Though dad has excellent recall for his advanced age, I had some difficulty matching up his dates of service in the army and maritime service with the rest of his life history. When I brought this to his attention during a recent visit, he simply got up from his desk and removed his army photo from his office wall.
He then unhooked the backing from the frame and a stack of Honorable Discharge papers magically appeared. With a satisfied look on his face and a twinkle in his eye he said, “I think this is what you’re looking for.” I was both an amused and surprised. “With record keeping like this who needs a computer,” I joked.
Traveling across the country
In September 1935 dad hitchhiked across the country to Texas to join his older brother Joe in the army, serving in the 23rd Infantry and later the 15th Field Artillery at Fort Sam Houston. He served as head cook and personal aide to Army Chaplain, Capt. William Walsh until September 15, 1938 when he was given an Honorable Discharge.
The country was racially divided back then, and he witnessed the hanging and tar and feathering of a young black man in the town square. He was repulsed by the inhumane cruelty of it all, calling it “disgusting,” but felt helpless to intervene, all the while thinking to himself: “These people are crazy.”
In 1939, at the recommendation of Captain Walsh he entered the order of the Maryknoll Fathers as a seminarian in Ossining, N.Y. He became a Catholic brother and was given the name of Brother Pius. Though he enjoyed the camaraderie of the other brothers and tending the animals at the farm that the seminary was located on, he decided that such an austere life was not a life for him. He returned to Hoboken to live with my uncle Anthony and aunt Kitty who lived near the late Frank Sinatra and his family before he became a famous crooner and Hoboken’s favorite son.