Centenarian celebration

Port Richmond native Emma Rotchford turned 100 years old last week.

A century to celebrate: Emma Rotchford celebrated her 100th birthday on Tuesday, Jan. 15, with her family, including her three great-grandchildren, Julia Grace, Madison Rose, and Kenneth William.PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ROTCHFORD FAMILY

By Melissa Komar

Family, friends and neighbors gathered in a house on the 2900 block of Cedar Street last Tuesday to celebrate a special milestone.

Port Richmond native Emma Rotchford turned 100, and with her many years of life come many memories.

“I was very happy about it. It was a surprise,” she said. “I had a lot of people come over. My whole family and neighbors.”

Rotchford still lives in the house where she “was born right up there in the bedroom.”

And, the business her family ran, Zobel’s Stables, is still there, although it ceased operations in 2005 when the last horse, Midnight, passed away.

“We had a stable here with horses, and we had a cow, and we had other animals,” Rotchford said. “A farm in the city. 1884 my dad started it.”

Rotchford served as the business’s bookkeeper.

Aside from being the bookkeeper, every day Rotchford walked her four grandchildren to and from school at the now closed Our Lady Help of Christians.

In addition to her four grandchildren, Rotchford has two sons and three great-grandchildren, all thanks to her and William Joseph Rotchford.

The couple was married for 20 years until he passed away in 1976.

Twenty years of marriage might not seem long for a centenarian, but Steven Rotchford, 57, one of the couple’s two sons, said their love story began long before.

Emma and William Rotchford pose for a picture. They were married for 20 years until he passed away in 1976.

“Her and my dad didn’t get married until they were close to 40,” he said. “They were childhood sweethearts. He grew up behind my mom’s house. He lived on Chatham Street, and my mom lived on Cedar Street. They grew up together.”

Much has changed in the 100 years Rotchford has lived in the neighborhood, including the loss of other longstanding businesses.

According to Rotchford, there was a jewelry store on Cedar Street, a butcher shop a couple of streets away and an A&P grocery store on Aramingo Avenue.

And, a handful of wars have occurred during her life.

“We were at a Jewish wedding when the Second World War broke out,” Rotchford said. “Everyone was shocked. We all stopped and looked at each other. But, the wedding continued.”

Rotchford paid her own tribute to history in 1943.

“I was Betsy Ross on the Fourth of July at our playground, Cohox Playground,” she said. “They had a big parade, and I rode on a carriage with a horse.”

Rotchford’s brother-in-law, Howard, dressed up as Uncle Sam for the occasion.

While things may have changed since 1943, Rotchford’s love for the neighborhood hasn’t.

“We enjoyed ourselves,” she said. “We always sat out on the porch and talked to each other, my husband, my parents and my children.”

Aside from her family, Rotchford spends time with her “best pal,” Snuggles, her 9-year-old Persian cat.

Another milestone Rotchford celebrated this year was attending her first Eagles game.

Asked if she is an avid fan, Rotchford replied, “I was,” jokingly.

Rotchford attended the final home game of the season at the Linc on Dec. 23 with her family.

“Oh, I enjoyed it. It was very good,” she said. “A lot of people came up and congratulated me for being there at my age.”

So, what’s the secret to living a long life?

“Being good,” Rotchford said. “I didn’t smoke and I didn’t drink. I went to church and I was a Sunday school teacher for 20 years.”

And, what’s on the horizon after hitting 100?

“God knows,” she said, laughing. “More [grand] babies.” ••