This is an oral history of Allen Gundersheimer, recorded February, 17, 1993.
Interviewer: Can you give us a little background about your growing up? You told me
that you grew up here. When were you born?
Interviewer: Where were your parents born?
Gundersheimer: Columbus, as were my grandparents, my great grandparents, my great,
great grandparents and my great, great great grandparents.
Interviewer: Who came over?
Gundersheimer: My great, great, great, great grandparents. Well, I guess it was my
great great grandparents. They moved to Columbus in 1840. And we’ve been here ever
since. As a matter of fact, my children are the first generation of my family to NOT live
in Columbus. I have a daughter in Atlanta and I have a daughter who lives in London, Ohio,
which is not far away. But that’s the first break-up of the family as far as Columbus
is concerned. It’s the first time there has not been a younger Gundersheimer
generation in this city since 1840. I’m sorta’ sad about that but that’s
the way it goes.
Interviewer: How did your great great grandparents end up in Columbus, do you know?
Gundersheimer: I suppose it’s because there were one or two other families from
their location in Germany who came here and when they decided to come to America, it was
natural – I think the Nussbaum family, who are no longer here, were one of the original
Jewish families in Columbus. They came here from a place called Middles, Germany and our
family followed. I think that’s probably the reason. Did you ever see Rabbi Marc Lee
Raphael – his book? It’s about the Jewish families in Columbus. It’s a great
history. I wouldn’t know anything about my original family if it hadn’t been for
him. He did a lot of work on this and it’s an excellent book, if you want to borrow
Interviewer: I’d love to.
Gundersheimer: You’ll get a lot of information about the early settlers in
Columbus. Our family and the Lazarus’s and the Nussbaum’s started the original
Temple Israel. And one of the Lazarus’s was the first rabbi or he conducted the
services until there was a rabbi.
Interviewer: What did your family do?
Gundersheimer: Well, most of them have been in retail. I have a picture, somewhere, of
South High Street. There are streetcars on it and one of the buildings has Gundersheimer
on it, a retail store. But the originals were in retail and my father was.
Interviewer: Did he open a separate store?
Gundersheimer: No. His father was not in business. I’m not really sure what my
grandfather on the Gundersheimer side did for a living. My dad opened a store with another
man and eventually became the sole owner of a store called The Fashion here in Columbus
which is now where the City Center is across the Street from Lazarus. Then later on, in
1948, The Fashion was bought by Allied Stores which are Morehouse Martins which is across
the alley from it. In 1950, they physically joined the two stores and made it Morehouse
Fashion and it became the second department store next to Lazarus. Allied needed more
space and that’s why they bought The Fashion. Then eventually Morehouse Fashion went
out of business and the Union Company came down and took over that space and it was there
until it was bought by Marshall Field which was really Halles and operated out of
Cleveland. Then Halle’s messed up and went out of business and that’s when City
Interviewer: I’d like to get back to your childhood. Did you have brothers and
Gundersheimer: Yes. I have one sister who is living and I had a brother who died a
couple years ago. After my brother died, I started thinking about my childhood and about
my grandchildren and I started writing about my childhood. I wrote as things came to me.
There is no particular order to it but now I have this whole thing about my childhood. Now
some of it would be of no interest to you because it’s personal but there’s a
lot of stuff that you can have a copy of.
Interviewer: I’m sure the Historical Society would like that.
Interviewer: Well, that’s what this is for. I’m real interested in
people’s history as well. That’s why I do this. Why don’t we meet again and
talk about it? But meanwhile, why don’t we talk about what it doesn’t cover?
Gundersheimer: I purposely kept this about when I was very young, mostly up to the age
of about ten. Because I think that’s the period my grandchildren would have thought
my life was unique. Things like horse drawn ice wagons. I told them about things they
wouldn’t know about or have any appreciation about. Like how we lived without
refrigerators, without televisions. I do remember horse drawn wagons for awhile, at least,
when we lived on Franklin Avenue which was where I was born. I wrote about Fair Avenue
School where I went to grade school and I wrote about restaurants in town and hotels that
were in town. I talked about the stores that were in town. Talked about Olentangy Park.
How long have you been in Columbus?
Interviewer: Five years.
Gundersheimer: You wouldn’t remember Olentangy Park that was on North High Street.
And it was a good size amusement park. It was big and that was where all the Columbus
people used to go. The Disney World for Columbus. And they had the Red Devil which was the
roller coaster, the Shoot the Chutes and the Fun House, the merry-go-round and the Ferris
wheel and all that stuff.
Interviewer: Can you remember any particular visits there?
