Hamburg woman celebrates 100th birthday
BY: LARRY WROBLEWSKI | January 30, 2013
Family and friends gathered at J&M’s West End Inn on Jan. 26 to celebrate the 100th birthday of Hamburg resident Elizabeth Fisher. Adding to the observance were proclamations from the Village of Hamburg, presented by Mayor Thomas Moses and the Erie County Legislature, presented by Legislator Lynne Dixon.
Betty, as she is known to friends has seen a lot of change since her birth prior to the First World War and she has a lifetime of experiences to go with it.
Born in Olean in 1913, tragedy struck early for the youngest of six children. Her mother passed away when Betty was only two. With her father and two brothers and three sisters in a better position to help make ends meet, she found herself spending a great deal of time at her grandmother’s house. She credits her oldest sister as the one who really stood up and kept the family together.
Life was difficult for almost everyone in those days, but she remembers her large childhood home with a sparkle in her eyes. “It was on a little hill, and the sidewalk went down from the front porch to the driveway that continued down. All the children just loved to go sledding there.” She’s thankful too that her father had the means to provide for his family, “We had that big house, and my parents had a second house that they rented,” Betty says, “That put us in a little better position than many of our neighbors.”
However, even better was not great and fun activities had to be self-made. “Around age 12, I was fascinated with acrobatics,” Betty remembers. “I used the corner of a room to learn to stand on my head until I could do it without any help.”
As she entered her teens, she was always turning heads with good looks and ended up being a contestant in the “Miss Olean” pageant. Betty remembers how it all happened. “I was playing violin someplace and a group of men approached me as asked if I’d be willing to represent North Olean in the pageant.”
Her teen years found her skirting the law as well. While a regular at her older sister’s house, her brother, a bathtub gin maker, would send her out to deliver his wares in a suitcase. It proved a perfect ruse with no one ever suspecting a teen-aged girl with valise as a bootlegger.
Not long after, she met Otto. So infatuated with each other, they married five days later. However, the two kept the wedding a secret for over a year. “We both lived at home and Otto would come over and take me out for dates,” Betty said. Worried what her family would say, she finally let the secret out and thankfully, the family responded positively. “My sister even threw me a wedding party,” she said.
The couple would have two daughters, both now deceased, and found themselves moving a fair bit, following Otto’s employment opportunities. However, an increasing use of alcohol by Otto and the mean side of his personality it brought out led to abuse and the two separated.
Left to raise her daughters, Betty returned to Olean. During the World War II, like so many of her peers, she took on the role of “Rosie the Riveter” installing detonators on bombs at a munitions factory in Eldred, Pa. Later she would find employment at a furniture factory where a young manager, Norman L. Fisher, Jr., caught her eye.
Norman, a native of Ashland, Pa. had first come to Olean to attend St. Bonaventure where he also played football. The war interrupted his education and found him serving in the South Pacific. At war’s end, he resumed his classes while also taking the post at the factory. After dating for a while, the two were married.
It was the pending construction of the Ford Stamping Plant in Woodlawn that brought their family to the area. After renting apartments in several locations, they bought the house in Hamburg where Betty still lives. They also added a son, Norman, to the family.
Her husband would pass away in 1991 and Betty continued her vibrant lifestyle. “She was still driving at age 95,” said her son Norm, a cameraman for Channel 2. She pretty much stays a homebody these days, enjoying television and a glass of sweet red wine. About the only thing that has changed over the years is her height. Barely 4-feet tall, Mayor Moses found himself on his knee to present the Village proclamation to her.
Her longevity is not all that surprising to her, her father lived to 97, but she wonders why she is still here. For her son, daughter-in-law Grazyna , granddaughter Jessica and friends gathered to celebrate they know the reason, to serve as an inspiration to them and others and hopefully for many years to come.