LIVINGSTON, NJ — George Klein, a longtime Essex County resident and founder of the Livingston chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), was recently recognized for the countless volunteer hours he has accumulated over the last century.
As the Livingston native and current Roseland resident celebrated his centennial birthday last week, more than 100 Livingston AARP members gathered at the Livingston Senior and Community Center to share the milestone with him over music, laughs and birthday cake.
During the celebration, Klein’s peers described him as being just as witty and charming as he was in his youth, with Liliana Branquinho—Senior Programs Supervisor for the Township of Livingston—referring to him as “King George” while he sat at his table wearing a birthday crown and his trademark grin.
“George is quite the force of nature among our seniors,” said Branquinho. “Everyone absolutely adores George and his ‘true stories.’ His continued involvement in the community has demonstrated what a kind and giving human being he is and mostly an inspiration to all including myself.”
Known throughout the Livingston community and beyond as an entertainer, Klein is a celebrated member of the Livingtones, a Glee Club formed by the AARP in 2011 that spreads joy through music at assisted living facilities, nursing homes, veterans and special events such as Livingston’s Intergenerational Prom.
Longtime friend and fellow Livingtones member Joel Lightner was among those who spoke to the crowd at Klein’s birthday celebration, thanking him for dedicating more than 40 years to entertaining others through his music as well as his admirable sense of humor.
“Everyone knows what a great comedian he is,” said Lightner. “His timing’s impeccable and his demeanor is always so smooth and easy. Had he decided to go professional as a comic, he would have been very successful…
“His greatest strength, to me, is he’s a genuine person and truly cares about everybody. He’s a gentleman supreme and a great human being. Happy 100th birthday, George. We love you.”
Klein’s response to Lightner’s tribute demonstrated the personality described throughout the event.
“Joel, thank you so much,” he said. “You read that just like I wrote it.”
Klein, known for his humor and kindness, was born in Newark in 1920 and graduated from West Side High School.
He served in the Navy during World War II and was also an avid equestrian for many years. In fact, he met his future wife, Doris, while riding horses; and the two settled in Livingston after the war. He now has three adult sons, four grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
Klein was a final inspector at the Thomas Edison Bell Laboratory, where he worked for 37 years before retiring in 1962.
When he wasn’t working, Klein and his wife devoted a great deal of time volunteering for Saint Barnabas Medical Center. He also enjoyed coaching basketball and volunteered over the years at Livingston Little League and the Livingston Public Library.
For more than 35 years, Klein has been a member of Livingston’s Old Guard, which meets weekly to organize activities, educational/motivational speaking events, trips, parties, charitable work and more. The Old Guard has many sub-clubs as well, including a Poetry Club, Financial Club, Bridge Club and more.
Klein has been entertaining people since he retired nearly six decades ago and credits entertaining to “helping [him] stay young.”
He also said he’s “busy almost every day,” often visiting the Roseland and Livingston libraries often to watch movies and read magazines.
Klein noted that both of his parents lived to be octogenarians, but that he’s “not a health food fanatic”—so the secret to his health and longevity is likely a combination of good genes and his active lifestyle, he said.
Having so many friends helps as well, he added, as affiliating himself with others and filling his schedule with social activities is the best way to maintain good mental and physical health.
Klein shared that his ability to socialize so frequently socializing is made possible through Livingston’s excellent senior programs. He praised Branquinho for organizing so many senior social events throughout the year and also acknowledged the township and local businesses such as Quinn Hopping Funeral Home and assisted living facilities for donating refreshments to those events.
“[Klein] makes us want to be and do better,” said Branquinho, making note of Klein’s ability to encourage others. “Life is not just about serving our needs, but how we can help others through their difficulties—even if it's by telling a few jokes.”
Summarizing what she loves most about Klein, Branquinho said that he “exemplifies the true meaning of service above self” and always has fun doing it.
“He brightens our days,” she said as she wished him a happy birthday. “He's one of the most remarkable individuals I've ever known.”
Partygoers sang and danced throughout the event as singer and DJ Nick DelGiudice performed crowd-pleasing songs, beginning with Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” The audience also joined in on vocals as AARP member Skip Van De Vaarst, known among the group as a “cowboy with a guitar,” played “God Bless America.”