About to celebrate her 100th birthday, she’s still dancing

by Len Lear
Posted 3/28/24

Betty Matusow Perlmutter was in a coma and on life support for two weeks. She was 87. Now, “There is so much joy and wonder in everything," she says.

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About to celebrate her 100th birthday, she’s still dancing


Betty Matusow Perlmutter was in a coma and on life support for two weeks at Boston General Hospital. She was 87.

“But the staff did not write her off,” said her daughter, Harriet Zilber. “She worked so hard to recover, and it is so remarkable that she did make a complete recovery.”

Perlmutter, who lived almost her entire life in or near Northwest Philadelphia, will celebrate her 100th birthday on April 5 with a family dinner at Zilber's house and a much larger gathering of friends and family on April 21 at the same location. 

“Since I recovered after the coma, I have been born again,” she said. “There is so much joy and wonder in everything. I learned a lot from my daughter. I now talk to family members as friends, not just as family. I am so grateful that they want to spend time with me, not just tolerate me. I now can see things I never saw before.”

Perlmutter went to the Henry Elementary School, where two of her great-grandchildren, who are twins, are now in first grade. She also went to Roosevelt Junior High School and graduated from Germantown High School in 1941. After high school, the family moved to Lincoln Drive in Mt. Airy. 

Perlmutter was married in the Mayfair House, a 21-story apartment house at Lincoln Drive and Johnson Street that was demolished in 1999. She and her husband Jack, who worked in the finance industry, first moved to West Johnson Street and then to Milton Street, next to Awbury Arboretum in Germantown. In 1964, the family moved to a house in Wyncote.

“I was very upset about that because I wanted to go to Girls High School, but I was not allowed to go since we lived just outside the city,” Zilber said. “We went to Elkins Park Jr. High and Cheltenham High School instead.”

In 1979, Perlmutter and her husband moved to an apartment in Wyncote Towers. They lived there until she moved seven years ago to her current residence in Elkins Park.

“Growing up in Mt. Airy, we had lots of happy family get-togethers,” Perlmutter said. “I was raised with togetherness.”

Perlmutter is quite busy for an almost centenarian. She still goes to exercise classes, attends book clubs and does arts and crafts. She just finished reading “Harlem Shuffle,” a novel by Colson Whitehead that she did not like. But, she loved the author’s “Underground Railroad,” though.

“Meals [on] Wheels brings books, and about five to 15 people discuss the books,” she said. “I sometimes put on a light in the middle of the night to read.”

She also reads The Philadelphia Inquirer seven days a week and is a big fan of the Eagles, 76ers, and Phillies.

“Mom never watched sports till our dad died,” Zilber said. “Since then my husband Sidney and her would watch games together.”

She’s an especially big fan of the Eagles, “whom she is now quite upset with,” Zilber said.   

“I yell louder than Sidney when we watch sports,” Perlmutter said. “I'd watch a sports weekend with salty snacks and milk chocolate candy.”

Some comedians have made their careers out of jokes about old people's loss of memory, but Perlmutter belies the stereotype.

Zilber said her mother’s memory is “amazing.”

“I can tell you the names of my teachers at Henry School,” Perlmutter added. “Miss Moffatt was the principal, and I was one of her 'right-hand girls.' I had to tattle on other kids to Miss Moffatt.”

After high school, Perlmutter took a two-year secretarial course at Temple University, graduating in 1942. She had a civil service job as a secretary with the federal government until 1948 and then went to work for her father in the raw wool business. She was married in 1949, had Zilber in 1950, and never worked outside the home again, but she has done volunteer work including knitting babies' clothing items and donating them to the Abington Hospital Baby Bureau. 

Perlmutter's husband of 54 years, Jack, a World War II veteran, died in 2004 at age 82. In addition to Zilber, they had a son, Lee, a volunteer chief of the Willow Grove Fire Department, who died at 67.

Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com.