PHILADELPHIA, PA – Bertha (Panagiotitsa) Rorres has been reading The National Herald since she first came to the United States as a young bride in 1937. On January 25, 61 people gathered at Estia restaurant in Radnor, PA, a Philadelphia suburb, to celebrate her life.
It was a Sunday filled with reminiscences and outpourings of love.
“The weather cooperated beautifully,” her son Chris said. “We had a nice Greek dinner blessed by the priest we have known for decades, Fr. Dimitios S. Katerilis, the retired Dean of St. George Cathedral.”
“He said some kind words about my mother, whom he has known for 50 years…he spoke about their trip to the Holy Land and St. Katherine’s monastery which was a big event in her life.”
Rorres welcomed and thanked everyone for coming and introduced his 13 year-old identical twin God-daughters, Viki and Marina Mancoridis, aspiring musicians, who sang traditional Greek and American birthday greetings.
It was a bigger affair than Chris and his wife Billie Rorres had intended. “We started out planning a small family gathering, but naturally we were told we had to invite this and that person. We could have had 100 but the space was limited.”
One hundred people would have been quote a crowd for Panagiota when she was a child.
“When I came to America I was a young girl from a village,” Bertha told TNH.
He husband returned earlier and Bertha said, “I was pregnant, they gave me a new name” – she didn’t know her new family put “Bertha” on the paperwork – it felt like a dream when I first arrived.”
Her husband lived in Philadelphia, but she wasn’t overwhelmed by the city and the county. Her relatives told her about America and she lived in Athens for a year.
Politics deprived Bertha, the oldest of four children, of relatives in her new home. Her Uncle Theodore wanted to come to America, but could not due to the quotas imposed on Greeks in the 1920s. Chris said, “He settled in South America and I have a lot of Argentinian cousins who speak Spanish and like me speak Greek as a second language.”
Bertha’s husband Argyrios, called Harry in America, was born in Arcadia 1894 and in 1922 came to America with the help of his brother George. “He was a typical immigrant – $20 in his pocket, spoke no English…he worked with other Greeks in the candy and restaurant business…worked like a slave and slept in the restaurant’s basement. He had no expenses and sent back money for his sister’s dowries,” Chris said.
He saved enough money to open a little diner in Philadelphia, and Chris explained “he eventually evolved a business where he helped other people open their own restaurants, beginning as their silent partner and showing them the ropes.”
He was able to buy some building at 10th and Locust streets, which was the heart of Greek Philadelphia – the Cathedral was on 8th street – and once he established himself financially he returned to Greece to find a bride.
Chris and his older siblings, Peter and Rena (Katerina), were born there. His brother, who had a master’s in engineering and worked for GE, died in an accident at the age of 28.
Bertha is from Laconia. Her father died at a young age and the family was close knit, so she resisted the idea of marriage at first, not wanting to leave her mother and being unsure about marrying this “rich American” – he was rich because he had a car Chris said – who was 20 years older.
“But she went along with it and had a happy life as a stay at home mom…devoted to her children.
They were active in the Church. Harry served as PC president and was made an archon, and Bertha was a very active Philoptochos member. “She never ran for office…she was a quiet woman who liked to stay in the background,” Chris said.
His childhood was happy, “but it was not filled with sports and games… my brother and I were the nerds studying science, but it was harder on our sister – she was the social butterfly.”
“The three of us all of us worked at any restaurant that needed help at the time,” he said, and they helped their father do maintenance work in their apartment buildings.
The most important thing Bertha conveyed to her family was the importance of education. Chris earned a PhD, in mathematics and George had a master’s degree.
She wanted to learn and to attend high school, so she lived vicariously through her children,” and grandchildren, Rena’s two daughters Stephanie and Kristie, Chris said.
Bille Rorres reminded him that his mother is highly intelligent but never had an opportunity to get an education. “She was always reading and was thankful my brother and I went into the sciences …she still reads TNH religiously and enjoys books.”