Rose Shelengian, 95, of Broomall, a Rosie the Riveter factory worker during World War II, a determined mother of three, and a proud Armenian American, died Sunday, Dec. 27, of respiratory failure related to COVID-19 at Wellington at Hershey’s Mill.
Born to parents whose own parents were victims of the Armenian genocide in World War I, Mrs. Shelengian celebrated her heritage and embraced family and work life with persistent exuberance. Even over these last few years, she got dressed, made the bed every day, and found something constructive to achieve.
“She did all that she could do in a day so that a minute was never wasted,” her family wrote in a tribute.
Even as she grew older, Mrs. Shelengian did not slow down. When it snowed, she shoveled the driveway. When she fell ill, she set her own recovery goals and charted a course back to health.
“She was always pushing forward,” said her grandson, Paul Vartan Sookiasian. “She always kept on going. And to get to 95 is not an easy road.”
“Rose’s life was one of overcoming obstacles, and immeasurable perseverance,” her family wrote.
Mrs. Shelengian was born in Bridgewater, Mass., in December 1924. Her parents had arrived from Turkey a year before with her older sister, Madeline. Her mother was a survivor of the genocide, and her father was a veteran of war in Turkey.
When the Depression closed the factory in which her father worked, the family moved to Philadelphia in 1935 to be close to relatives. Mrs. Shelengian, pushing forward in her new world, became active at St. Gregory’s Armenian Church, and found fellowship at the local Armenian Youth Federation.
Her plan was to go to college and become a teacher. But her mother died when she was 13, so Mrs. Shelengian redirected her energy to helping her sister run the household so their father could work in his tailor shop.
She graduated from West Philadelphia High School in 1942, and, when the United States entered World War II, took a job at a defense plant in Westinghouse’s turbine division. She became one of the women — memorialized through the iconic Rosie the Riveter campaign — who filled jobs in factories and shipyards during the war while men served in the military.
Mrs. Shelengian later became involved in Rosie the Riveter recognition programs, and in 2017 was honored by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney for her work both during and after the war. She was also proud to have had her story shared on a radio podcast that aired on Memorial Day 2019.
“She didn’t seek the limelight but knew deep down the unified work the Rosies did filled a huge need,” wrote Anne Frazier-Montague of the American Rosie Movement. “I am blessed to know her and the story of her life.”
After the war, Mrs. Shelengian, then Miss Basmajian, met Martin Vartan Shelengian, a veteran who served in the Pacific theater, at a social event. They married in 1947, and had three children: Armine, Richard, and Karen. They were married for 64 years until his death in 2011.
The family moved to Broomall in 1958, and Mrs. Shelengian returned to work in 1960 when her husband temporarily lost his job. She went on to work for 35 years, rising to executive secretary at the Ultra Sonic Seal Company. She retired at 70 only because “she figured it was time,” her family said.
Mrs. Shelengian was a talented cook, and she delighted in whipping up Armenian specialties, like choreg, a sweet bread. She liked to garden, read, and pass on family stories. She was a member of St. Gregory’s Ladies Guild. Family came first, and her grandson remembers that his first word was “Tide” because she always kept him close as she tended to the laundry.
“Her indomitable spirit was an inspiration and example to us all,” the family wrote.
In addition to her children and grandson, Mrs. Shelengian is survived by four grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and other relatives. A service was held last month.
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