July 10, 1939-Dec. 1, 2013
Rafaela Orta, known in the Hispanic community for her salsa dancing, deep love of family and poker games popular enough to attract Wilt Chamberlain, died Sunday in the Lancaster home of her daughter after a four-month battle with cancer. She was 74.
Born in Puerto Rico, she moved at age 11 to New York City, where she met her husband, Jose. They eventually moved to Western New York and spent time picking apples, beans and grapes in the fields of northern Chautauqua County before settling in Buffalo.
A resident of the city for 55 years, she was well known in her West Side community for her great salsa dancing and her love of horse racing, poker and the lottery.
Her family still talks about the night in the early 1970s when Wilt Chamberlain, then an all-star center with the Los Angeles Lakers, showed up at their door after a Buffalo Braves game looking for a good poker game.
“While my brothers knew who the 7-foot-2 man was, my mother didn’t,” said Nelly, her oldest daughter.
“She just asked who the ‘tall man’ was.”
While in Buffalo, she and her husband worked at the Fedders Manufacturing plant on Niagara Street, a job she retired from in 2004 after 36 years.
A mother to six, grandmother to 12 and great-grandmother to 11, Mrs. Orta was known among family members as the “leader of the pack,” who more than anything else valued time with her family, especially on holidays.
Her husband is deceased.
Survivors include two other daughters, Magalie Lomax and Evelyn; two sons, Jose and Edwin; a brother, Francisco Apellaniz; and two sisters, Helen Rivera and Antonia Apellaniz.
A service will be at 10 a.m. Thursday in Lombardo Funeral Home, 885 Niagara Falls Blvd., Amherst.