Arthur Plotkin received a letter from the Obamas. The note, which congratulated the Squirrel Hill resident on becoming a centenarian, was signed by both the president and first lady.
After Plotkin’s daughter, Maxine Plotkin, read the message aloud, Plotkin, who turns 101 later this year, replied, “How much did it cost me?”
To say that Plotkin is still sharp may be accurate, but to call him crisp would be more precise.
Up until last year, Plotkin still worked at his family-owned dry cleaner, Nu-Life. Three days a week, Plotkin traveled to the Braddock plant to spot, remove stains and press anywhere “between 50 to 75 pairs of pants during a four-hour shift,” said his son, Leonard Plotkin.
The process, which required the senior Plotkin to stand over a hot press, pushing down on a pedal while steam spewed out, was only part of what impressed Ted Goleman, Arthur Plotkin’s son-in-law.
“He would lift and throw laundry bags that were 30 or 40 pounds onto a counter that was 40 inches high, and that was recently. Amazing,” remarked Goleman.
Plotkin is not certain as to why he has lived so long, but while speaking with The Chronicle he offered a number of possibilities.
“I worked, and maybe that kept me in shape,” he said.
For years, he also did push-ups, he added. “Twenty-five a day for a long time.”
But Plotkin, who was born at Montefiore Hospital on Nov. 5, 1915, also recalled an event from earlier in life that may have contributed to his longevity.
“My mother took me to the train station when I was [a teenager]” to greet the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, when he stopped in Pittsburgh during a 1928-1929 tour of the United States. “We were waiting on the platform. I went inside the train, because he couldn’t move,” said Plotkin. “I didn’t know what he said, but he made some kind of remarks and he put his hands on my head.
“I was too young to really appreciate it,” added Plotkin of the blessing, “but looking back on it, maybe there was something to it.”
Plotkin’s mother, Mary, who owned Plotkin’s Poultry Market at 2238 Murray Ave. in Squirrel Hill, was close to the Lubavitch community and had contributed money to the early Yeshiva schools.
Though raised on Miller Street in the Hill District, Plotkin and his family moved to Squirrel Hill around 1930.
Each day after school, Plotkin worked in the poultry market, cleaning chickens, opening them up, inserting cleavers and delivering the fowls if need be, he explained.
After graduating Taylor Allderdice High School in February 1932, he stayed on for another half year to study accounting.
“He used to be called, ‘A book in britches,’” said his daughter.
In 1941, Plotkin joined the Army, rising to the rank of staff sergeant.
After training in Tucson, Ariz., Plotkin went to Japan to aid reconnaissance efforts by studying photographs that military pilots had taken.
“I was at Iejima, [an island near the coast of Okinawa, Japan]. It was the base for B-24s,” he said. “I was stationed in Japan when they announced that Japan had surrendered.”
Following the war, Plotkin returned to Pittsburgh. He started his dry-cleaning business in 1951.
“I think my brother started me in there. He had a business outside of Pittsburgh,” Plotkin recalled.
That same year, Plotkin married Miriam Rachel Neuman of Harrisburg. The couple met via Plotkin’s next-door neighbor.
“The neighbor had a crush on [my dad], but he wasn’t interested so she introduced him to her cousin … my mother,” said Maxine Plotkin.
The couple briefly lived in Bethel Park but moved to Squirrel Hill in 1953. Five years later, they settled on Morrowfield Avenue, in a home where their three children, Marsha, Maxine and Leonard were raised.
Each day, Plotkin traveled to his Braddock plant for work. Eventually, he opened another store on Hobart Street in Squirrel Hill where laundering and pressing occurred.
After vandalism in the Braddock building last year, the family closed both sites.
“It became too costly to repair, and it just wasn’t worth repairing,” said the daughter.
In 1978, Plotkin and his wife moved to the Imperial House. Ten years later, his wife passed away. He never remarried.
Plotkin’s home is decorated with photographs, many of his six grandchildren. A large collage, which was made for his 100th birthday, rests in his living room. Appended to the board are old pictures of Plotkin dating back to his days on the Hill, some from his time in the military, details from his wedding and newspaper clippings bearing advertisements for the dry cleaners or poultry market.
When asked what advice Plotkin has for the young, he is quick to answer.
“Stay out of trouble, because then you wouldn’t have any problems. Go to school, learn to be a doctor or a lawyer. Make a lot of money so you can give it away — you want everybody to be happy and not struggle for a living. If you’re capable, do something good for humanity,” he said.
And before ending his sagacious counsel, Plotkin offered one more pressing piece of guidance: “Enjoy life, sometimes you don’t live that long.”
>>The Jewish Chronicle is interested in writing more profiles about the community’s centenarians. If you know of someone who is about to turn 100 or recently turned 100, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.