This interview with Charles Lazarus for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society was recorded November 12, 1995 as part of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Oral History Project recorded by Bette Young.
Interviewer: Let’s talk about your family first. When did they first come
Lazarus: About 1849 or 1851. I’m not sure which. My great grandfather,
Simon Lazarus, was trained in Germany as a Rabbi, but was never ordained. He got
through all the training and I believe Temple Israel was started in 1848, maybe
1846. My great grandfather started the Lazarus business in 1851 in a little
store that I’m looking at now that was a 20-foot store from just off Town
Street on High Street.
Interviewer: Is the building still there?
Lazarus: No, the building is not still there. It was 20 feet by 40 feet. As
soon as the store started in that location, services for the temple of which my
great grandfather was a member, started in a little room on the second floor of
what was then known as S. Lazarus. Later, it became S. Lazarus & Sons, then
F. & R. Lazarus, and finally, just Lazarus, as a fourth generation went into
Interviewer: Your great grandfather brought a wife here? Or did he marry
Lazarus: My great grandfather married for the second time. I can’t tell you
about the first time because he was married in Germany. He married Amelia who
came over here with one son. After she came here, she had two sons, Fred and
Ralph. Simon died in 1877, but he set a course for the family and the business.
All the children started working at a very young age.
An interesting thing about great grandfather is that he was a very
aggressive, but quiet man, and when the soldiers came back from the Civil War in
1865, 14 years after his store opened, he sensed he had to do things quickly to
get things ready for the soldiers. So, he took a horse and buggy from Columbus,
OH to Rochester, NY and, somehow brought back the first 200 ready-made tailored
suits. Suits like these had never been sold that way in central Ohio. There were
200 tailor shops up and down High Street when the Civil War started. Six or
seven years later, there were four tailor shops up and down High Street because
of the Industrial Revolution and things started to be manufactured en masse.
He was always planning for the future.
Interviewer: Did Fred and Ralph go to high school?
Lazarus: I really don’t remember.
Interviewer: Who are Fred and Ralph’s children? Which one was your
Lazarus: Well, in addition to the two boys, there were six sisters. They’re
all gone now but at the Lazarus plot at the cemetery, Aunt Sally Cohen, who was
Abe Cohen’s wife, is buried there. She was a real character.
Interviewer: Was she your great aunt?
Lazarus: Yes. She was a football, baseball, and athletic nut, even when she
was in her 80s and 90s. She used to talk to my father about what she thought of
the Columbus Senators and what she thought of the old ball club. She was great.
Interviewer: Where did she live?
Lazarus: Out in California. When her last daughter, Rae, died, Aunt Sally had
her cremated in Los Angeles and brought her east on an airplane. They had to
stop frequently to refuel. When they stopped in Kansas City for breakfast, Aunt
Sally got off the plane with her box, sat down at a table for breakfast and an
officer walked by and asked her what was in the box. She said, “That’s my
daughter.” When she got here, she asked me to take her out to the cemetery
it was the 1940s. When we got there, she asked me if I remembered a daughter
of hers who was born in the 1870s and died in infancy. It was quite some time
ago and I didn’t remember so she asked me if I could think of anyone else who
might remember. When I said no, she told me to take her over to the stone
carver, Mr. Wege. She asked him how much heed give her on a trade-in on the
tombstone for the infant daughter who died seventy or eighty years before. She
got twelve dollars for it and she bought a new tombstone for Rae. Sally’s
husband was a man by the name of Abe Cohen. The first branch store of Lazarus
was started just north of Broad and High Streets on High Street. They set him up
out there because he was so impossible to work with at the main Lazarus store.
Interviewer: When was this?
Lazarus: This was back around 1910 or 1911.
Interviewer: What made Sally move out to California?
Lazarus: She moved after her husband, Abe, died.
Interviewer: What about the other sisters? Did any of them stay in Columbus?
Lazarus: No. None of them stayed in Columbus. One of them married a man who
changed her name to Gillette. She was no longer Jewish after that. But, the rest
of them, as far as I know, practiced Judaism until they died. Sally had a son
named Sidney who also wasn’t much good. He was Fatty Arbuckle’s manager. Do
you know who he was?
Interviewer: Well, has was before my time, but I certainly know who he was.
Lazarus: Whatever he made, he gambled it away. He was a born gambler.
Interviewer: Which one was your grandfather?
Lazarus: Fred. My great grandfather died in 1877. Fred and my great uncle,
Ralph, took over the business until he died in 1917. I was three years old at
the time. He had a wonderful way of dealing with the grandchildren. Heed put
us over his knee and slap us on the behind and pennies would fall out on the
floor. He lived at 1080 Bryden Road at Bryden Road and Ohio. There’s an
interesting story about that house. When my grandfather and grandmother died
(she didn’t die until 1927).
