Isabel Brannon Spencer '62 manages the Annie Tinker Association for Women, which helps older women-who have worked mainly in the arts or related fields, never earned much of a pension, and whose families can't help out-remain in their homes.


Rosza Glenn, 82, above, toured with the Pearl Bailey Show as head of the girl singers, worked as a creative designer and fashion consultant; designed; for years sewed the gowns for Black Velvet Whisky ads; and got her high schoo, diploma at the age of 79.

Isabel Brannon Spencer '62 has been working for the last few years as manager (and sole employee) of the Annie Tinker Association for Women, a national fund that helps older women remain in their homes.

There are currently about 50 beneficiaries, mostly in New York City, women who have worked mainly in the arts or related fields, who never earned much of a pension, and whose families can't help out. They are living alone at home but can't quite afford it. The Tinker stipends are small-now $150-$250 a month-but enough to make a real difference in quality of life.

"Whatever Tinker does is a dessert," said Jean Murai. She met me at the door of her Greenwich Village apartment wearing a loose white cotton dress with tiers of ruffles, Mexican-style, and showed me into a cozy studio apartment, a baby grand piano at the center and lively clay sculptures crowding the shelves. A singer and a collector of folksongs from around the world and a self-described "typical rabble-rouser," Murai organized her own group, the Latin American Cultural Society, sang with Pete Seeger when he was 19 and first came to New York, and made a record titled "Mama, I Want a Husband."

"In folk singing, participation is the important thing," she said. "My specialty is people who think they cannot sing. There is no such thing as the non-singer. Anyone can sing. Anyone." Now almost 90, she is writing a lot, mostly poetry, working on her autobiography, Memoirs of a Senior Hippy, and sculpting in clay. "I'm not a sculptor," she said, "but I take a piece of clay in my hand and everything is done emotionally. Nothing abstract."

One-woman show
Actress Rita Ebenhart lives in a classic one-bedroom apartment on New York City's Riverside Drive. A favorite project is her one-woman show, depicting in song and story, the life of a Victorian woman after being jilted at the altar. The piece includes period dress, put together from her vast collection of authentic clothes and accessories. The show combines her interest in research, and in acting and singing.She studied with such legends as Harold Clurman and Bobby Lewis, and is currently studying Shakespeare with George Bartenieff. She remembers performing with Marion Seldes, touring with Diana Barrymore, and attending Syracuse University with Peter Falk and Jerry Stiller. She apppeared off Broadway with the Wicked Witch of the West, Margaret Hamilton; was in the film The Hot Rock; and played a lead in Bloodrage with Lawrence Tierney. On television, she appeared in IRemember Mama and worked with Eddie Bracken on Playhouse 90.

Ebenhart bikes just about everywhere in her trademark lime-green helmet. She is working in the areas of "mind-body awareness" and stress reduction-via meditation. She often journeys to a farm in upstate Columbia County for a day of meditation.

Ebenhart jokingly calls her efforts in tenant advocacy "quack lawyering," but her actions to save people-including a Holocaust survivor-from eviction were taken very seriously by the courts.

-ISABEL BRANNON SPENCER '62

Rosza Glenn, 87, lives on New York's Upper East Side in an apartment building that provides enriched housing for seniors. ("It's the greatest concept since Coca Cola," she said.) She has had a lot to overcome in life. Her mother, a lyric soprano from New Orleans, died when Rosza was just six years old. "She used to sing in French patois, and she was always gorgeous, hats and everything," she said. After that there were a series of stepmothers, and "brainwashing" from her father, who always told Rosza she was too black and that no one wanted her. "I had my mother's voice and her sewing skill, but no nurturing," she said. "Never got a pat on the back, but somewhere along the line I got guts." She left home after the fourth stepmother and got a series of jobs in LA: did wardrobe for Camille Cosby, spent weeks tapering all of Alan Ladd's shirts. She went to all of the nightclubs, met Louis Armstrong. Lena Horne was her ideal. On and on, jobs and working, singing, modeling, millinery schools, voice lessons. She toured with the Pearl Bailey Show, as head of the girl singers. Then she decided she was getting too old for show business and moved to New York City, where she ran the rental department for a costume shop, with 15 women working under her, refurbishing the wardrobes from old shows. "I learned more about antique clothes than anyone knows," she said. those shows went out on time, believe me! I worked my foolish, crazy heart out." That was when high blood pressure set in. She decided to go out for herself, and established herself as a creative designer and fashion consultant, living on the Upper East Side. For years she designed and sewed the gowns for Black Velvet Whisky ads. At the age of 79, she got her high school diploma.

