Today’s Obituaries—July 9: Esther S. Rosen, Longtime Haverhill High School Head Librarian

(File photograph.)

Esther S. Rosen.

Esther S. Rosen, a daughter of Jewish immigrant shopkeepers whose intellectual curiosity drove a lifetime of learning, teaching, and stimulating conversation, died July 7 after a brief illness. The North Andover, Mass., resident was 96.

Mrs. Rosen was the matriarch of a large family, and she was always ready to offer a book recommendation, a wry observation, or a word of the Yiddish that she hoped would survive her generation. She was particularly interested in theology, and she spent a lifetime interrogating her own Jewish traditions—but always reveling in the Passover and Hanukkah gatherings she hosted into her 90s.

Mrs. Rosen was born Esther Solomon and raised in Roxbury, Mass., where she lived in an apartment over the grocery store that her parents owned. She often recalled how her family had extended credit to the people of the neighborhood to help them get through rough spots during the Great Depression.

Mrs. Rosen’s parents had fled, separately, from Latvia at a time when Jews in Eastern Europe were threatened by oppression and violence. While Rose and Arthur Solomon were not well educated, they were determined that their two children would be. Mrs. Rosen attended Girls Latin School and earned a scholarship to Simmons College, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in library science.

During World War II, Mrs. Rosen moved to New Jersey, where she became a corporate librarian for Standard Oil Co.

She would return after the war to Massachusetts, where she met William Rosen of Haverhill, Mass., on a blind date arranged by mutual friends. The two agreed to meet on the steps of a building at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Mr. Rosen later recalled the story of how she made sure he would find her: Mrs. Rosen told her suitor, “I’ll be wearing red shoes.”

The two married in 1950, and they would welcome three children: Joel, Judy, and David. They raised their family in Haverhill, where Mr. Rosen owned Modern Paint & Wallpaper and Mrs. Rosen served as head librarian at Haverhill High School for more than 25 years.

The Rosen household fostered a spirit of inquiry. The family received the New York Times, The Boston Globe, and The Haverhill Gazette every day, and Mrs. Rosen—a lifelong stickler for grammar—would read the latter so closely that she would mark errors and corrections in red pen. She loved verse and could readily quote from Shakespeare, playfully quizzing her children even in adulthood to ensure that they could do the same.

Mrs. Rosen was a contestant on Jeopardy in 1963, appearing on four episodes. She was ahead of her competitors in her last appearance before missing her final question: What is the fourth planet from the Sun. Mrs. Rosen guessed “Venus.” Nonetheless, Mrs. Rosen cleared $1,500, and she went shopping in New York before returning home. She spent some of the money on a French chandelier that hung in her home for the rest of her life.

She always had a unique, bold style. Mrs. Rosen sought out clothing with dramatic patterns and bright colors, and she always had matching jewelry for her ensembles.

Mrs. Rosen’s life was also touched by profound sadness and loss. William Rosen died in 1986 at the age of 68. Judy Wolfson, Mrs. Rosen’s daughter, died in 2004 at the age of 48, leaving her husband and two children.

A lifelong lover of travel, Mrs. Rosen made regular international trips to cultural sites until her health began to limit her mobility late in life. Though she spent most of her time abroad viewing antiquities and visiting museums, she did find the time to return with striking gifts for her loved ones, always with a story of how she came upon them.

Children were among Mrs. Rosen’s greatest joys, and she delighted in doting on her grandchildren and great grandchildren with snack foods such as Hostess Cakes and Kool-Aid. Mrs. Rosen made sure that her young family members would appreciate Boston’s cultural institutions as she did, taking them to the Museum of Fine Art and the Museum of Science. She would look forward to these “dates” eagerly, boasting to friends about her plans as the appointed time drew near.

Mrs. Rosen was a long-time member of Temple Emanu-El in Haverhill, where all three of her children became b’nei mitzvah. She was instrumental in the temple’s scholarship loan program. She was also active in the women’s organization Hadassah, for which she was president of the Haverhill chapter. She was the group’s “Woman of the Year.”

Mrs. Rosen is survived by her son Joel Rosen and wife Shaw Rosen of Derry, N.H., her son David Rosen of Haverhill; her son-in-law, Jeffrey Wolfson, of Needham, Mass.; her brother, Paul Solomon, of Worcester, Mass.; her grandson Andy Rosen and wife Emily Kline of Boston; her grandson Dan Wolfson and wife Jenna Wolfson of New York, N.Y.; her granddaughter Emily Auger and husband Nate Auger of Bedford, N.H.; and her granddaughter Rachel Bullerjahn and husband Lucas Bullerjahn of New York, N.Y. Mrs. Rosen had four great grandchildren.

Private graveside services will be held in the Children of Israel Cemetery, Haverhill. Arrangements are by the H.L. Farmer & Sons Funeral Homes, Haverhill & Bradford.

In lieu of flowers, Mrs. Rosen's family asks that people honor her with a gift to the Haverhill Public Library in her name.

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