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Growing, picking fruit gives him pluck at 100

A former home builder is passionate about his trees and about vitamins and sports cars.

By MICHAEL SHEPARD

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 7, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- On this cold, rainy February day, Frank Ziniker is 100 years old and 12 feet off of the ground.

He is on an aluminum ladder that leans against an orange tree in the back of his modest house. His limber body stretches out for a sizeable navel orange, which he puts in a pail he's holding. He climbs down, puts the pail on the ground and with pride looks around one of the two large citrus tree-filled lots. He ducks and weaves under the low branches to place his pail by a little cart.

He entered his second century on Jan. 16.

He started working with fruit trees when he was in his 60s. As he surveys the trees, he talks proudly of not using pesticides, and will tell you the different insects that cause trouble and how to battle them.

He still starts each day with a little weeding and trimming. Then he starts pulling the ripe fruit off the trees, working to fulfill the phone orders he receives daily from a growing list of regular customers. He will even load their car if they let him.

He was the eighth of 10 children born to John and Farina Ziniker on a cattle ranch in Salem, Ore., and is the last surviving. When Frank turned 8, his family moved to Camas, Wash., where they inherited another farm. He has fond memories of the one-room schoolhouse and walking the ranch with his father and watching him attend to the day's work.

In 1923 he enrolled in business college, where he would meet and eventually marry his wife, Jenneve, in 1925. They returned to Frank's family farm, where Frank took over for his 80-year-old father, until one day he delivered milk to a home builder who intrigued him.

"I studied his work and really liked talking to him, so I said if he can do it, so can I."

His wife was adamant about only one thing: She couldn't handle the damp weather of the Northwest. "She said California or Arizona. I said Florida," he said, "because of intuition."

They arrived in St. Petersburg in 1949 and Frank started building homes. The name of his company? "Frank Ziniker. I just built homes."

In 1963 he retired from the home-building business after buying the house -- and the two large lots that are now packed with his fruit trees.

"I started just planting some orange trees and see if I could get them to grow. I learned mostly by doing it."

He branched out from his orange trees and experimented with others. His crops now include papayas, tiny finger bananas, lemons, avocados, pecans, figs and three types of grapefruit.

"My big sellers are still navel oranges, lemons and avocados."

He has had no vices since quitting smoking in his 30s, but he remembers with a wry smile the moonshine still he used to own. He decided to give up alcohol while in his 20s because he didn't like the taste. He is passionate about vitamin and mineral supplements. "Feed your body what your body needs. Prescription medication is poison, and our bodies are not meant to ingest poison."

He loves sports cars. In the early 1980s, he bought a new Corvette. Once, when he heard a friend say she had never been to Portland, Ore., Frank loaded up the Corvette and off the two went across the country. Later, he sold the car when he had to let his license go a "few years ago."

These days he enjoys reading a newspaper or magazine when his work is done for the day. He hates TV and dismisses it with a wave of his hand.

A warm smile crosses his features when he mentions the large birthday party his neighborhood Crime Watch had for him. There were a lot of friends, gifts and food.

A customer arrives to pick up her order.

"A man tried to buy (the property) and begged me to sell, but money doesn't do any good anymore," he said.

He walked away to fill his order.

100-year birthdays

We think that living a hundred years is worth our taking notice. If you or someone in your family is about to celebrate his or her 100th birthday, let us know.

Please include the following information: full name of the celebrant, date of birth, parents' names if known, place of birth, an indication of how long the birthday person has lived in this area, and a phone number in case we have questions.

We'll publish the information as close to the birthday as possible.

Send the information to 100-Year Birthdays, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731-1121 or fax to (727) 893-8675.

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