You don’t meet too many octogenarians who relish spending time at a computer or playing the piano, but Charles E. King is no ordinary man.
At 83, he said there is no secret elixir to staying active except for his desire to discover new things and keep busy.
King, who was born in the Prospect neighborhood of Johnstown and graduated from Greater Johnstown High School in 1948, wanted to be a journalist but got sidetracked.
He is a musician, teacher, author and tennis player who has no intention of slowing down.
“I really believe I will live to be 100 years old because I exercise, enjoy music and keep my mind sharp,” he said during an interview at his residence at Joseph Johns Towers in downtown Johnstown. “I just can’t sit still.”
Following graduation, King chose to join the Navy for a four-year stint.
However, with the outbreak of the Korean War, his time of service was extended 18 months.
He served as a radio operator and Morse code became a second language.
After being discharged from the Navy, King took advantage of the G.I. Bill to attend Temple University to study electronics.
“I was unable to get into the school of journalism, but chose electronics instead,” he said.
He left school to take a job with Univac in order to get in on the ground floor of computers.
“I spent 15 years at Univac and when I got laid off in 1971, I decided to go back to Philadelphia Community College to get an associate degree in data processing,” he said.
He eventually went to Combs College of Music, where he earned a bachelor of arts degree in music.
He also earned a bachelor of science degree in management information systems in 1992 at Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science, which later became part of Philadelphia University.
“It was the best move I ever made because it taught me about critical thinking, which still works in my life today,” he said.
King left Philadelphia in September and returned to his Johnstown roots at the urging of his daughter, Donna Jean Williams, and her husband, the Rev. Richard Williams, of Johnstown.
“My father-in-law always loved Johnstown even though he left,” Richard Williams said. “He wanted to come back to contribute to the good of the community because what he learned here was instrumental in his success.”
Anyone visiting King’s small, one-bedroom apartment can’t help but notice things that may not be found in an octegenarian’s home. Piles of computer books are stacked near the door, not far from an acoustical guitar and violin. There also are books of sheet music mixed in with family photos and memorabilia that are a reflection of an interesting life.
Instead of a television, King prefers browsing his computer.
He tracks world events on a large global map hanging in his living room. From the Aleutian Islands and Korea, where he was stationed during his Navy days, to hot spots in the Middle East, pennant pins are scattered over the map.
King has maintained a high regard for Johnstown because it’s the place where he had the love of family and received a strong education.
“Johnstown High School gave me a great foundation to carry on my life’s work no matter what direction it took me,” he said.
In the 1980s, King also was the leader of The Charles King Trio, where he played piano and was joined by two musicians who played tenor sax and bass.
“We did all kinds of engagements from cocktail parties, dinners and dances,” he said. “We played all kinds of music.”
Even now, King can be found at the piano performing nearly every day at St. Vincent de Paul’s Family Kitchen on Bedford Street.
“I play some jazz, show tunes and even Latin,” he said. “I have a good insight on what people like to hear.”
King is the author of several self-published books starting with “How to Make Music” in 1995. He followed with “Thank You Jesus for Johnstown, Pennsylvania!” (Xlibris Publishing) in 2008.
“I didn’t like the way the direction of the country was going in 2000 and decided to to put into words how I felt about preserving our democracy,” he said. “Our representatives are being paid and they’re not doing their job for the people.”
He is writing a third book, which he hopes will be published by the end of the year.
“It’s about what’s going on in small-town America,” he said.
After being a substitute teacher in the Philadelphia education system for 12 years, where he taught algebra, geometry and computer science, he believes students are getting shortchanged.
King’s enthusiasm is unbounded.
He is about to open the Johnstown School of Music at 200 Lincoln St. in downtown Johnstown.
“My nephew, Oscar Cashaw, (owner of Fitness Weights and Aerobics) gave me enough space in the building to begin a school for people of all ages,” King said.
“It’s all about teaching people, especially youngsters, on how to make music.”
He will stress music theory and concentrate on the five factors of major, minor, dominant, augmented and diminished.
“I want to teach children and adults in the same fashion we learned our ABCs,” he said. “I will offer 12-week sessions and fill the need that asks students to become critical thinkers and how to harmonize. Every note shares a path and what to do with it.”
Classes will run five days a week with 90-minute sessions being conducted for children ages 5 to 12 and other classes for older students, including adults.
Each session costs $6 for those 5 to 12 and $12 a lesson for older students.
“I will be available all day every day if it means helping someone,” King said.
Classes can be arranged by calling 215-588-9881 or 322-7709.
Tom Lavis covers Features for the Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter.com/Tom LavisTD.