Miriam Belber, 105, of Wyncote, a leasing agency owner whose diminutive size belied her fiercely independent spirit, died of natural causes Monday, March 19, at her home.
Mrs. Belber was born in Albuquerque, N.M., six years before that territory joined the United States. She moved east with her family from Denver, Colo., in 1918 and settled in the Philadelphia area.
Not even five feet tall, Mrs. Belber was known from infancy as "Sis" because an older sister could not pronounce Miriam. Although she made her mark in life with the car and equipment-rental agency she and her late husband, Leonard, formed in 1954, Mrs. Belber was best known for sayings called Sis-isms.
"How is it that you have lived so long?" a caregiver asked her in her 90s. "Because I refuse to die," she said. Other Sis-isms: "The older you get, the more like yourself you become," "I'm not always right, but I'm never wrong," and "tardiness is a sign of hostility."
Mrs. Belber completed high school in the Philadelphia area and graduated from Goucher College in Baltimore in 1928. She met her future husband, "Lennie," through friends. They married in 1934. "It was quite a love affair. I found a pile of love letters from 1934," said her niece Judy Jawer.
The two founded the Colonial Rental Co. and ran it out of their home. At first they rented cars, but in the late 1960s expanded to equipment — the kind that small businesses need, but could not afford to own, Jawer said. At one point, Mrs. Belber rented golf carts to a company that was partly owned by former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski. Mrs. Belber remained active in the business until the mid-1990s.
Mrs. Belber and her husband adopted each other's hobbies.
They fished, ballroom danced, and golfed. She was Women's Golf Champion at the Cedarbrook Country Club for several years in the 1970s and 1980s. She also enjoyed cooking and entertaining.
The Belbers nurtured the jewelry-making program at the Abington Art Center, which Leonard Belber founded in the 1960s. After he died in 1976, the program declined until 1991 when Mrs. Belber created the Leonard B. Belber Award "Best of Show" and the Miriam Belber Award for Jewelry, part of the center's annual juried show. In 1997, with Mrs. Belber's aid, the Abington Art Center established a full-time jewelry studio, considered one of the best in the area.
Mrs. Belber did not have children. She is survived by 12 nieces and nephews, 22 grandnieces and grandnephews, 25 great-grandnieces and nephews, and 10 great-great-grandnieces and nephews.
A memorial service will be at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, April 29, at the Abington Art Center, 515 Meetinghouse Rd., Jenkintown, Pa. 19046. Mrs. Belber asked to be cremated and her ashes placed with her parents' remains in Chelten Hills Cemetery.
Donations in her name may be made to the Abington Art Center, c/o director Laura Burnham.