100-Year-Old Woman Dies After Wilmette Fire Weeks Before Birthday

By Alexandria Fisher
|  Monday, Jul 22, 2013  |  Updated 6:38 AM PDT
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100-Year-Old Woman Dies After Wilmette Fire Weeks Before Birthday

Gayle Justman

Opal Reifenberg celebrates her 100th birthday at the Wilmette Public Library.

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A 100-year-old woman died Saturday after her living room caught fire in her Wilmette condominium.

Fire crews were called to the scene in 600 block of Ridge Road around 2:48 a.m. Saturday, according to a release from the Wilmette Fire Department.

Firefighters found the woman on her bedroom floor after forcing their way into her second-floor unit, where they believe the fire began, the release said.

Opal Reifenberg, 100, was pronounced dead at 10:15 p.m. at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Reifenberg, who would have turned 101 on Aug. 8, was still working at the Wilmette Public Library, according to co-workers.

"She was still working here," said co-worker Betty Giorgi. "She came in pretty much every day. She was just reliable and so kind-hearted, it's a terrible loss for us."

Her supervisor for 16 years, Gayle Justman, said Reifenberg had been working at the library Monday through Friday for almost 25 years.

"This is so upsetting to me and I'm so devastated by it," she said. "She was a fabulous employee and a wonderful, amazing person. We kept her here not because she worked here for so long but because she really did her job well."

And Giorgi said Reifenberg, who worked in the library's technical department, was still an active member of the Wilmette community, despite her age.

"She didn't look 100, she didn't act 100 and she applied herself to her work," Giorgi said. "She was pretty spry for 100 years old."

Crews from Winnetka, Evanston, Glenview, Northfield, Skokie, Morton Grove, highland Park and Lincolnwood aided with the blaze, which took more than three hours to put out.

Four other residents in the building were already outside when officials arrived and were not hurt, the release said.

The fire did not spread to other units but caused an estimated $300,000 in damage, according to the release.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
 

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