By SHANNON TAYLOR
OBSERVER Staff Writer
Gertrude Ortlieb has worked almost every year of her life.
This is no small feat for a soon-to-be centenarian. For this Dunkirk resident celebrating her 100th birthday in June, "retirement" has only been a brief break between jobs.
"My life has been nothing but a working career," Ortlieb said.
Ortlieb was born June 17, 1912 in Fredonia to Amelia (Spoden) and William Ortlieb. She had a brother named Frank. Together they lived on their small family farm.
"It wasn't a big farm," said James Leonards of Gowanda, Ortlieb's cousin. "They grew things to live. They had a couple of cows, pigs and chickens and some vegetables but it was not a big commercial farm."
Ortlieb's father died in 1928, leaving Amelia and the children to take care of the farm themselves. Ortlieb also went to school during this time.
After graduating from Fredonia High School in 1929 and from the Dunkirk Business Institute, Ortlieb started work at the Warder Paper Box Factory in March 1930. The company moved to Niagara Falls in November 1931, so Ortlieb changed jobs to the Safe Store, where she worked for 30 years as a bookkeeper and a secretary.
The Safe Store closed in 1961, so Ortlieb was forced to change jobs again. She started work at the Lake Shore Bank as the head bookkeeper and remained there until she retired in June 1977.
But her work life did not end with this retirement. Ortlieb immediately started work at AAA as a bookkeeper and remained there for five years. She then took one year off from work until she was approached by an auditing group which asked her to do their books for them. She accepted their offer and remained there until April 30 of this year. She plans to remain retired this time.
Currently Ortlieb lives in an apartment and often goes out to be with her friends. She is still in very good health.
"She still does her own grocery shopping and cooks for herself. My son is a physician, and he says she's a medical miracle," said Jean Cole of Dunkirk, Ortlieb's friend and neighbor. "She is an amazing woman."
Cole and Ortlieb over the years have become more than just neighbors and friends.
"She is very involved with my family," Cole said. "I have seven children, and she has been like a great-grandma to them in the respect that every milestone she has celebrated with us: the first communions, the graduations, the weddings, new babies. She is a cherished and dear friend, and she has become a part of our family."
In becoming a part of the family, Ortlieb has become a major influence for them.
"She has instilled in my children the work ethic and a strong sense of faith," says Jean.
Ortlieb and her friends and family joke about the secret to her long life and younger- looking appearance. They attribute it to her never being married, but they also credit the fact that she has so many friends - and she values those friends.
"She writes them notes, sends them a card or gives them a call for little things that a lot of people wouldn't even think of such as getting a promotion," Cole said. "She is very thoughtful and very caring and treasures her friends. More than anything, she just wants to spend time with the people she has come to love."
Her hobbies are knitting and playing cards. Her favorite card game is pinochle. She often goes to local areas such as the Moose Lodge, the Elk's Club, St. Joseph's and St. Anthony's with her friends to play.
Ortlieb has not forgotten her former connection to farm life; she also supports the local farmers.
"We would always go to local flower shops to get flowers to put on cemeteries or go to local farmers to get raspberries and other fruits when they were in season," Cole said. "She appreciated the work of the farmer because she had grown up on a farm."
Ortlieb has been a member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, formerly St. Mary's, since 1976. She has been very active in the church, including being the eucharistic minister and lector for many years.
Ortlieb will be celebrating her birthday with friends and family. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church will also be holding a Mass for her on June 17.
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