Ruth A. Robinhold, 99, of Lafayette Hill, who cofounded the Philadelphia Girls' Rowing Club in 1938, when rowing was a predominantly male sport, died Thursday, Dec. 13, of pneumonia at Chestnut Hill Hospital.
The former Ruth Adams had placed an ad in a local newspaper seeking women to form a rowing club. Almost 100 women showed up at the first meeting; after a $5 monthly fee was levied, 17 stayed to form the club.
The group, believed to be the oldest competitive women's rowing club in America, was fostered by Mrs. Robinhold, who continued to row on the Schuylkill until well into her 80s.
"Ruth was up in years, but she was not old," said Sophie Socha, current club president. "She was passionate about introducing women to the sport of rowing."
Thirty years after its founding, the group was the first American women's rowing club to win the U.S. National Women's Championships and then represent the United States in international competition at the European Championships in Vichy, France, in 1967.
"Ruth had a marvelous life, active and vibrant; she lived life to the fullest," said Ernie "Tina" Bayer, whose mother, Ernestine, was a rowing champion and cofounder of the club.
As a result of her rowing activities, a quad was named after Mrs. Robinhold at the club's boathouse on Boathouse Row. During the Stotesbury Cup Regatta each May, the winning boat in the girls' quad races is awarded the Ruth Robinhold trophy.
Mrs. Robinhold even met her first husband while preparing to row.
In 1939, William "Robert" Robinhold, a member of the Undine Barge Club, helped carry her boat down to the dock, according to a City Council citation on her 95th birthday. They married and were together for 64 years until his death in 2003.
Mrs. Robinhold's philosophy was "to laugh, love, work, eat moderately, enjoy the outdoors, and keep a happy demeanor. She loved her martini . . . and credited drinking them for her longevity," said her friend Andrea Levin.
A 1930 graduate of Germantown High School, Mrs. Robinhold spent most of her life in Lafayette Hill, where she raised many strains of rhododendron.
During World War II, Mrs. Robinhold did volunteer work for the Eighth Air Force. She was a shift supervisor for Interceptor Command, a secret volunteer effort for homeland security.
The volunteers took plane spotters' phone calls, then plotted the flight paths on a map of the United States, using tiny model airplanes to represent the type of aircraft spotted. During the war, she was also a volunteer nurse's aide at Hahnemann Hospital.
Mrs. Robinhold worked for 24 years at the John B. Stetson Hat Co., rising through the ranks to cost accountant. She then worked for 20 years at the First Pennsylvania Bank branch at 15th and Chestnut Streets as a manager of mortgage insurance. She retired Dec. 31, 1969.
In 2004, Mrs. Robinhold moved to Masonic Village at Lafayette Hill, where she met Richard Henderson. They married in September 2007.
A skilled gardener, Mrs. Robinhold completed the horticulture program at the Barnes Foundation in Merion. She was a participant and award winner at the American Rhododendron Society in the Philadelphia Chapter Truss Show for 38 years; a member of Morris Arboretum; and, since 1979, a member of the Outdoor Gardeners of Montgomery County.
Mrs. Robinhold worked as a volunteer on the Shade Tree Commission in Whitemarsh Township for five years. She was a longtime member of Zion Lutheran Church of Flourtown.
Surviving, in addition to her husband, are a niece and a nephew.
A 9 a.m. visitation will be followed by a 10:30 funeral service Tuesday, Dec. 18, at Lownes Funeral Home, 659 Germantown Pike, Lafayette Hill. Interment will be in Arlington Cemetery, Drexel Hill.
Contributions may be made to Zion Lutheran Church, 654 Bethlehem Pike, Flourtown, Pa. 19031.