Wyndmoor native Elizabeth ‘Libby’ Birch celebrates 100th birthday

Elizabeth “Libby” Birch celebrated her 100th birthday this month. (Photo courtesy of Bunnie Fertig)

Elizabeth “Libby” Birch, a native of Wyndmoor, who currently resides at The Terrace at Chestnut Hill, celebrated her 100th birthday with her family – including six grandchildren, eight great grandchildren and one great-great grandchild – at the Spring House Tavern, 1032 N. Bethlehem Pike in Spring House.

When Herman Shipman, her son-in-law, said “Ma, it’s your 100th birthday,” at the party, she looked at Shipman laughed and said, “I am starting over.”

During the interview with the Local, when her daughter Bunnie Fertig told me she was a 100-years-old, she said, “Shh… tell them I am 99.”

Birch, one of five children, was born on July 5, 1918 in Wyndmoor.

“It was Jimmy, Georgie, then me, John and Eugene,” she said. “Georgie and me were like that,” she said holding her two fingers together while giggling.

Fertig, 73, said Georgie was always teasing her – especially because Birch was a ‘tom-boy.’

“She played baseball and ran track,” said her youngest daughter Fertig.

“Oh! And hockey, I love to play field hockey,” she said.

Shipman said every week each of the kids got a nickel from their parents “and the expectation was that the nickel would go into the church collection plate.”

“Everybody did that except Georgie,” he said. “He went to the store and bought candy.”

Birch laughed.

Birch married Frank Coffey and moved to Mt. Airy, where they raised their two daughters Jean and Bunnie.

In 1981, Birch’s husband Coffey died. Later, she married Bill Birch and moved back to Wyndmoor, where she was known by friends and neighbors as “the cat lady.”

“Oh, I loved my cats,” she said. “Everybody knew me as the cat lady. When anybody found a cat or went on vacation, they would bring it me. It’s a wonder I don’t look like a cat!”

Birch points to a photo of one of her cats, a large orange tabby, actually using the toilet.

“I taught him to flush it,” she said.

At a 100-years-old, Birch can still run circles around her daughter Bunnie. She loves to dance the Polka and do the Mummer’s Strut.

She starts humming and stands up with her walker to show us how it’s done.

Afterwards, Shipman asks Birch to play a song on her “squeeze box” or vintage accordion that he said, “is as old as she is.”

Birch’s eyes light up and she immediately begins playing and singing:

“When Irish Eyes are Smiling sure it’s like a morn in spring;

In the lilt of Irish laughter, you can hear the angels sing;

When Irish hearts are happy all the world seems bright and gay

But when Irish eyes are smiling sure they’ll steal your heart away.”

Shipman said his mother-in-law has never had a music lesson in her life.

“She plays completely by ear,” he added. “She can’t read music. She used to be able to play hundreds of songs from memory.”

Bunnie asks her what Scottish saying she used to say all the time when they were kids.

“I don’t remember,” she said. “Now…I’m kind of losing it.”

“That’s because you are a 100-years-old,” her son-in-law replied.

To which she quickly replied, “I am 99.”

Then Birch’s eyes light up and she starts singing, “It’s a braw, bricht, moonlicht nicht the nicht.”

Which means “It’s a beautiful, bright moonlit night tonight.”

When the Local asked what advice does she have for other people, she replied, “Be happy and take care of cats!”