by Cate Murway
The name Matilda is originally of Teutonic [German] origins and means Mighty Battle Maiden. Matilda [Tillie] Brown VanAken, BHS '42 valedictorian [she won a watch for “making the grade” and earning that honor] takes obvious pride in Bristol Borough, with its rich and textured history. She has proudly cast the light of illumination and of being the true idealist as a Board member of the non-profit, volunteer organization, the Bristol Cultural & Historical Foundation for over 2 decades. Tillie is also an active member of its Ways & Means Committee, determined to preserve and promote the history of this 1681 riverfront town and increase the cultural opportunities for the residents of the community.
Tillie is truly inspirational and possesses the ability to lead merely by her own example. Her involvement of fashioning the evening was vital in the family-friendly and alcohol-free, affordable alternative to the more traditional, night-on-the-town New Year’s Eve celebrations, Bristol FIRST NIGHT. Although the planning for First Night is carried out by a relatively small number of people - the members of the Steering Committee - the implementation on the night itself depends on scores of volunteers.
Tillie also assists the BCHF in the annual Peach festival held in mid-August, providing inviting “peachy-keen” dishes of perfect, ethereally light angel food cake, topped with creamy vanilla ice cream and sweet Jersey-grown peaches.
“I don't think the dictionary contains enough adjectives to describe all of Tillie's attributes. Loyal, dependable, thoughtful, hard working, intelligent, unselfish, resourceful, diversified are descriptive words that come to mind. I've known Tillie since I started working at Rohm and Haas in 1952 and feel blessed to count her as my friend. Those of us who've served with her on various committees look on her as the "Energizer Bunny." She's the kind of person who rolls up her sleeves and gets the job done.” Helen Mary Younglove, BCHF Board of Directors.
Tillie Brown was born on Garden Street to Matilda [Wolvin], who worked at the landmark Grundy Worsted Mill with its easy-to-spot clock tower and Army PFC William Brown, who worked in the borough shoe factory but she spent her grammar school years in Bristol Township. Her family including her brother, William H. [Bill] Brown [late wife, Frances], retired St. Michael the Archangel School/Bishop Conwell H.S. maintenance man, and her sister, Mary Alice Newcomb who currently resides in Pillow, PA. returned to the Borough in time for Tillie to start school at BHS. She became friends with Richard Samuel VanAken’s track star sister, Helen who never quite seemed to be on time for school as her homeroom teacher, Miss Fabian closed the classroom door much more quickly than Tillie’s homeroom teacher, Mr. Charles Boyd, who would close the door slowly so Tillie wasn’t marked late.
She corresponded with Helen’s brother, Dick while he was in the service as 1st draft of WWII. They became engaged before he even returned home. Her “Knight” sent money home to his sister to purchase an engagement ring and Tillie’s future mother-in-law took her to Samson Street in Philadelphia to choose her betrothal gift. They settled on McKinley Street when they were first married and had 2 great sons, Holland resident, retired from R&H, Richard [Rich] Samuel, Jr., Delhaas ‘64/Utah State [wife Lenis] and Washington Crossing resident, chemical engineer Ken Robert, Truman ‘69/Kutztown [wife Elaine].
Ken loved to dance to The Dovells’ “The Bristol Stomp” at the Good Will Hose Company #3 Fire Station and he belongs to the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), an Irish-Catholic fraternal organization on Corson Street.
“To be Irish is a Blessing, To be a Hibernian is an Honor.”
She is also so very proud of her 2 grandsons and 2 granddaughters and 3 great grandchildren!
Her husband pin set at Bristol Bowl [upstairs above where the Amish Market was located] before the automated pin-setting machines were used to reset the pins after each ball was thrown. Tillie was a powerful kegler with a 171 average!
Richard Samuel died of heart failure in February 2005 and always called Tillie, who is innately made of idealistic concepts, his “Volunteer Extraordinaire”. His lifelong best friend was Andrew A. [Andy] Moore, Jr. [Grundy Museum Director Donna McCloskey’s father] and they worked together in the “Pennsy” RR for years as freight conductors and brakemen.
Tillie had a 38-year long career at the Fortune 500 Company, Rohm and Haas and retired in 1982. She also held employment in the office at the Manhatten Soap Company and invested one year of service in the Courier Times office.
Her “retirement” is full! Tillie was BCHF President for 3 years and ran the First Night celebration for 3 years and she is still currently a Vestry member, “agent and legal representative of the Parish” at St. Paul Episcopal in Levittown. Tillie helped prepare the traditional Seder supper, both a feast and a service with every part of the meal having a ritual significance; bazaar dinners and ran the kitchen for the flea markets and auctions.
She is a culinary enthusiast and likes to cook for crowds but confirmed, “I hate to cook for myself!” She thinks turkey is the easiest of all to prepare!
The need for food bank and food pantry services has been growing in recent years as income has not kept up with rising costs and federal program funding is not tied to inflation. Tillie is not complacent about what it takes to feed the unfortunate clients and she remains particularly active in the ERA [Emergency Relief Association] food pantry at the United Christian Church. Next time you go shopping, add an extra can or box of food for the much-needed provisions, staples such as soups, canned vegetables, tuna, canned fruit and pasta to assist organizations that supply free food to low-income persons.
Tillie will thank you!
Last year, Tillie was part of the Silver Lake Expo committee and this year, she is actively coordinating aspects of The Green Fest, scheduled for September 13, 2008 at the Silver Lake Nature Center on 1306 Bath Road, a premier sustainability event, ways to educate as many people as possible about conservation and the environmental issues.
