This week on Senior Voices, Bertha Harris remembers a vibrant downtown Dayton, and working at the historic Biltmore Hotel. Located at First and Main, the Biltmore was one of the most well-known hotels in the country before it converted to senior apartments in 1981. More recently, Bertha’s strong family ties helped her through a life-changing experience. She shared her memories with Dayton Metro Library interviewer and project liaison, Janine Kinnison.
BERTHA HARRIS: I remember all the stores. I used to love going downtown. My mother's sister used to come from Kentucky here to shop, because we had so many stores. Rike's used to have their displays for Christmas, and the hot chocolate and cookies, I mean, I remember all that. And I remember I used to take my kids there on Saturdays, my oldest daughter used to love the hot fudge sundaes at Frisch's, and that was their treat. I never will forget that. I tell my grandkids about that now, how downtown used to be so full of life.
I worked at the Biltmore downtown. I worked there for about 8 years, whenever they converted over to make it a senior citizen's building. The Biltmore was a fabulous place. Chandeliers, the doormen, the Shriners used to come there, good tipping. I won a lot of awards for being a good--at that time they would say--housekeeper/maid. I met Barry White! But it was a fabulous place at one time, it really was. I enjoyed working there for those years.
September 2016 I was in a very bad car accident, and I thank God that I'm still here—me and my oldest daughter. It was a real bad accident. It could have been fatal. I think about that so much, how it made me more humble in life. I had to learn how to walk again, I was in a nursing home for three months. I know how it is to be in a wheel chair, I know how it is to be in a boot, and just being in a nursing home period. And I used to work in a nursing home all those years, but then when you walk in those shoes, you really understand, truly understand then, you really do.
When I went into surgery and when I came out--it was a five hour surgery, my pastor and the first lady were there. They read the Bible to me, there was just always someone there bringing me flowers, bringing me food, it was awesome. You know one of the aids there asked me one day, she said, “Ms. Bertha, I know you’re a nice lady, but you must be awful awesome because you always got visitors!” I said, just let me tell you what my father used to tell me, whatever you put out, that's what you're going to get back. And I think about it quite often. It changed my whole life, because I was working part-time, and you know right now I can't even work. But I got to still move forward. I can't go backwards, I can't change anything that's happened. I might not walk the way I want to but I’m walking. I just thank God that I'm still here and I had a good church family and family to support me, because you can't go through something like that by yourself.
This interview was edited by Community Voices producer Tess Cortes. Senior Voices is a collaboration between the Dayton Metro Library, Rebuilding Together Dayton, and WYSO. This series is made possible through the generous support of the Del Mar Healthcare Fund of the Dayton Foundation.