Lawrence James Frankel

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Lawrence James Frankel

Birthplace: New York, New York, United States
Death: December 18, 2004 (100)
Charleston, Kanawha County, West Virginia, United States
Place of Burial: Charleston, Kanawha County, West Virginia, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Icko Frenkiel and Bertha Frankel
Husband of Dorothy Frankel
Brother of Abraham Harold Frankel; Dr. Charles James Frankel, M.D.; Dorothy Frankel and Esther Goldstein

Occupation: clothing store proprietor (1930)
Managed by: Hatte Anne Blejer
Last Updated:

About Lawrence James Frankel

Lawrence James Frankel

Lawrence James Frankel, 100, fitness pioneer and dear friend to many, died peacefully at his Charleston home on Saturday, Dec. 18, after a long illness.

Mr. Frankel was born in New York City on Nov. 22, 1904, the middle child of the five Frankel children. His parents, Bertha and Isaac Frankel were immigrants from Lithuania. When he was six years old, his mother took him to a home for the aged in lower Manhattan to visit a friend of the family. The sight of the frail older adults who had been abandoned there by their families saddened him. His memories of that day catalyzed his “passion for compassion” and inspired the decision to dedicate his life to improving the lives of older people. Thus began his amazing life as an educator, author, motivator and advocate of physical fitness for life.

Mr. Frankel studied business at Columbia and New York Universities before moving to West Virginia in 1927. He met the love of his life, Dorothy, in 1932, and in 1939, the two were married. He soon became involved in teaching gymnastics and physical activity to Charleston area youths as the Physical Fitness Director of the Charleston YMCA. For 20 years, the man known as “Superman” by his pupils organized exercise programs for countless individuals whom he lovingly called his “boys.” His physical strength was legendary; a photo featuring Frankel appeared in the 1946 “Ripley's Believe it or Not” and he was known around town for a handgrip strong enough to lift a 650-pound weight. He founded the Frankel Institute in 1959 and later the Frankel Foundation to further his health programs for individuals who were typically discouraged from engaging in physical activity, including children with asthma, visual impairments and chronic disabilities. His innovative programs were featured in a documentary film and in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Mr. Frankel often referred to a passage he remembered from Synagogue as a child: “Cast me not aside in my old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth” (Psalm 71:9). He knew that being active was the key to a good life and that “what you prevent needs no cure.” His life crusade for encouraging physical activity for all was given a name in 1970, Preventicare, a holistic approach that emphasizes regular exercise for individuals who become sedentary as they age. As told to the New York Times in 1980, Mr. Frankel had a mission “to motivate elderly people to be more active if they are able to resist the ravages and unhappiness of old age.” He wrote an exercise book for older adults, “Be Alive as Long as You Live,” and made it his life's work to inspire people to improve their quality of life by avoiding the enforced inactivity which comes with age.

The Preventicare program continues today as a positive alternative to institutionalized care and a means to slow the effects of aging through the “nobility of mobility.” His program has been featured in newspapers and received widespread attention during the first international conference on “Prevention: The Key to Health for Life.” The awards that Mr. Frankel has received for his efforts include an honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Charleston, the Distinguished West Virginian award, and multiple Career Achievement Awards from West Virginia University. His scrapbook is filled with letters of commendation from government officials such as President Ronald Reagan and J. Edgar Hoover, as well as countless new articles about his life and achievements. Other Frankel memorabilia can be found in the Lawrence J. Frankel Library Room at West Virginia University Health Sciences Center, Charleston division. Among his many dreams, Mr. Frankel wanted to reach the age of 100. He reached his goal. Friends and well-wishers from across the country, including several of his pupils, attended Mr. Frankel's 100th birthday celebration last month at the Charleston Marriott.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Bertha and Issac B. Frankel; four siblings; and his loving wife, Dorothy.

He is survived by his stepdaughter, Susan and her husband, Bob Mairs, of Richmond, Va.; grandchildren, Linda Duvall and Jim Mairs of Richmond, Va.; and by four great-grandchildren. Mr. Frankel is also survived by the countless individuals whose lives he touched - his “boys” from Charleston, friends who shared his vision for Preventicare, his wonderful caregivers, and so many others who are healthier and happier as a result of knowing him.

Mr. Frankel's life represented a century of achievement. He will be missed, but his life's work will continue through the next century as more and more seniors become physically active.

Lawrence J. Frankel, the man who so many called “ahead of his time,” will never be forgotten.

Funeral service will be 2 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 22, at Barlow-Bonsall Funeral Home in Charleston, with Rabbi Israel Koller officiating. Friends and family may visit one hour prior to the service.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the West Virginia University Health Sciences Center, Charleston Division, for development of the Lawrence J. Frankel Library Room; or to the West Virginia University Center on Aging, both at 2300 MacCorkle Ave. SE, Charleston, WV 25304.

Barlow-Bonsall Funeral Home is handling the arrangements.

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Lawrence James Frankel's Timeline

November 22, 1904
New York, New York, United States
December 18, 2004
Age 100
Charleston, Kanawha County, West Virginia, United States
Charleston, Kanawha County, West Virginia, United States