Women of "That Great Gretsch Sound." Generation 1: Rosa
Rosa Gretsch: Gretsch’s “First” First Lady to founder, Friedrich Gretsch
Next to her husband, Friedrich, Rosa Gretsch is the second most important person responsible for today’s Gretsch family and business legacy.
Born Rosa Behman on June 18, 1856 in Brooklyn, New York to German-born parents, Rosa’s parents died in a Cholera epidemic when she was a baby. Fortunately, she was adopted by friends of her parents who had no children.
In February 1879, 22-year-old Rosa married Friedrich Gretsch who had immigrated to Brooklyn from Germany six years earlier and was working at Albert Houdlett & Son, a drum and banjo manufacturing business.
A year after getting married, Rosa and Friedrich started the Gretsch family legacy with the first of seven children. Fred Gretsch, Sr. was born on February 10, 1880. A second son, Walter, followed two years later. Being a talented piano player herself, Rosa was very encouraging to her husband to start a family musical instrument business. In April 1883, Friedrich “Americanized” his name to Fred and opened a small music shop in Brooklyn manufacturing banjos, tambourines, and drums for music wholesalers.
Five more children (Louis, Elsa, Helen, Hertha, and Herbert) were born between 1885 and 1891, and Friedrich’s small music manufacturing shop prospered and expanded to 12 employees. Rosa’s life was nearly shattered in 1895, however, when Friedrich, while in Germany on business, was stricken with Cholera. He was only 39 when he died.
A strong, independent woman for her time, Rosa was determined to pass along her husband’s successful musical instrument manufacturing business to her children. Today’s Gretsch family legacy started with Rosa’s bold decision to turn her husband’s company over to their oldest son, Fred, Sr., who was only 15 years old at the time. This proved to be a wise decision as Fred, Sr. guided Gretsch for 47 years, leading it to become one of the world’s largest and most respected manufacturers of musical instruments.
In addition to being remembered as a loving mother, totally dedicated to her seven children and large German-American extended family, Rosa also encouraged and worked with her two oldest sons, Fred Sr. and Walter, to keep the family business growing. In 1905, Rosa, Fred Sr., and Walter also incorporated the Fred Gretsch Realty Company with all three serving as directors.
During her life, Rosa was dedicated to the local Goodwill Industry chapters in New York. Rosa was a great cook and found time to bake and play piano at Goodwill fundraisers and enlisted her children to volunteer as well. Rosa later remarried David Kling (a friend of Friedrich’s who was also born in Mannheim, Germany) and passed away in 1934 at the age of 78. When Rosa’s household effects were inventoried, her most prized possession was her beloved Steinway Walnut Parlor Grand Piano.
Learn more about Rosa at www.lookingoppositely.com, a sited maintained by Rosa’s great-granddaughter Gretchen Elsner-Sommer.