“Life is like a bridge game. You have to play the cards you are dealt. You can’t make faces … you just make the best of it.”
These wise words reflect Ida Rotman’s life perspective. Choose to participate. Give it your best shot. And, because we are talking about bridge, remember to have a good time.
These are words worth heeding. At age 103, Ida is a highly credible voice.
It’s not that she believes that life is without its challenges.
“Sure there are aches and pains…
It’s how she chooses to manage these hurdles.
… But, you learn to get used to it. Who are you going to complain to? What are you going to do about it anyways?”
Actually, Ida has always known how to navigate life. You roll up your sleeves and make it happen.
Ida was a young girl during the Depression. The hardships of that era shaped her life perspective. Starting at age 14, she worked at her father’s credit union in Dorchester MA. She remained in the workforce for more than 60 years.
“I’ve always felt better when I was working.”
During the Depression, young people got together at small house parties. That was the setting when Ida met her husband Murray. They created a marriage that was built to last. In 2004, a few months before Murray’s death, the couple celebrated their 70th anniversary.
In the early years, Murray was the family breadwinner while Ida raised their three sons. He started out as a day laborer at Jordan Marsh in downtown Boston. In the 40s, it was standard for stores to select their sales force on a day-to-day basis. Job security was a rarity. Those lucky enough to be chosen to sell women’s shoes on a Monday might be picked to sell men’s suits on Tuesday.
Murray made the rounds as a daylong salesman in various Jordan departments. He found that he was particularly drawn to selling carpet and furniture. The management recognized his interest in the merchandise and he was hired to regularly work in these departments. His knowledgeable of these products broadened. He was offered a buyer’s position in C T Sherer’s department store in Worcester, a city 40 miles west of Boston. Murray moved there to get settled, and Ida and their sons joined him a few months later.
Murray moved ahead in the industry. His sales position led to a management role when he held the lease for Sherer’s carpet and furniture departments. With the closing of that store, he and Ida jointly held the furniture lease for Barnards, another Worcester store, and then opened a Barnards satellite store in another part of the city. When those owners were about to close the business, Ida and Murray determined that it was their time to put the Rotman name on the company. They took out a loan to purchase the business, and dedicated their furniture and carpet store to high quality, excellent customer service, and a commitment to the Worcester community.
The couple worked hard and their business flourished. Ida recalls maintaining a singular focus during the 1950s through the 1980s.
“First, our store was open three nights a week. Then, we extended the hours Monday through Saturday. Next, we opened our doors on Sundays. It was our life.”
Today, Rotman’s is considered the largest furniture and carpet store in New England. It remains located on its original site in an old Worcester mill complex. Over the years, the business has grown upward. What began as a one-floor operation has since expanded to seven floors of showrooms.
Ida’s primary responsibility was to manage the endless volume of paperwork that the business generated. She didn’t have a title but, at that time, that was par for the course for women. While the tasks could be tedious, the working environment was to her liking.
“I didn’t work for my husband. I worked with him. We had a wonderful partnership of mutual respect and purpose. We were always equal partners in all aspects of our lives.”
Rotman’s is a quintessential family-owned and operated company. Each of the couple’s sons joined the business at some point in their careers. Subsequently, several of their children have joined the ranks. Today, one of Ida’s great-grandchildren, at age 27, is moving up the company’s ladder.
Ida is candid as she recalls the challenges of operating a family business. When their sons first joined the company, there was some friction regarding their specific roles. The tension triggered Ida and Murray to retire in the mid-1980s. They weren’t fully ready to walk away from the enterprise that they had built. But, they determined that once their involvement lessened, their sons would work out the thorny management issues. Their assumption was on target. Today, the sons, along with their wives and kids, are a close-knit unit, and the company thrives.
These days, the family’s primary focus is Ida’s wellbeing. She doesn’t feel the need to be foremost in their minds, yet Ida dutifully takes whatever steps are needed to minimize their concerns.
“I cooperate so my family won’t worry”
A few years ago, Ida wondered whether it was time to pack up and leave the house that had been her home for over 50 years. Would she feel more secure in a retirement community? Would she enjoy knowing that companionship and activities were just down the hall? She visited several senior living options in the Worcester area and concluded that the answer to these questions was “no”. She preferred the comfort of her lovely home (which, of course, is beautifully furnished by Rotman’s!). Besides avoiding the hassle of a move, the decision allowed Ida to live in a neighborhood with exceptional amenities: each of her sons has a home on the next street over.
Every day, someone from a local senior services company comes to Ida’s for a six-hour block to offer help with housekeeping and meal prep. Ida enjoys these kind women, but she views the arrangement primarily as a response to her sons’ need for reassurance that she is safe.
“I really enjoy my private time.”
As it turns out, however, the availability of these helpers has provided a solution for one of Ida’s most pressing concerns: having regular bridge partners. She discovered that the owner of the service company, as well as several of the other women who receive services, were eager to learn the game. Now, three or four women together come over weekly for private instruction.
Ida first found teaching this intricate game of strategy to be a bit taxing, particularly since several of the older participants are contending with limited hearing and loss of memory. (It’s interesting to note that while these deficits often affect older adults, they are not uniformly part of the aging process. Ida, at 103, has whistle-sharp hearing and an impeccable ability to recall details.)
While Ida enjoys her role as instructor and is pleased that she’s increasing the pool of future partners, she still wants to play bridge regularly. She transposed this four-player game into a two-person version. She is now teaching her son Bernie and is happy to report that he’s becoming a worthy opponent.
In 2013, Ida was honored at the Worcester Women’s Leadership Conference. This recognition, which took place soon after her 100th birthday, was a tribute to her lifelong contributions to the Worcester retail industry and community. With exceptional poise and confidence, Ida offered the overflow crowd of women these words of inspiration:
“Nurture your dreams by setting high goals, and staying busy and productive.
Above all, give thanks every day you wake up, knowing that you have another chance to do it all over again and, hopefully, this time, even better.”