Bertha Diener: The Luck of a Long Life

Bertha Diener: The Luck of a Long Life

Kevin C. Madigan

Kevin Madigan is a senior reporter for the Atlanta Jewish Times.

It’s all about luck. That concept came up a lot during the Saturday, Dec. 5, festivities to honor Bertha Diener, who turned 100 that day.

Multiple generations gather at 103 West on Dec. 5 to celebrate Bertha Diener's 100th birthday.
Multiple generations gather at 103 West on Dec. 5 to celebrate Bertha Diener’s 100th birthday.

“At the moment I’m in pretty good shape,” Diener said during an interview as the party was getting started. “I can still walk. I can still talk. I’m a little bit unusual. Most people my age aren’t as lucky as I’ve been.”

The event, held at Buckhead’s 103 West, was organized by Diener’s daughter, Marilyn Feingold, 72, and attracted many friends and five generations of family members.

“I hope I’m not wearing her down,” Diener said of her only surviving child. “At my age you need someone like that. I’m lucky to have her.”

Diener said she was reluctant to celebrate the milestone and first said no when Feingold suggested a party. “The more I thought about it, I figured, ‘What the heck have I got to lose?’ And there are people here that I’m really so happy to see from the past. They’ve been very nice to me. I’ve never had a chance to reciprocate, and it’s just wonderful to have them here.”

During a post-lunch presentation, Diener’s granddaughter Rachel Feingold asked, “How many people do you know who are 100 years old, play bridge three times a week, use an iPad to play solitaire and are still actively involved in the stock market?”

Bertha Diener: The Luck of a Long Life 1Calling her “a woman ahead of her time,” Rachel recounted events from Diener’s long life to illustrate her tenacity and single-mindedness. “Men always admired her gusto and determination to make money, and some of the women she knew just didn’t understand her. Bertha didn’t just accept the status quo and allow luck to determine her future; she made luck happen.”

Diener was born in Iron Mountain, Mich., to Tobias and Eta Schlaffer. That same year, 1915, Alexander Graham Bell made the first transcontinental telephone call, as Rachel pointed out. “As a child, she was the only one of the Schlaffer girls who worked (in a grocery store), and, boy, did she work hard,” Rachel said. “The money she saved allowed her the luxury of attending summer camp. Camp is one of those youth experiences which her children and grandchildren would later take for granted, but not so for Bertha, whose parents had very little money. Bertha was determined to attain the experience that many of her friends had but which her family could not afford. Clearly, when it came to making her own luck, Grandma started at a young age.”

The family moved from Michigan to Georgia when Diener was still little.

“Atlanta is a little too busy. I tell you, I left here 50 years ago, and there were 750,000 people living here. I come back, and it’s 6 million! It’s still a beautiful city, but it’s gotten too big,” Diener said.

What else bothers her about modern life? “I’d hate to tell you about the changes I’m not happy with, so don’t ask me. There are a lot of them, and they’re not good, and they’re not going to get better,” she said. “I have days when I’m not happy — I think everybody does.”

But she added, “I’m happy to be here, and to be a little sane is something else again. It’s a nice day to be seen.”

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