Gundersheimer: In the first place, my father was a stockholder in this park so we used
to go and get strips of tickets and go on all the rides. This was child heaven. We went on
everything. The fun house scared me. It was fun for some people but I was terrified of it.
In the middle of the fun house, they had this huge wheel which you laid on or sat on. It
would start going around fast and would throw you off. If you were big enough and strong
enough to hold on (you had to be in the middle of the wheel because if you were on the
outside, obviously the cyntrifugal force would get you). They had an electric shock and
they’d shake you with electricity which made you let go faster. And they had a big
barrel which was probably about five feet around and half of it was going around this way
and you’d have to walk through it. They had all kinds of stairways which went all
over the place. It was fun and it was there for a long time. The park also had a huge
swimming pool – the largest one, certainly, in Ohio. And that was there for quite a while,
even after the park was gone. Apartment houses were built on that land and the apartment
owner kept the swimming pool for a long time. Then they eventually needed more land so
they filled it in. But that was big amusement for us.
Interviewer: What years was that?
Gundersheimer: Well, it would have been when I was very young. 1920s and early 1930s. I
don’t remember when they tore it down. I’m sure it was not there when I was in
high school – it was gone by then. And of course, in the downtown area, there were six
movie theaters. And this was big entertainment. Three of them, the Lexington, the Ohio and
the Palace are still there. The Southern is still there – it originally was a legitimate
stage but they made it a movie theater and it had a majestic, Broad, grand edition. We had
the Hartman on Third and State which was a beautiful legitimate theater where all the
plays showed when they came to Columbus. It was a Broadway type of size of theater. My
dad, when he was a kid, ushered there, at the Hartman. I think it was the only job he got
fired from. All the ushers decided they wanted more than fifty cents a day so they went to
the owner whose name was Boda and asked for a raise and he fired them. That was the end of
his career there.
Interviewer: What kinds of jobs did you have when you were young?
Gundersheimer: Well, obviously, I used to work for my father in the store. I started
when I was about nine years old. As a matter of fact, my first job, when I was nine, was
at Christmas, demonstrating toys – we had a little toy shop / department at Christmas and
then, there were no battery toys so we had to wind them. My job was to stand behind this
counter and wind toys to demonstrate. The first day I wound all these toys and I got a
blister on my thumb on my right hand and the second day I used my left hand, got a blister
there and then on the third day, I quit. I ran out of thumbs and there was nothing else I
Interviewer: Where did you progress from there.
Gundersheimer: Well, for years after that, during Christmas and Easter vacations, I
used to work in the marking and receiving room in the storeroom, helping mark merchandise.
That was my job. I used to go down with my dad, mark merchandise, come home and he paid me
fifty cents. But I never went on strike. I attended Ohio State University and just before
I was supposed to start my junior year, I enlisted in the Navy, which was because I was
going to be drafted at that point. I believe it was 1942. I was in the Navy three years.
Interviewer: Where were you stationed?
Gundersheimer: Mostly it was just in the North Antlantic. I was fortunate enough to
have safe duty. Two years were spent on a seagoing tug operating out of Bermuda. That was
rough but it wasn’t bad. We towed targets for other ships.
Interviewer: Did you ever become a target?
Gundersheimer: Yes. Definitely. One time we picked one up by mistake. I saw that shell
coming and it went right over our ship. They were good. Thank God it didn’t hit us or
I wouldn’t be here. We had a new officer on board and he had the bridge that night.
We were in the line of fire and they picked us up on radar and they shot at us. Of course,
during the war, we didn’t have any lights on the ship but he turned on every light he
could find to show them where we were and at that point, he got the signal and on the
light, he sent them this message. He said we were totally his target, not pushing him.
After I got out of the Navy, I didn’t go back to school immediately. I went to
work for my dad and I worked for the Fashion until it was sold to Allied in 1948. In 1950,
I went to work for Allied. I stayed there for a couple of years and then went to work for
the Union Company which was started by my grandfather, S.M. Levy. My grandfather’s
competition – his brothers-in-law and I went to work for them and stayed for twenty-five
years until I retired.
Interviewer: What did you do then?
Gundersheimer: Well, for sixteen years, I merchandized some other divisions. And then
the last twelve, I was working for The Union. I took over their personnel function. I did
training, a lot of executive training. I had a lot to do with people – I was head of their
personnel department; hiring, firing, training. The most employees we ever had was one
Christmas, we had 1,000 employees. So it was a pretty good size operation. We had five
stores in Columbus, we had four in Youngstown, one in Chillicothe and one in Marion all at
one time. There is still a store being called the Union up in the Kingsdale Shopping
Center. And they have another one in Dayton but it’s not the original family.
