Lena York Roth, 93, key official in Baltimore YWCA during 1960s

June 21, 1999|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

Lena York Roth, a devout, soft-spoken activist from New York who became a key official for the Young Women's Christian Association in Baltimore during the 1960s, died Wednesday at Wilson Health Care Center in Gaithersburg. She was 93.

Mrs. Roth directed the International Center of the YWCA in East Baltimore -- which provided social activities and immigration services for thousands of women -- from 1959 until her retirement in 1970. She lived the past 29 years at Asbury Methodist Village in Montgomery County.

Born July 22, 1905, near the upstate town of Marian, N.Y., Mrs. Roth lost her mother, Anna, at an early age, and nearly died as a child of an unknown disease. Her father, fruit farmer Fred York, asked God to spare his daughter, promising that she would seek an education and devote her life to good works, according to one of her father's letters.

She studied speech at Taylor University in Indiana, and earned a master's degree from Teachers College, Columbia University. While at Columbia, she ran a New York City co-op for young women who were pursuing their studies.

She spent much of the 1940s working for the YWCA and Christian groups to promote churchgoing and reduce racial tensions among women working in factories. In 1945, she helped open a YWCA branch in Puerto Rico.

"We set up excursions and hikes into historical sections of San Juan with guides to narrate the history of buildings and events," she recalled in a 1959 interview with The Sun. "Native Puerto Ricans from ancient grandmothers to mothers with babies in their arms would join us, as many as 100 at a time."

In Puerto Rico, she met Marcel Roth, a Swiss native. They were married in 1949, according to her niece, and spent much of the next decade in Latin America, living for a time in Cuba, Brazil and Puerto Rico. When Mr. Roth retired, she took the YWCA job, and the family moved to Northeast Baltimore.

She collected seashells, and cooked Swiss food for her husband. Into her 80s, she remained active as a volunteer in public schools.

"She never talked a lot about herself. I knew her as a favorite aunt," said her niece, Mildred Van Nostrand of Ocean Pines. "I've discovered over the years that she had this affinity for helping women, children and people of different nationalities. I would have liked to know more about her."

A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. Sunday at the chapel at Wilson Health Care Center at Asbury Village.

Mrs. Roth's husband died in 1977. In addition to her niece, she is survived by two half-brothers, John and Fred York, both of upstate New York.

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Pub Date: 6/21/99

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