97-year-old Frank Zabransky knows the keys to happiness

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Frank Zabransky of Sunnyside Manor still plays piano for peers at the age of 97. [COURTESY OF SUNNYSIDE MANOR]

WALL TOWNSHIP — Wall Township resident Frank Zabransky can remember the first time he ever played the piano. As a boy, he took lessons for just one dollar per hour, focusing on classical music and jazz pieces in his neighborhood in Little Ferry beginning when he was 6 years old, learning “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”

Over 90 years later, Mr. Zabransky continues to play piano as he has his entire life, entertaining others when he can.

“From then on [1929] I played on and off all the way through my life,” he told The Coast Star.

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“In my neighborhood, it was just mostly freestanding houses,” he said. In those days, it was just while the Depression occurred, by that time almost every household had a piano. That was a pretty good deal and I was interested in that.

“The only other music for a time was the Victrola. The radio was just coming into use about that time…”

He and other local musicians would play weekly shows onstage for the community up through high school.

With the advent of World War II, Mr. Zabransky was drafted into the United States Army in 1942, where his careful musician fingers and hands helped him serve as a medic and later become a medical surgeon. 

After the war, he studied Pharmacology at the University of Minnesota before graduating and working for Hoffman and Roche and as pharmacologist. 

While Mr. Zabransky never played music professionally, he continued to play throughout his adolescence, and later would perform at wedding receptions for friends and family. He’s performed both solo and with “pick-up” groups of up to five other musicians.

Throughout his life he’d continue to play at various organizations such as the VFW, American Legion and others.

He played “Mostly songs that were popular at the time, which also depended on the era of music. Back in the 20s you had a jazzy type of music, then the Big Band era and then during the war you played all the music that had to do with the war situation,” he said.

For the next 93 years, he remained living in the home where he first learned how to play piano, before he moved to Sunnyside Manor in Wall Township. 

“I had a piano in my house. I lived there from 1925 until about a year ago it was time I left the house.”

He’s worked with the staff on his strength, stability and dexterity by walking with a therapist, who followed behind with a wheelchair for safety purposes. 

He and the staff also worked on hand exercises so Mr. Zalinsky can continue to play without discomfort.

“My dexterity … I’m old and getting rheumatism. It’s not as flexible like it used to be, but I still get by. I could play right now,” Mr. Zalansk said.

“They’re asking for it,” he said, adding he thinks he could maybe play over the Sunnyside PA system.

He said he hopes, especially when COVID-19 is over, for the opportunity to play in front of people once more, especially fellow seniors who he says appreciate the tunes.

“I’ve been playing mostly for the seniors. I don’t usually play for the youth. They [seniors] recall, they think back on the days on where that is a popular song. They experience something.” 

“Frank is our resident Piano Man! He brings so much joy to our Friday happy hours. He worked so hard in physical therapy and now we’re all able to enjoy his talented skills.” says MaryEllen Keane, vice president of Sunnyside Manor in Wall Township.

John F. Keane, Jr., vice president of Sunnyside Manor said, “This is a great example of our staff’s perseverance in creating person centered care for each individual at Sunnyside Manor. Our physical therapy and activities departments worked closely together to make Frank’s wish come true of playing the piano again.”

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