Alma Burr celebrated her 100th birthday Dec. 5, at Brandywine Living at Seaside Pointe in Rehoboth Beach, where she has resided since April 2014. She enjoyed her special day with a champagne toast, birthday cake, cards, balloons, and music provided by a very small, masked and socially distanced group of staff members. Burr’s niece Rhonda Kane and her husband Paul of Lewes were not able to attend because of COVID-19 visitor restrictions, but Rhonda prepared the following tribute to her beloved aunt:
Dec. 5, 2020 represents an amazing milestone in my aunt’s life, because today she turns 100 years old. She was born Alma Mary Ambler on a small farm in Burlington, N.J. Her only sibling, my mother Barbara, was born in 1926.
Before and during the Great Depression, my grandfather was a truck farmer who grew fruits and vegetables, and the family ate plenty of them every day. I believe that my aunt’s frugal but healthful diet and her good eating habits, developed as a child and practiced throughout her life, partly account for her remarkable longevity.
Because there weren’t any neighborhood children to play with, Alma and Barbara became each other’s best friends, which lasted throughout their lifetimes. Cats, dogs, and baby chickens were their playmates on the farm, and reading books soon became one of Alma’s favorite pastimes, which she still enjoys today. She learned how to play the piano at an early age and took lessons as an adult to improve her skills. My brother Randy and I grew up listening to her play our favorite songs from musicals, patriotic tunes, and Christmas carols.
My grandmother taught her daughters how to sew and to do a variety of needlework, skills she had learned as an apprentice in a bridal shop. Alma used these skills to knit baby sweaters for Randy and me, to sew beautiful dresses for me during my teens, to crochet afghans for senior centers, and to make needlepoint pillows and reupholster furniture for her own home.
Aunt Alma was a conscientious student all during her school years; she was on the honor roll all four years and also played tennis. She even earned special recognition in high school for never missing a day of school and never being tardy for her classes. She loved learning and wanted to become a teacher, but her parents couldn’t afford to send her to college. Instead, she followed the commercial curriculum in high school, learning to type, write business letters, take shorthand, and do bookkeeping and accounting.
After graduating at age 17 in 1938, Aunt Alma went to work as a bookkeeper for Mr. Keeler, a wholesale grocer in downtown Burlington. For three years, she worked 10-hour days, six days a week, for $10 per week.
Shortly after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, she began working as a bookkeeper for Wall Rope Works in Beverly, N.J., one of only three rope manufacturers in the U.S. Her new job paid $12 per week for shorter 8-9-hour days Monday-Friday, and she only had to work a half-day on Saturday. She told me that Wall Rope Works had national importance and was designated as an A-1 company during World War II, when 100 percent of its rope product was sold to the federal government for military use.
Early in 1942, my aunt volunteered during evenings and weekends with the American Red Cross effort to collect demographic data on America’s immigrant population, including their country of origin. Before this, the government had no idea where immigrants entering the country settled, because there was no centralized database.
My aunt can clearly recall the hard times during WWII when almost every U.S. commodity was rationed, unavailable, in short supply, or extremely expensive. Despite wartime restrictions and scarcities, few people complained, because they believed it was their patriotic duty to contribute to the war effort and to buy U.S. Savings Bonds.
My aunt remembers attending chaperoned USO dances at nearby Fort Dix, and she occasionally invited some GIs for a home-cooked meal at her parents’ house, where she lived until she got married. The homesick GIs always brought generous gifts of rationed food staples like coffee, sugar, and flour.
At Wall Rope Works, my aunt was soon promoted to supervise the payroll staff that also handled personnel and employee insurance issues. As Wall’s bond agent, she worked with the Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia on issuance of “E Bonds” purchased by employees. Because Wall Rope Works had unanimous employee participation in the War Bond drive through weekly pay deductions, the company could proudly fly a special E Bond Flag outside their building, a prized status symbol.
Alma met and fell in love with Snowden Haines Burr, the company’s office manager, and they married in 1947. Although they did not have any children, they owned three dearly loved Boston Terriers over the years, each named Chipper.
Aunt Alma and Uncle “Snowdie” loved working at Wall Rope Works because the company’s owners and staff were like a big family. For many years, my aunt helped to organize office food, clothing and toy drives to help needy families during the holidays. They both retired after 40 years of employment.
Because my aunt and mom had a very close relationship, Randy and I grew up regularly seeing our aunt and uncle during most holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions. My aunt and uncle joined my family during several summer vacations to the beach at Surf City, N.J., which Randy and I will always remember as some of the happiest times of our lives. My aunt and uncle’s generosity with my brother and me had no limits, and Aunt Alma continued to surprise us with special gifts even after our beloved uncle passed away in 1968.
Aunt Alma became like a second mother to Randy and me growing up. She is fun-loving, and in her younger years she told lots of funny jokes and played miniature golf and silly games like tiddlywinks with Randy and me. She is always a good sport, and I remember her infectious laugh that would make others – even strangers – smile or laugh too, simply from hearing her. I vacationed twice in Hawaii with my aunt as a young adult, and I always enjoy her company.
Because Aunt Alma is a voracious reader and a lifelong learner, she is well versed on a lot of topics and became a WWII history buff. She often consulted her World Book encyclopedias to check a fact or learn something new. When she owned a home, it was immaculately clean and tidy, and it was beautifully furnished and decorated, including fresh flowers she arranged and ceramics she made. As a widow, she had the determination to tackle numerous do-it-yourself home improvement and repair projects. She is a member of the “Greatest Generation” who is smart, self-reliant, and patriotic. Like my mom and grandmother, Aunt Alma is one of the most talented, accomplished, giving and loving women I have ever known. Randy and I are so very blessed to have her in our lives, and we wish her a very Happy 100th Birthday with lots of love, kisses, and hugs.