By: Jack Fox
Reverend Clarence Sickles is no stranger to success, but turning 98 is a new kind of achievement for the community pillar and founder of Heath Village— even if the Reverend attributes this one to, “Good genes and a good wife who was very supportive of me.” When asked if he had any other insights into his longevity, Reverend Sickles added, “I also exercised regularly, never smoked; I don’t indulge in excessive drinking, and I pray – a lot.”
Born on February 11th, 1921 in Harrison, New Jersey, Reverend Sickles says that his pursuit of education is one of his proudest accomplishments. “In order to attend college, I had to attend St. Benedict’s school for a year, Barringer Night School for a year, and finally 1 month of classes, five nights a week at a school in New York. It was really tough and I am proud that I had the tenacity to stick with it.” The Reverend eventually transferred to Columbia University, where he majored in English with a concentration in writing.
That education has played a major part in the Reverend’s success. A pillar of faith for decades, the Reverend’s work as an Episcopal Minister has touched the lives of an untold number of citizens. It also allowed him to write four separate books, including The History of the Ten Commandments, and three children’s books.
It was not until 1966, though, that Reverend Sickles founded Heath Village. Now more than fifty years old, the Hackettstown Retirement Community has provided many of its oldest citizens with the quality of life that they deserve. When asked how it felt to have founded Heath Village, the Reverend said that it was, “…beyond belief – really a miracle. So many people helped me; my wife Jean, in particular, was a special help. There was opposition. People thought it couldn’t get done. There were some very negative attitudes, but we prevailed. It was a combination of a government program, private business and the church that, ultimately, made it happen.”
Wanting to ensure that Heath Village retains a personalized, community-oriented touch, the Reverend does still insist on sending out personalized birthday cards for every single resident, saying, “I enjoy doing it very much. I have an assistant who helps me keep up with it now, but I started it because I wanted to be sure that no one in the Village would be without a card on their birthday.”
Regarding the greatest lesson he felt he’d learned in his life, Reverend Sickles also provided a dollop of wisdom: “To help other people; that is what is most important. Or, in the words of Saint Matthew, Chapter 10, Verse 39: ‘He who finds life, will lose it.’ People today are so consumed with “finding themselves”, but the bible tells us “lose yourself” to causes and people that are greater than yourself. Service above self is an important lesson for everyone.”
Of course, Reverend Sickles still knows how to have fun even at 98. “I enjoy watching college football, wrestling and track & field,” he said when asked about how he spends his spare time. “I sometimes read the newspapers. In my younger days, I enjoyed handwriting analysis.”
Hopefully, he will continue to enjoy these hobbies— and to enrich the lives of Heath Village’s residents— for many more years to come.