Interviewer: Who was your grandmother?
Lazarus: She was Rose Lazarus. She’s the one whose picture is in the
library. Ill talk about her later. She died before Simon, Fred, Robert and
Jeffrey. They offered the mansion to the temple Sisterhood as their permanent
home. The Sisterhood turned it down. The brothers decided they weren’t going
to leave it to the temple because it was too far away. There’s a parking lot
there now. We lived just further east on Bryden at 1337 Bryden Road. We used to
walk from Kendall Place down to grandfathers place.
Interviewer: Simon was your father. I think I know who everyone is. Was
Jeffrey the one in Cincinnati?
Lazarus: Yes. He started here, but when Lazarus bought Shillito’s in 1927, he
moved to Cincinnati to run the store. But, Uncle Fred, who at that time was the
financial wizard of the Lazarus store, used to drive down there twice a week (in
1929, that was no little trip) just to see that everything was going along all
right. Fred stayed here until 1946 because he wanted to set up a headquarters
for Federated Department Stores to which Lazarus had sold out in order to get
more capital. Fred started Federated Department Stores in 1929. He stayed in
Columbus until 1946. The four brothers, who were active, were Fred, who left
college because grandfather was sick and needed help.
Interviewer: Was Fred the oldest?
Lazarus: No, my father, Simon, was the oldest. Simon was here and he majored
in personnel and community relations. Fred majored in finances and, in those
days, merchandising. When Robert came along after World War I, there were three
of them running the store. He concentrated on merchandise and publicity. He was
an absolutely brilliant merchant and executive.
Simons family consisted of my brother, Si, who’s no longer living, then
me, then my sister, Rose, who’s no longer living, and then my sister, Joan,
who lives in Cincinnati.
Fred’s family had Fred Lazarus, III, Ralph, neither of whom are living;
Maurice and Ann. Ann and Maurice are still living.
Roberts family included Charlotte Witkind (living), Jean (who recently
died), Babs Sirak, and Bob, Jr. (still living).
Jeffrey’s family is David
Interviewer: I know David. He was in college when I was in college.
Lazarus: Was he? Wonderful guy. Big, heavy-set..
Interviewer: Does he have a sister? Or a half-sister?
Lazarus: He has two sisters Ruth and Betty. He has two brothers
Frank, who lives in Arizona, and Jeff, in Cincinnati. Irma was Fred’s second
wife and she had two children by her first husband. So there were half-sisters
and brothers of Fred’s children. Maurice lives in Boston.
Interviewer: Wasn’t he in Houston for a long time?
Lazarus: Yes, and now he’s been in Boston for a long time. It’s
interesting about Simon, Robert, Fred, their children and then my generation
practically all community projects that started in Columbus seemingly had one of
the Lazarus involved or one of them started the operation.
Interviewer: Like what?
Lazarus: The Community Fund. War Bonds. They all believed that the business
would succeed as Columbus succeeded. We were all brought up with a theory that
you have to give back to the community and you have to build for the community
which will assure that we live in a healthy and sound area.
Interviewer: Let’s get to you. You were born in 1914?
Lazarus: Three years before my grandfather died.
Interviewer: You lived on Bryden Road?
Lazarus: I lived at 1337 Bryden Road until my family built one of the first
houses out in Bexley on South Columbia Avenue.
Interviewer: When was that?
Lazarus: I believe around 1922 or 1923. It was quite a move in those days.
All of my siblings were born or brought up there. They were born two years apart
and we all went to either Columbus Academy or Columbus School for Girls and/or
Columbus Public Schools. I went to Bexley Public Schools Montrose for three
and a half years, then Columbus Academy, then Phillips Exeter Academy, then
Williams College for two years and, lastly, to Yale, from which I graduated.
One of my daughters, Wendy, was in the first class at Yale that graduated
women in 1970.
In the early days, my dad used to get to a fitness instructor from the
Capital Seminary at 6:30 every morning. Incidentally, my grandfather, Fred,
attended what was the predecessor of the Capital Seminary down on Goodale Street
in the late 1800s. My father went to Stanton Military School don’t ask me
how or why. He then went to Bliss Business College for six months. That was all
the education he had. These were pretty much self-made men. My generation never
had to suffer or go through the hardships they had to suffer. It never happened.