It’s somewhat the original store. It was a high quality, better store. They went up
to Chanel kind of clothing but it was mostly medium to medium-high prices.
Interviewer: It must have been odd for your family members to be in competition.
Gundersheimer: Well, I guess so. But that’s the way it was. The Fashion was
nothing but women’s and children’s. There were no men’s clothes there. It
had gifts and accessories and things but it was a one store operation just downtown. And
by the time I got really involved, it was at that point discouraging. Allied didn’t
really allow us to use our brains – everything was controlled. They were better at cutting
expenses to survive. It was frustrating. At that time, I was the women’s hosiery
buyer. Of course, there wasn’t too much creativity. It was just when women’s
hosiery was coming back on the market after the war. There was no such thing.
Manufacturers were becoming very fancy at that time, putting lines on hosiery and all
sorts of fancy stuff to sell. We sold tons of it on sale at seventy-nine cents a pair.
Interviewer: I’d like to talk about growing up Jewish. When you were young,
I’m sure the Jewish community was relatively small
Gundersheimer: I couldn’t tell you figures but it was. Everyone I knew, all of my
friends were born in Columbus. It was very unusual for someone to be growing up here who
wasn’t born in Columbus. When someone moved into town, it was unusual, it was a
strange thing. I remember a few people who moved here, it’s not that they
weren’t accepted – they were. But all the people I knew then were Columbus born and
bred. Now today, when I’m with a group, the chances of anyone who was born in
Columbus is rare.
I grew up in an unusual atmosphere about Judaism in that my parents’ generation
were trying to assimilate themselves into an American community or as Americans, not as
Jews. It’s not that we didn’t practice Judaism – we all went to Sunday School
and were confirmed. None of my friends were Bar Mitzvah – there was no such thing in
Temple Israel. I don’t even think the rabbi’s son, Ted Gup, who was my best
friend, was Bar Mitzvah.
The Reform Jewish community (that was when Temple Israel was on Bryden Road) really
went out of their way not to be Jewish in order to be accepted by the non Jewish
community. I think that’s the first generation that felt that way. So as I grew up, I
didn’t grow up with a real feeling of Judaism except for my formal education in
Sunday School. When I was quite young, we had a rabbi, Rabbi Tarshish, who had services on
Sunday morning because that was when all the churches had services. Tarshish was a superb
speaker and after awhile, he had a radio program in which he would give his sermon and
they obviously were very generic sermons. Eventually he left the pulpit to become a radio
speaker and he left Columbus, too. I have a letter from my father and it was written to
Hilda Tarshish who was the rabbi’s sister-in-law and she had evidently asked
dad for some information regarding her family. He wrote this letter to her and you may
have a copy of it – it might be of some interest to you. I don’t think Reform Judaism
was unique to Columbus. It seemed to be all over the United States during that generation
– some sort of revolution. These people wanted to be known as Americans rather than Jews.
And of course it affected my generation. We grew up with this feeling. Therefore, there
was this division between Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Judaism. Now you can go to any
temple and you can’t tell the difference in the services. Temple Israel, to me, is
just like a Conservative temple. Although I didn’t realize it while growing up,
looking back on it, I realize what was happening with my father and mother’s
Interviewer: So then, your friends were all in the same situation?
Gundersheimer: Yes, very much so. None of my friends were ever Bar Mitzvah. I
don’t know if we were unaware of it, we just thought it was the way to live. I do
remember we had Sedar in our home. I don’t remember if we had it every year, but I
remember having it. We also had Christmas. We used to have Christmas trees and celebrate
Christmas. Not as a religious holiday, obviously, but it was hang up your stocking and get
presents. But it was Christmas instead of Chanukah. Chanukah we got in Sunday School,
Christmas we got at home.
Interviewer: What about your school? Were there a lot of Jewish kids at your school?
Gundersheimer: Pretty much so because most of the Jewish community lived on the East
side. I was born on Franklin Avenue and I went to Fair Avenue grade school. Then I went to
Franklin Junior High School from seventh and eighth grades and then started high school at
Bexley. During that time, the Jewish communities went to those schools. When I started in
Bexley in 1936 (Class of 1940), there was a fairly good Jewish community there, not like
it is today. There were probably ten Jewish children in my graduating class at Bexley. I
wish I could think back and remember who they were. My cousins were two of them.
Interviewer: Did you ever experience any anti-Semitism?
Interviewer: You felt that you fit right in?