Emma Rukivina, 90 years old, was born in Hungary, where she was privately educated, with an emphasis on art. She became the first woman pilot to have a license to fly both planes and gliders, and qualified for the Hungarian Olympic fencing team in 1940, the year the Olympics were cancelled because of World War II. In 1947 she fled Hungary, a refugee, one of the few who left on the Arlberg Express (similar to the fabled Orient Express, with a route from Sophia through to London). She settled in Paris, started working in the export department of Christian Dior, did drawing for models, and finally set up as an independent couturiere, also organized several major art exhibitions, including one in Monaco under the patronage of Prince Rainier. In 1956 she left Paris for New York, where she opened her own gallery, with a Hungarian partner. In her own painting, she has moved from watercolors to oils. Her most recent project is a combination of oils and collage in works featuring animals, as a way to draw children's interest. For the last few years, she has suffered from persistent vertigo; her balance problems mean that she is virtually housebound, very distressing for a woman who has always been very fit and "sportive." When Spencer met her, she already had a home healthcare worker, and was a client of Search and Care, a social service agency. The Tinker grant has enabled her to improve her diet and buy vitamins.

Ladies who worked for a living
Annie Rensselaer Tinker was the daughter of a successful banker, who died at the age of only 37. In her will, Miss Tinker made a provision that part of her estate was to be used to fund a home for "ladies who have worked for a living," and in 1932 the Annie R. Tinker Memorial Home was established as a charitable corporation under the laws of the state of New Jersey. But this was in the middle of the Great Depression, and the fund was never sufficient for an actual home. By 1936, the growing need for services was becoming more and more obvious to the Trustees, and several beneficiaries began to receive small monthly allowances to enable them to live independently, be assured of daily necessities, care in the event of illness, and also burial expenses. For the next 60 years, between 10 and 20 women each year received monthly stipends ranging from $100 to $450, according to individual circumstances.

Dyke Benjamin became Chairman of the Tinker Association Board in the mid-90s, and since then membership has more or less doubled, through contributions and increases in the endowment. In recent years, Spencer has been going out to social service agencies to proselytize. "It's not that we have a lot of money," she said, "but we want to be sure that the money we do have goes to those who need it most." By now she has gotten to know people at the social service agencies, so that they recognize the kind of people Tinker is looking for. Some women who don't want to take money or help from a social service agency feel differently about Tinker because it is for artists. "We can take a woman on and then press her to receive help from someone else," said Spencer. "My job is to make sure that everyone is with a social worker, a social service agency that can provide real help, and to harass the agencies if they don't come through." Spencer also organizes various activities to bring the group together. There are several formal gatherings each year, including a luncheon and a tea held at the Cosmopolitan Club.

Recently, at the suggestion of Jean Murai, Spencer organized an informal gathering, inviting members who were singers to perform and artists to bring their work for display. Spencer got her church to provide a venue for the concert, found an accompanist, and got student volunteers from NYU's Stern School of Business to help out. Jean Murai composed a special song for the occasion, to the tune of Jingle Bells. There was also a Scottish woman who sang, a French cabaret singer, and a Russian Romany singer who brought her own accompanist, Vladimir. Rosza Glenn brought along some colorful handbags she had made. All the Tinker Association members were invited, and everyone had a wonderful time.

A new career working with individuals
Isabel Brannon '62 went out and got a job just days after she graduated from Bryn Mawr, rare in those days, and started a long career in journalism, working her way up from city hall reporter to city editor, to managing editor, to editor, the first and only woman at each step of the way. When she first started looking for a job in Philadelphia, she tried an advertising agency and several publishers, but couldn't get anywhere-her typing wasn't good enough.

At that point she hadn't even thought of journalism. Finally, in desperation, she went to an employment agency. The woman there saw that Spencer had been managing editor of the College News, editor of the Yearbook, editor of her school literary magazine, and said, "You should work for newspapers." She called the Main Line Times, where the man who is now Spencer's husband was the editor, and asked, "Do you need someone? I have just the person here."

Spencer spent two years at the Main Line Times as a local government reporter, then moved to the Delaware County Daily News in Chester, PA as City Hall reporter, covering the early days of the civil rights movement in the North and the War on Poverty. In 1965, she was hired as the first female staff reporter at the Philadelphia Daily News, the first woman ever to cover the police beat in Philadelphia. In 1969, she became the first full-time business reporter at The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ), covering the first energy shortages and plant closings. She was an education reporter at the News Journal (Wilmington, DE), in 1977-78, covering the first city-suburban court-ordered busing in the North, and the subsequent teachers' strike, and in 1979 became Metropolitan editor at the News Journal, one of only 12 women in the nation to hold this job at a large paper. She went on to jobs as assistant city editor (The Star-Ledger, Newark, NJ), and editor (The Daily Journal, Elizabeth, NJ), and in 1990 moved to Denver, CO, where she started as Sunday editor of The Denver Post, and then became managing editor in 1993.

From 1998-2001, Spencer was politics editor at the Daily News in New York City. "It was interesting," she said. "It was a fun place. The problem was that I was supposed to be in charge of political reporting, but they didn't trust me because they perceived me as a liberal, and they're not." So in 2001, she resigned from the Daily News in order to take on a new job, a new career, as managing director of the Tinker Foundation. "We all seem to start to do certain types of things at certain times," said Spencer. "When you're younger you want to change the system. Now I feel as though I can make my best contribution working with individual people to help them."

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