100-year-old library worker who died in fire is mourned by colleagues

Claudine Zap
Claudine Zap
Yahoo! News
Opal Reifenberg at her 100th birthday celebration at the library on August 8, 2012

Opal Reifenberg at her 100th birthday celebration at the library on August 8, 2012

Co-workers mourned the loss of their 100-year-old colleague, who died over the weekend in a fire.

Opal Reifenberg, one month shy of her 101st birthday, still came to the Wilmette Public Library and worked as a book processor, a job she had held for the past 25 years.

“She was an amazing person,” Gayle Justman, head of technical services, told Yahoo News by phone. She said she had just met with a grief counselor at the library to help the staff cope with the surprisingly shocking loss.

“Her age wasn’t an issue,” said Justman, who was Reifenberg's manager. “She was just this wonderful employee who worked hard and did a fabulous job.”

"We're devastated," Betty Giorgi, Reifenberg's co-worker, told the Chicago Tribune.

"She still worked here. She came in every day. She was an amazing, amazing woman. She was an exceptional human being."

Reifenberg started working at the library on Aug. 17, 1988. She was also a month shy of her 25th anniversary at the library.

The library's oldest employee had a job processing books—adding covers, typing labels and inserting security strips.

“She was amazingly accurate and amazingly fast,” said Justman. “She absolutely contributed to the work of the department.”

The fire, reported the Chicago Tribune, broke out in Reifenberg's second-floor apartment on Saturday night. Firefighters found her on her bedroom floor. Reifenberg, who lived alone, was taken to Skokie Hospital. The cause of the fire was not determined.

Reifenberg, whose husband died in 1991, has five children and 10 grandchildren, according to the Tribune.

Reifenberg will be remembered as a “voracious reader,” according to Justman, who added that the 100-year-old walked a mile every day.