Gundersheimer: Yes. I really didn’t know about anti-Semitism until I had a brush
with it. I remember when my sister was going to be married. I was in high school then. No,
I was in college. She went apartment hunting and I went with her. We went to one apartment
house that had some vacancies and I remember this so clearly because the landlord, after
showing her the apartment, indicated that she would be happier somewhere else. All of a
sudden, it hit me. It was an experience I hadn’t had before.
Gundersheimer: We were primarily not Jewish. Now for years, I worked for The Fund and
sometimes I was in charge of the downtown small stores collection – I’ve been through
the whole thing: I’m on the board at Heritage House, have been for many years,
I’m past president of the Columbus Advertising Federation, past president of the
Columbus Personnel Society, past president of Columbus Speech and Hearing Center, and for
two years I was chairman of SCORE which I’m still interested in. All these are
non-Jewish agencies. I have always felt that I could do more for the Jewish community by
being active in these organizations than being active in Jewish organizations where
everyone’s Jewish. I’ve always had this feeling that I could do well for the
Jewish community by doing well in something other than a Jewish organization. And
it’s what I’ve always done.
Interviewer: Are you openly Jewish in these organizations?
Gundersheimer: I guess I’m just one of the people. In all these organizations you
start at the bottom and work up. Now I’ve never done it as a Jew. I don’t know
if it’s even a conscious thing, I just always had this feeling that I should do it.
Somebody should represent the Jewish community. And of course, it gives me a lot of
pleasure, too. And I think this is partially the feeling I got while growing up. My father
was the head of a lot of stuff. He originated what was then the Community Chest (which
before that was the War Chest – during World War I). He and some others went to Canada to
find out how they were doing their War Chest and they came back and started the first War
Chest in Columbus which then became the Community Chest, then the Red Feather Agencies and
now it’s United Way. One time when he was head of it, I’ll never forget, at the
Southern Hotel when they went over the top and they raised $230,000. I can still remember
my dad saying, “Someday this city will raise a million dollars.” Well, I forget
what their goal is today, something like thirteen million dollars. But this was my dad,
this was how he felt. He was very involved in the non-Jewish communities.
Interviewer: When your parents went out into the organizations, were they openly
Gundersheimer: No, he was not openly Jewish. I guess he did this as I felt. He did this
as a citizen of Columbus. He did this to help the city. He loved Columbus, as I do and he
felt he should contribute. And my Uncle Bob Levy has park named after him over on the
river. And he was responsible for putting all those flags up on Marconi and his name is
all over the city, too. Our family was athletic. Bob was very involved in the community
and he did many things but not necessarily in the Jewish community.
Interviewer: Probably the Christian community had no problem with that. What about the
Gundersheimer: There was no problem. They were all honored by the temple. They used to
call my mother ‘Mrs. Sisterhood.’ She was sisterhood president at Temple Israel
for so long that she almost had total possession of the trophy. She worked for the temple.
She put on the temple suppers, shows and she was very active in the temple. My father, on
the other hand, wasn’t, although he was the second president of Heritage House. So
it’s not like he didn’t make any contribution to the Jewish contribution –
it’s the way we grew up. My grandfather, S. M. Levy, I don’t remember him being
particularly active in the Jewish community. Nor were his sons, Herb or Bob. The daughters
were more interested in _______ I guess.
Interviewer: What about your own children?
Gundersheimer: Well, my son is very involved in Jewish life in North Chicago. My
daughter … as a matter of fact, both of them, after they grew up, were Bar/Bat Mitzvah.
So I sort of feel like maybe I failed them somewhere along the line because it was not
part of their upbringing. The two of them have much more religion than I had. This was
something they evidently felt a need for. My other daughter, on the other hand, had no
feelings for Judaism and took up Christianity but still loves Judaism and still goes to
services with us on important occasions because it’s still a part of her life.
Interviewer: When you say she took up Christianity, did she convert?
Gundersheimer: There was no formal conversion. She just started going to a church that
she found was satisfying to her . . . more so than she found going to temple. And I think
it had a lot to do with people. It was a matter of acceptance and so on. She is
bi-religious – she still feels she’s a Jew even
though she goes to Christian ceremonies and she married a Christian. Her children are
being brought up both ways. I’m not sure how confused they are.
Interviewer: What does that daughter do for a living?
Gundersheimer: She is an occupational therapy assistant and she works almost entirely
with mentally disadvantaged people of all ages.
Interviewer: Where did she go to school?
Gundersheimer: She went to the school that used to be attached to St. Anthony Hospital.
