One Hundred Percent Jewish, 4-feet, 6-inches tall and sharp as a whip. That’s how Andre Krug describes Edith Kutcher.
The KleinLife president and CEO has gotten the chance to know Kutcher quite well. Since 1983, the volunteer — who turns 103 on Nov. 19 — has worked in the library of the largest senior center in Philadelphia.
While some may say eating right or exercising is the secret to longevity, Kutcher has a different answer: books. She said her passion for reading and writing is what keeps her going.
Each morning Kutcher gets up at 4 a.m., a practice carried over from the 25 years she worked as a stenographer. She lives alone and cooks her own meals, although she admits she likes to eat out a lot.
Once ready, she’ll get picked up by a bus full of other seniors and head to the center. She typically arrives at KleinLife around 7 a.m. and gets to work reshelving books five days a week. It’s been her daily routine for nearly 40 years.
Inna Gulko, KleinLife’s director of support services, said Kutcher knows every book in the library. Her passion for books is well-known, so much so that Gulko said Kutcher even joked once that she wants to get buried with them. Her love of the written word dates to her teenage days.
“She is sharp and present, but she’s also very tough. That’s why she’s probably still here,” Gulko said. “She says she loves books more than anything.”
Kutcher was born in 1916 in Philadelphia. Her mother was also born and raised in the city, and her father was an immigrant from the Galicia region of Austria-Hungary, which today is split between Poland and Ukraine. Kutcher was the oldest of three girls and they attended Congregation Rodeph Shalom. They made their home in West Philadelphia at 4824 Woodland Ave. — right above the family’s dry goods store More for Less, which sold everything from food to hardware. The store was one of the first in the area to have a neon sign, Kutcher said.
Kutcher recalled a dramatic confrontation there.
One time, a man walked in to buy a pair of overalls. Kutcher said an argument broke out with her father, and the customer stabbed him. Clutching his wound, her father ran after the man — and Kutcher followed. The man got away, and her father was taken to hospital, where he made a full recovery. While Kutcher’s able to laugh about it now, at the time she was terrified.
Kutcher graduated from West Philadelphia High School in 1934. In her yearbook, she gave her ambition as “to write a ‘best-seller’ novel.”
When it comes to reading, her favorites are biographies. She’s not a fan of stories that are “too soft” or “fluffy.” The works of Mark Twain and local author Lisa Scottoline are more her style.
The librarian is also a poet. She loves the craft so much she even writes it in her sleep, Kutcher said. She’s typed up some of her work and compiled them into a few books. Some of them are decades old, like “Every Man” from June 1986:
Every man should in his own heart
Nor wish for more than his entitlement
Every man should be glad with his own lot
And not want to be in his neighbor’s slot.
Every man should not desire another’s gain
But know that he’s doing his best in the main.
Kutcher is not alone in the KleinLife library. Assisting her two days a week is Penny Haze. The former nursery school teacher retired a few years ago and has helped out for about three years. Despite the age difference, Haze said it’s Kutcher who calls the shots.
“She’s pretty sharp for someone who’s 102,” Haze said. “It’s interesting. I’ll put it this way: She’s definitely my boss.”
It’s Kutcher who decides which books stay and which get discarded. Unwanted books are set out on a table in the center’s lobby for sale. Proceeds go to new books or books for the children’s reading programs at KleinLife.
Quitting time for Kutcher is around noon, and after lunch she heads home.
In her free time, Kutcher tries to stay active. She likes to participate in outings with the center’s travel clubs to local museums, theaters or to Atlantic City. She also enjoys spending time with her three children.
Despite having a century behind her, Kutcher lives in the present.
“I’m never going to retire,” Kutcher said. “I don’t think about the past. I only think about what I’m doing.”
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