Local Obituaries

Jack Snitkin, who had a ‘contract with God,’ dies at 105

“Birthday Boy” Jack Snitkin at his 105th birthday part at Mo’s Bagel and Deli in Aventura.
“Birthday Boy” Jack Snitkin at his 105th birthday part at Mo’s Bagel and Deli in Aventura.

Jack Snitkin’s favorite saying was that he was “100-percent.”

“We used to call him “100-percent Jack,” his daughter Linda Vono said. “That really summed him up. He was a character. Incredibly optimistic.”

Her dad, she said, was always looking forward to the future. “He literally talked about renewing his ‘contract with the Man upstairs’ — usually in five-year installments.”

Snitkin renewed a lot of contracts. His “contract with the Man upstairs expired” on May 1, his daughter said. He was 105 and would have celebrated his 106th birthday on June 25. He’d already penciled in a cruise on Queen Mary 2 to mark the occasion as he’d never been to Europe.

But he loved Las Vegas, often traveling from his home in Aventura. There, he would party with his daughter and his niece, Diana Saunders, a former Vegas showgirl, whom he adored.

Snitkin, a World War II veteran who served in the Army and worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard as a time keeper and ship-builder assistant, had simple tastes, Vono said: “His beloved Yankees and baseball, Las Vegas action and going to the track.”

His favorite trip to Vegas happened on his 103rd birthday. Marie Osmond, who was headlining her stage show with brother Donny at The Flamingo on the Strip, serenaded Snitkin before a full house.

“Later, people greeted him in the casino like he was a rock star,” his daughter said.

So add Osmond to his list of likes. Frank Sinatra, too. Half-and-half creamer — which he’d drink straight up by the gallon. Smoked fish and sweets. Blackberry brandy and chicken wings. Bus trips to Lincoln Road Mall.

And though he lived through silent movies, the Golden Age of Hollywood, the Golden Age of Live Television, computers, internet and smartphones, somehow he dug “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” on TV in his 100s.

“He used to say to me, ‘Linda! They have sex on that show! I can’t believe it.’ In his Brooklyn accent he would say that. ‘They have sex on that show!’ He was a real character,” Vono said.

“What can I say about my Uncle Jack? He was a force to be reckoned with,” his niece wrote for his eulogy. “I have never met a man who loved life as much as he did. Whenever we spoke on the phone, he would always YELL! He said, and I quote, ‘YOU ARE IN VEGAS AND I AM SO FAR AWAY IN FLORIDA!’ I guess modern technology never got the best of him. Not much ever did. He might have spent his days counting his pennies, but he always did it with a smile.”

Snitkin was born in East New York, Brooklyn, on June 25, 1911. William Howard Taft was the 27th president. The Titanic hadn’t sailed yet. Chevrolet was still five months from its founding to give Ford competition in the U.S. market. His adopted city of Miami was about to celebrate its 15th birthday.

His first job, as automobiles replaced the horse and buggy as Americans’ favored mode of conveyance, was pumping gas. New York mobsters with names like Three Fingered Brown, Pittsburgh Phil and The Mad Hatter were among his best customers.

“They called him Black Jack because of his jet black hair and would allow only him to take care of their cars and they tipped him lavishly for it,” Vono said.

Snitkin owned and operated a midtown Manhattan parking lot and moved to North Miami Beach in 1964. He later sold the lot and ran a parking garage operation for a real estate company before retiring.

Like George Burns and Gracie Allen, he played straight man to his wife, Fay, who could have been a professional comedienne, said Vono, their only child.

“He didn’t want any children and then he had me and I was the apple of his eye. He’d walk me around the neighborhood showing me off,” she said.

After his wife died in 1994, Snitkin had his elder brother Willie move from Los Angeles to live with him in 2002.

“The Boys,” as they were called, rode the bus to Lincoln Road, “just to walk around, people-watch and eat,” his daughter told the Miami Herald in 2016 as her dad celebrated his 105th at Mo’s Bagels & Deli in Aventura.

“We took long drives on Collins Avenue to South Beach and A1A to Palm Beach, where they would have a running dialogue about how the rich people lived,” Vono said.

“We took many a road trip when he came to Vegas,” added Saunders. “From Lake Las Vegas where we discovered a jazz band playing by the lake to celebrating his 103rd birthday at The Bootlegger restaurant. He loved everything Vegas and was a delight to entertain.”

Brother Willie died at 103 in 2010.

Their secret to longevity? Certainly not their father, who died when Snitkin was 6 and his brother 11. Healthy eating? Nutritionists be damned. “My father never met a vegetable he liked,” Vono said.

Maybe it was his ebullient spirit. “I never get upset about anything,” the centenarian said to the Herald at his 105th.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Sunday at Mount Sinai Memorial Park, 1125 NW 137th St., Opa-locka. “Then we’re going to Mo’s to eat smoked fish in my father’s honor.”

Howard Cohen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCohen