Rosa Irick’s voice compels you to lean in.
Her disarming southern drawl invites you to stay a while. Her effortless cadence marks her as a natural storyteller, with whom seemingly mundane topics suddenly become fascinating tales.
“You can stay with her for a long time because she (tells) jokes,” said Sister Lucy Modester, an assistant care coordinator at New Community Gardens Senior, where Irick lives. In a word, Modester described Irick as “loving.”
Before moving into the New Community complex for seniors and disabled adults at 265 Morris Ave. in Newark, Irick was the caretaker of her late husband, Freddie.
“I was his wife and his nurse,” said Irick, who moved to Gardens Senior in 2004, a few years after her husband passed away. They had owned a two-family house on Pennsylvania Avenue, where collecting rent from tenants became burdensome, according to Irick.
Born in 1929, Irick recalls with clarity her upbringing in Columbia, S.C. “Back then, you had to be home (at) a certain time, you had to go to church,” she said. Irick had six brothers and sisters and stayed busy keeping up with her siblings. “They climbed the tree, I climbed it too,” she said.
After high school, Irick began working to provide for her family after her mother fell ill. She got a job lead through her aunt, who worked at the Coca Cola factory nearby. When the supervisor eyed Irick’s petite frame, he questioned whether she’d be up for the strenuous labor, which included stacking cases of glass Coca Cola bottles six high, she said.
With nothing but gumption, Irick convinced the supervisor that she could handle it.
“He said, ‘Okay, I’ll give you a try,’” Irick said. She took her coverall uniform home and altered it to wear for the next day.
For the next 18 years, Irick worked at Coca Cola inspecting bottles. She met her husband, who drove trucks to make the deliveries, on the job. “So that’s the story,” said Irick, summoning her signature refrain. “It’s a beautiful life.”
Irick’s habitual nature of caring for others—previously her mother and husband—has carried over to Gardens Senior. She jokes with a 91-year-old neighbor in her building, for whom she often cooks, saying, “Open your door, your maid is at your door,” before entering the apartment.
Irick worked for several years at a dry cleaner conveyor belt business in Kenilworth earning $1 an hour. “That was good money. We thought we were rich,” Irick said with a smile. She also previously cooked with her mother for a restaurant in Newark nearby her former Pennsylvania Avenue home, cleaned houses and worked at a cafeteria hall in Columbia. Irick also served in the past as associate matron for the Order of the Eastern Star of New Jersey, a co-ed fraternal organization.