|By Nancy A. Ruhling
It’s tough for women to make it to the top, so I eagerly follow at Isabel Spencer heels as she starts the march up the five floors to her office at the top of the Parish House of The Church of the Ascension in Greenwich Village.
The trail-blazing newspaper woman climbs carefully and gracefully, her sensible black flats taking her steadily upward. This is hard work and doubly so because she doesn’t have to be here today. As the beneficiaries manager for The Annie Tinker Association for Women, she works only two days a week, and this doesn’t happen to be one of them.
She was so far ahead of her time that there’s no room to list all of her accomplishments, so suffice it to say that she did tours at the Main Line Times, The Delaware County Daily News in Chester, Penn., the Philadelphia Daily News, The Trentonian in Trenton, New Jersey, the News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware, The Star-Ledger in Newark; The Daily Journal in Elizabeth, New Jersey, The Denver Post and finally the New York Daily News before retiring and taking the helm in 2001 at Annie Tinker.
Spencer’s a one-woman show for the national charity, which was established by Annie Rensselaer Tinker to provide modest financial help to older women, most of whom have worked in the arts or related fields, so they can remain in their homes. The bequest of Tinker, a member of a prominent banking family, is all the more remarkable because she didn’t live to old age: She was only 39 when she died in 1924.
Right now, Annie Tinker has 70 women on its roster, and a list of at least 20 worthy applicants waiting in the wings it doesn’t have the money to help. These are women, like Spencer, who have made a difference, and the $100 to $200 the association sends them every month makes a big difference in their lives. “You could not find a set of braver and or more outstanding people to be helping,” Spencer says. “We get people who never want to take money or anything else. We specialize in artists and writers, so they feel comfortable because they feet it is a grant for the work they have done in their lives, not charity.”
Through the years, The Annie Tinker Association for Woman has helped a variety of people, including the first woman to hold a pilot’s license in Hungary; a member of a girl group that was the lead-in act for singer Pearl Bailey; and a dancer whose eponymous avant-garde troupe dazzled audiences around the world. “We would like to help more,” says Spencer. “But it’s hard to raise money for older people. And these women are so deserving.”
The organization, whose greatest supporters included national advisory council member Kitty Carlisle Hart, doesn’t have a high profile or a website so people are referred by word of mouth. “These are people who have fascinating lives,” says Spencer, who interviews each one personally.
The Annie Tinker Association for Women, she says, is more about friendships than finances, and she never considers it work. And just as she did during her long career in journalism, she learns something new every day.
About all those flights of stairs. She tells me that she never makes the beneficiaries climb them because of their age. So the 66-year-old meets them at the front door and ushers them into a meeting room at street level. Being artists, they appreciate the great beauty of the church, whose McKim, Mead & White interior includes a spectacular mural of the Ascension and art-glass windows by John La Farge.
Spencer doesn’t mention whether she makes her Annie Tinker visitors coffee, but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if she does.
For more information on The Annie Tinker Association for Women, e-mail Isabel Spencer at Tinker1393@aol.com or write to her at 12 W. 11th St., New York, NY 10011.
Friday, November 2, 2007