LANCASTER—At the distinguished age of 104, Fred Rom has seen a lot of history.
When he was 24, on May 6, 1937, he personally witnessed the Hindenburg disaster when the German airship caught fire as it was attempting to land in Lakehurst, N.J.
He once met and shook the hand of civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and was able to see St. Teresa of Calcutta on one of her visits to the United States.
As the oldest member of Our Lady of Grace Church in Lancaster, Rom now looks back on his life and says strong faith and a love of family have helped him get this far.
He also knows the value of hard work and perseverance. He learned it from his parents, who immigrated to the U.S. before he was born. Growing up in New Jersey, Rom witnessed his parents’ struggles with learning a new language and raising a family during tough times, including the Great Depression. Through everything, he said his mother and father clung tightly to their faith and made sure their children had a strong relationship with God.
Rom recalls his world as a child was small, centered around his town, his family and church. He tells a story of looking at a geography book in school, locating Japan on a map and thinking, “I’ll probably never see that place.”
The flow of history would, in fact, take him far from home. He eventually visited Japan later in life, but went to the Pacific first during World War II, when he served as a master sergeant in the U.S. Army and participated in the liberation of the Philippines in 1944-45. He was awarded a Bronze Star for his service.
After the war ended, Rom went into business and started a family. He pursued a career in insurance and ended up as a vice president of New York Life for many years, eventually retiring from the company.
He and his late wife, Agnes, had two children and lived over the years in Ohio, New Jersey and New York, spending most of that time in New York. Rom’s son, Frederick, is currently an attorney in Raleigh, N.C. The senior Rom currently lives in Fort Mill with his daughter, Mary Ann Korn, and her husband, Raymond Korn.
Rom said he moved to South Carolina seven years ago at the age of 97 and it was one of the best decisions he could have made.
“I love the warm weather here because I can really feel the weather at my age,” Rom said with a laugh.
After all he has seen happen in his life, Rom says faith and family help keep him going. He looks at the bustling, tech-driven life of today and compares it with the simpler time he grew up in, when life was centered around family.
“Children today have a lot of distractions, which can make it hard for them to learn to pray,” he said. He advises parents to teach their young about God and try hard to instill moral values in their children.
His secret to living more than a century? It’s a simple one but worth remembering: “Everything in moderation,” Rom said. “Don’t go out and party all night, get wild and crazy and do too much of everything. The secret is to just know your limits.”
Photo provided: Fred Rom sits in Our Lady of Grace Church with two young friends, Jacob and Mark Lengers.