ENGLEWOOD — John P. Alsten does not work as many hours as he used to, but it still may be considerably more than most people his age. Alsten will be turning 105 on Thursday and is as busy as ever in his workshop.
“It’s absolutely incredible,” said Jean Airey, his daughter. “Right now, he’s building a table leg for a lady who picked up a table by the side of the road (that had a fancy curved leg that was broken with dovetail joints.) He’s rebuilding a new leg for the table for her.”
Alsten is a jack-of-all-trades handyman who has experience as a carpenter, cabinet maker, plumber, electrician, roofer and wallpaper hanger.
After high school, he went to a trade school where he was introduced to tools.
“Some of them, I’ve had for 40 years,” Alsten said. “The tools that I have don’t break down. I take care of them.”
Alsten still works three to four hours a day doing woodworking and metalworking in his workshop.
“He grew up during the Depression and kind of learned every skill he could in order to put bread on the table for the family,” Airey said. “Although his official training in trade school was as a cabinet maker, he went on and did anything he could learn how to do.”
Alsten spent most of his professional life in the New York State Health Department as the health exhibits supervisor building furniture. He made a special lectern for the department laboratory that could be adjusted by folding if the speaker was too small.
“A light would come on if there were three minutes left (to speak),” he said. “I built it all myself.”
Alsten was fond of cars once he was of legal age to drive and built his own Model T Ford. “Since I was 16 or 17, we lived in the country about seven miles from Worcester, Mass.,” Alsten said. “My father had a job at an automotive supplier. First car we got was a Model T Ford. He always had one. When he drove one for so long, he’d get another one.”
Alsten drove for 87 years and fixed cars when needed. It wasn’t until recently he finally stopped driving.
“I like to read and do crossword puzzles,” Alsten said. “I didn’t need glasses until I was 70. Then I had to get them or else I’d lose my driver’s license. I had my license until about a year ago when I gave it up at 103.”
Nancy Wille, a friend, met Alsten through Airey. “Jean had to take his car away, because otherwise, he’d go uptown,” Wille said. Wille said she’s amazed at Alsten’s abilities. “Every time I go over to Jean’s, he’s either working in the workshop, making mandolins for her or taking a nap,” Wille said. “He still talks about his college days. He knows everything that’s going on. He loves company. He loves people. He loves being down here.”