“We are delighted that Tillie is on the planning committee; she’s a dynamo, a lovely lady!” shared Environmental Educator Patricia Ann [PattiAnn] Cutter.
Protecting the environment and saving money go hand-in-hand! Come party like there IS a Tomorrow where you’ll see the very best in green! Tillie shared, “The Amish are bringing their delicious foods!”
She has lived in her home in Bristol Township since 1951 but she still wishes she had never left the small town charm of the Borough. “Bristol was a safe place to be. We never even locked our houses. The trolley line was still going when I was a kid but everyone really just walked!”
She lived through depression times when decisions were made by going "eeny-meeny-miney-mo". Memories include stops at Pappajian’s Ice Cream for the greatest banana splits with three dips: vanilla, chocolate and strawberry.
“He had a terrible personality but we put up with him for the banana splits!”
Welfare baskets delivered twice a month included molasses [cheaper than refined sugar], Oleo and food-coloring capsules to dye the cheap and more-or-less palatable butter-substitute and flour to make bread and pancakes. A Christmas treasure was a stocking with an orange in it! They cut down a bare tree and wrapped it in cotton [because that was cheap then] to look like snow and decorated it with lights.
Tillie wore homemade dresses and loved school. She insisted on walking in her snowsuit through the crusted snow to get there often just to find that it was closed.
She remembers that boys used to swim naked in the canal and she “looked the other way” when she passed.
She went to see all of the wildly successful “Kenley Players” shows [blossomed into what Variety pegged as the “largest network of theaters on the strawhat circuit” (Variety 1983)], performances by theatrical producer, John Kenley [born John Kremchek] who owned the original Grand Theater on Mill Street. Every Saturday she trekked to the Bristol Theatre to “watch the Westerns”, the cowboy films that emphasised the values of honor and sacrifice. She left some of her paychecks at Kanters and the J.G. McCrory's five & dime store on Mill Street where “you could get anything there and there was a great luncheonette there, too.” What was so great about it? “The prices were #1 but the food was good, too!” She remembers shopping for her new shoes at Abraham Popkins’[Popkins’ Shoes store] and visiting Leon Plavin’s auto supply business that opened in Bristol in 1938, originally called Auto Boys, when it moved from auto parts to toys, hardware, sporting goods and televisions.
She loves the enriching, nourishing sound of Glenn Miller music and enjoys idling in the warmth and swing. Her favorite song is “String of Pearls”. A special memory is of “jitterbug” dancing [Harry Alexander White coined that term] with her late nephew, James [Jimmy] Kirk to “In the Mood”.
“First I held him lightly and we started to dance
Then I held him tightly what a dreamy romance”
Italian food is her favorite at “Cesare’s Italian Specialties Ristorante” [the closest thing to home cooking!], especially the red clam sauce with lots of clams on the half shell and sliced garlic on angel hair pasta. For her, a special dinner at “Annabella’s” is vodka rigatoni with roasted peppers and salty prosciutto or their amazing lasagna!
This July she and her friend, Helen Younglove are taking an idyllic mid-summer’s riverboat cruise down the Danube and last year they toured Belgium and the Netherlands.
Matilda VanAken has a good mind with keen analytical ability.
She reads every inch of the newspaper and loves mysteries. She enjoyed reading John Grisham’s gripping, intricate second book, the truly amazing “The Firm”, full of plot twists and suspense.
“The Lord gave me a very practical mind. I wasn’t adept at sports, just played soccer and softball for awhile and took piano lessons for a short time.”
She secretly believes there is more to life than we can know or prove and she likes volunteering but plans on cutting back some. “I will stay on BCHF ‘ways and means’ and working at the food pantry but I’ll be 85 years old. It’s time for family now!”
To recommend a Bristol Borough Character to be spotlighted: email firstname.lastname@example.org
American Heritage Dictionary
1.Moral or ethical strength. 2.A description of a person's attributes, traits, or abilities.
Matilda B. "Tillie" Van Aken
Posted: Sunday, May 27, 2012 4:00 am
Matilda B. 'Tillie' Van Aken of West Bristol passed away Thursday, May 24, 2012 at St. Mary Medical Center. She was 88.
Born in Bristol, she was a lifelong resident. She was a graduate of Bristol High School and was Valedictorian for the class of 1942.
Prior to her retirement in 1982 she was an Executive Administrative Assistant at Rohm and Haas in Bristol for 38 years.
Tillie was very active in many community organizations, especially, serving in many capacities with the Bristol Cultural and Historical Foundation and St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Levittown.
She was the wife of the late Richard S. Van Aken Sr.
She was also preceded in death by her brothers, William and Kenneth Brown, and Sister Verna Kirk.
She is survived by two sons, Richard S. Van Aken Jr. (Lenis) and Ken Robert Van Aken (Elaine); one sister, Mary Newcomb; four grandchildren: Kellee, Seth, Samuel and Sarah Van Aken, and five great-grandchildren: Mikayla, Bryce, Ethan, Minrose and Eil.
Relatives and friends are invited to attend her viewing on Tuesday, May 29, 2012 from 10 to 11 a.m. at the Molden Funeral Chapel Inc., 133 Otter St., Bristol, Pa.
Her service will follow at 11:30 a.m. at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 89 Pinewood Dr., Levittown PA 19054 with interment in Forest Hills Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Bristol Cultural and Historical Foundation, P.O. Box 215, Bristol, Pa. or to St. Paul's Episcopal Church.
To sign the online guestbook or send a condolence, please visit the Web site listed below. Molden Funeral Chapel Inc.,