CHESTER WAS a bustling port city on the Delaware River 103 years ago. It built sailing ships for the Navy. Horse-drawn wagons clattered over the streets. There were no airplanes in the sky; few cars on the streets. William Howard Taft was in the White House.
And Ada Elizabeth Dawson was born.
She was the fourth of the nine children of Samuel P. Dawson and the former Mary Johnson. She lived long enough to see men land on the moon, jet planes fly faster than sound, streets clogged with traffic - and a black man in the White House.
Through wars, economic depressions, civil-rights struggles and other upheavals, Ada was sustained by her strong religious faith and her love of family.
"She was a neat lady," said her daughter, Doris King. "She loved everybody. She would do anything for you."
Ada Elizabeth Dawson-Cooper, as she became after marrying Charles H. Cooper in 1929, an expert cook who didn't need a special occasion to craft a big meal, and a devoted churchwoman, died Dec. 7 at the age of 103, an age she reached last June. She lived in Southwest Philadelphia.
She was the beloved matriarch of six generations, a family that grew to 108 members - children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren and great-great-great-grandchildren.
"She loved her family," said another daughter, Alice Ricks. "I was blessed to have had her in my life."
One of the ways Ada showed her love for her family was to feed it.
"All we had to say was, 'Let's have dinner, Ada,' " and she would produce a big meal," Doris King said.
"She was like a mother to me," said granddaughter Samantha McNair. "She was quiet and very loving. I lived with her for a while. I remember her chicken dumplings and apple pies. She even made her own root beer and ice cream."
Ada's spiritual life began at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Chester. She attended school in the city to the age of 11, when the family moved to Philadelphia. She was 13 when the family moved to West Chester, where she completed her education.
She worked off and on through her life as a cook at various institutions, including nursing homes and hospitals.
Her husband was a contractor who worked on some of the important buildings in Philadelphia. He died in November 1986.
Mother Cooper, as she was affectionately called, loved to take car trips around the region and into the South with her beloved sister Alice Lomax, who died in 1989.
Ada was a member of the Eastern Star, Veta Phi Beta Amica, and the Garnet Negro Federated Women's Club, which she served as president.
She belonged to a series of Pentecostal churches, including Holy Temple Church of God in Christ, Prayer and Faith Temple COGIC and New Jerusalem COGIC in Twin Oaks, Delaware County. Her last church was Mount Sinai COGIC.
Asked, as all centenarians are, to what she attributed her long life, Ada, who never drank, smoked or cursed, as her family put it, credited her deep faith in God.
She is survived by another daughter, Helen L. Cooper; 12 grandchildren, 35 great-grandchildren, 55 great-great-grandchildren and six great-great-great-grandchildren.
Services: 11 a.m. Monday at Beulah Tabernacle, 3400 State Road, Drexel Hill. Friends may call at 9 a.m. Burial will be in Glenwood Memorial Gardens, Broomall.