She didn’t want to go to college. The other two graduated from the University of
Cincinnati and both of them went back and got Masters but she didn’t feel she wanted
that so she went to Occupational Therapy school and she’s done it ever since.
It’s amazing to me how she hasn’t been brought down by this because she’s
been doing it for quite a few years. And to work with this type of people has got to bring
Interviewer: What do your other children do?
Gundersheimer: Well, my daughter, Lynn, is a housewife and my son, Lee, today, works
with electric heaters for the Neilson Company outside Chicago – he is with one of their
computer operations there. Both he and my daughter started out as social workers. Lynn
started out as a pre-school teacher at the Jewish Center and then she went on to social
work. Lee was doing social work in Chicago and I guess he burned out. He went right back
to school and learned computers.
Interviewer: How did they all happen to leave Columbus?
Gundersheimer: Lynn left because her husband was transferred. Lee got a job offer in
Chicago in social work so he still lives there even though he’s changed professions.
He stayed there because he’s married to a Chicago girl.
Interviewer: You were talking to me about your family in service ways. Everybody in
your family is interested in serving the community and then your children all went into
service oriented professions.
Gundersheimer: Lynn would like to do something but she’s raising two girls and
doesn’t have too much time to work but I think eventually she’ll go back into
Interviewer: What about all this service? Do you think it’s all a coincidence that
they all went into service oriented professions?
Gundersheimer: You mean the two of them?
Interviewer: Well, all three of them, really.
Gundersheimer: That’s true. I don’t know – I’m not sure. I think they
have very strong feelings toward all this. I really can’t answer that. I guess
we’d have to ask them if they were aware of why they went into it. Let’s see, it
has to be twenty years ago that they were going to school because they’re both
forty-ish now – Lee was just forty. I think, at that time, there were a lot of people who
were going into social work and psychology and these fields. It was a popular thing to do
and I think there was a very strong feeling in a lot of kids at that time that this was a
way to serve humanity and to make an impression. There were a lot of college kids who had
Interviewer: Did your children demonstrate against the war? Were they involved in the
Gundersheimer: I don’t think so. Fortunately, it ended before Lee would have had
to have been called up for the draft. After it was over, we talked about it and he told me
there was no way he would have fought in the war. He said he would have gone to Canada. I
didn’t realize it at the time but he had very strong feelings about it. They were in
school so whether they demonstrated in school or not, I’m not sure.
Interviewer: How did you feel about the Viet Nam War?
Gundersheimer: I felt it was a big mistake – the biggest mistake the country ever made.
I never could understand why we got into it. There was no reason for it. I didn’t
hide my feelings. I didn’t demonstrate. Several of my wife’s family did. Her
sister did in Chicago. She got involved with the Democratic Convention. Let’s get
back to Columbus.
Interviewer: Was your wife from Columbus?
Gundersheimer: No. She was from Waukegan, Illinois. I met her when I was in the navy.
Her Uncle married my cousin, Myrtle, and she was visiting in Columbus. I had come home on
leave and we met then and we got married about a year after I got out of the navy.
Interviewer: It was a long-distance relationship.
Gundersheimer: Yes. Very much so. As a matter of fact, even after I got out of the
navy, her family went to Tucson and she lived there for a year. So it still was a
long-distance relationship. She graduated from Northwestern and, as you know, she’s a
harpist and played with the Columbus Symphony for thirty-one years as the second harpist.
And she still plays the harp. She plays for weddings and parties and things she likes.
Like now, I think she’s out entertaining at a rest home. She has a troupe that she
takes around and entertains at rest homes, senior citizens’ homes . . . free of
charge. It’s done through the National Council of Jewish Women.
Interviewer: Service again.
Gundersheimer: Yes. Service again. I guess that’s what it boils down to. I work
for school and I have for awhile – twelve years, I’ve been on the school Council. But
that’s the way we were brought up. We were brought up with the idea that we owed the
city something. It’s a good city and we owe it something. My father never said
anything but we learned by his example and that’s how I feel as a husband. I know
that my daughter in Atlanta is doing some things, I don’t know what kinds of things
but it just keeps going on.
Interviewer: And you have grandchildren?
Gundersheimer: Yes. I have six grandchildren. Each of my children has two children. The
youngest, my son, has two sons and the youngest is like four months old. My daughter, has
two daughters and my daughter, Lynn has a daughter and a son. We go visit them in Chicago
once in awhile for a few days. We don’t see as much of them as we’d like to but
we do see them. And I think that’s the end of the grandchildren.
Interviewer: Well, I think we’ll stop here.
END OF INTERVIEW