Marilyn Birnhak, Founder & President
I believe in you!
Bob Birnhak, Secretary, Treasurer
You can do it!
John Birnhak, Executive Vice President
We can help!
Marilyn remembers … In October of 1963, my husband, Bob, and I joined weight watchers. We hired a neighbor’s daughter to babysit our three small children and off we went with another couple to find out what Weight Watchers was all about.
It was raining that night as we waited for Bob to park our car. It took longer than we had expected and I started to worry. When he finally appeared he said, “I had a little accident with the car.” I said, “Well, let’s go home.” His reply was, “Oh no! We are here and we are going up those steps.” They were high and I had to stop and catch my breath.
When we walked in we were greeted by smiles and welcomes and given some papers to fill out. We paid the fee, stood in a long line and waited to be weighed-in by a smiling woman … who was in a closet!!
While we waited we could hear the person being weighed and she sounded happy. But I was scared that Bob, who was behind me, would find out what I weighed. When it was my turn to be weighed and measured, the weigher could tell I was nervous. “Don’t worry, your weight is private,” she said. What a relief! Next we found seats and waited for the lecture to begin.
The room was full of people of different sizes. A thin, stunning woman went to the front of the room and started to speak. She welcomed everyone and told us she was Jean Nidetch and that she had lost 72 pounds on Weight Watchers. She told us her own personal weight loss story … and that first night we laughed, cried a bit, and absolutely fell in love with Jean.
It started with a meeting ...
It was a dark and stormy night- No kidding, it really was! And everything, including a car accident, was working against Marilyn and Bob Birnhak making it to a meeting they planned to attend. It was back in September of 1963 and both were struggling with their own weight loss issues at the time. They made a decision together to lose weight and get healthy. So they decided to attend a weight-loss lecture in New York, by Jean Nidetch, founder of Weight Watchers.
That meeting, which they made against the odds, served as a harbinger of their future destiny. Marilyn and Bob became members, followed the program and reached their weight loss goals. Bob lost 45 pounds on the program and Marilyn lost 40. They became Lifetime Members.
She reached her goal and soon after, Marilyn was approached by Nidetch and her partner, Al Lippert, to become a Lecturer. After a little hesitation because the date conflicted with her wedding anniversary, Marilyn was told to, "Take it or leave it." She took it!
Weight Watchers began to spread out among various areas in New York and became well known throughout the city. During that time, Marilyn discovered Nidetch was going to begin franchising. She went home and asked Bob, an attorney, "What's a franchise?" Keep in mind in the `60s, franchising was a new thing. After he explained it she said, "Good, I want one." Bob asked, "Where?"
Marilyn's Philadelphia! "I wanted a Weight Watchers franchise in Philadelphia. Why? I was born here! In Stetson Hospital, right next door to the hat company owned by John Stetson." I was so surprised to find out he was the inventor of the cowboy hat! Then it occurred to me. That explains my love of hats ... it must have begun at birth!
I grew up in Philadelphia. Raised my children here. My family and my friends were here. I loved Philadelphia! I still do ... And I got my franchise! Weight Watchers of Philadelphia was the first independent franchise of Weight Watchers International! Eight counties in Pennsylvania and parts of three counties in New Jersey!
We rented a store in Mt. Airy and opened on October 9, 1964. We advertised in the local newspaper:
We got lots of calls! Some people did not know what we did. Some thought we fixed scales. One woman called and after I explained what we did, she asked me if we discriminated. I said, "Yes, no thin people allowed!"
When we opened Wednesday at noon, four women joined! We opened that night at 7 and in came my brother, Stuart, and his friend. Then another fellow and a woman. Three tall men and one short woman! Eight members our first day!
My mother, Reba Price was our clerk, and Bob and my father, Dick Price, welcomed the new members. I hired a good friend as a weigher and I was the Lecturer. I spoke so long that Bob sent me a note while I was lecturing. It read, "Stop! Save something for next week!" The truth is I haven't stopped talking about weight watchers for 53 years". And the rest, as they say, is history!
From 2 meetings and 8 members over 53 years ago, this thriving franchise today has members attending over 550 meetings in over 130 locations throughout 11 counties - 8 in PA and 3 in NJ. Marilyn continues to be a very active president.
Nobody's done it longer or better! Maybe it's because she doesn't just speak the words, Marilyn Birnhak means it when she says:
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