When they were being brought up and the store was over here on High Street, it
kept expanding and expanding on that block, until, finally, it covered
practically the whole block and the alley to Town Street. Then in 1909, Uncle
Fred convinced my grandfather that the family had to mortgage absolutely
everything they had. Gamble on the future. And they built the store. Two floors
were empty. The store had the first escalator in the country, which they had to
take out two years later because people were afraid of it. At the bottom of the
stairs was a huge tank with a big alligator in it. This was one of the special
events and the exciting things that used to happen in department stores.
But after they occupied the first three floors and the lower level, they
built onto the back and built onto Front Street. In 1926, when we went to expand
north on High Street, we found a reinforcing rod sticking out of the building,
ready for expansion that would come fifty years later. It is interesting, the
frame of mind the family had.
Interviewer: What happened during the Depression? Was your family affected at
Lazarus: Well, I’m ashamed to say that I really can’t tell you. I was
away at school the whole time. My mother, Edna, died during the Depression while
I was away at school.
Interviewer: Where was she from?
Lazarus: She was from Chicago. Her family had a reasonably successful
clothing company by the name of Charles Yondorf. If you go to Chicago today, the
Yondorf building is still standing where the store was. Anyhow, mother died from
cancer. She had a terrible, terrible last few years. I was in my second year at
Williams College then. She just had a very rough time. In those days, there was
nothing to help her.
Interviewer: So, why did you leave Williams College? You just didn’t like
Lazarus: I didn’t think the faculty was any good. There was an incredible
amount of anti-Semitism.
Interviewer: What year was this?
Lazarus: 1933. Id never run into any overt anti-Semitism like that before,
but what happened to us in our freshman year was beyond belief. There were 15
fraternities up there and they rushed the first week of college before classes
started. Every single person in the freshman class except the Jews got
invitations to at least one fraternity to join. Fortunately, they’ve done away
with this since, but I just didn’t want any part of an institution that felt
this way. Id come from Exeter, a totally integrated society. I majored in art
because I was pretty sure I was going to go into the business.
Interviewer: Did all the Lazarus’s in your generation go into the business?
Lazarus: No, my brother, Si, went to law school. He started practicing law in
Cincinnati, but he ultimately spent some time in the Federated Corporate offices
and personnel. He then went back to practicing law. Also, we all spent time
lots of time in the service. I was in the service for five years.
Interviewer: Well have to talk about that later. So you went to war. Is
that where you met Frannie?
Lazarus: No, I wasn’t married when I went into the service. When I came out
of the service in 1946, my brother told me that he still had his address book
from before he was married and one of the people he had taken out was Frannie
Nathan. She had gone to Sarah Lawrence. So, uniform and all, I called her
because I had to be in New York a couple of times. So, after two or three dates,
we were married about six months later. Frannie died in 1982, and I remarried
Dorothy Gordon-Ginsberg in 1985.
Interviewer: Where is she from?
Lazarus: She’s originally from Atlanta. She was born in Charlotte and then
the family moved to St. Louis. She was married and divorced and moved to New
York and married again. Her husband died and I met her in Palm Desert.
Interviewer: Would you like to talk about your kids?
Lazarus: Peggy is the oldest and she is married to Stephen Schwartz, a local
architect. They’re now building a house out in New Albany. Stephen just
finished building a temple in New Albany and it’s beautiful. He just did some
things for the store, built an expansion to Westland. He’s a very versatile
guy with marvelous taste. Peggy’s very active in a lot of things in Columbus.
She went to Smith College and then went to Sarah Lawrence for awhile. Then she
went through a spell where she wasn’t well. Then she and Stephen got to know
one another. But, she is really into art and was on the Nelson Rockefeller staff
in fine arts. Shortly after they were married, they moved here.
Interviewer: Where did Stephen go to college?
Lazarus: He went to Princeton. He has an architectural degree. He just went
back to a reunion. I don’t know which one. Their son, Jon, now goes to
Interviewer: How many children do they have?
Lazarus: They have three children. Matthew worked for Miramax and was
assistant to the chairman for awhile.
Interviewer: Out in California?
Lazarus: In New York. Before that, he was in California, working for ICM
Talent Agency. He’s a very bright young guy. He’s now working for the head
of publicity at World Wide. He’s got a big job.
John is doing extremely well. He was a sports nut. When he found he couldn’t
make the tennis or soccer team at Princeton, he went out for crew and he’s
been the coxswain on the crew for the last two years.
Their youngest was just Bar Mitzvah at your temple. It was a lovely service.
And he’s getting ready to go into the seventh grade.
Interviewer: Very nice. Then there’s Wendy.
Lazarus: First lets talk about Stuart. Stuart had two domineering older
sisters. He went to Academy, then went to Union College in New York where he did
extremely well. But, it was much to our surprise when he went to Carnegie Mellon
where he got both a Masters and Doctorate degree in Curriculum Development.
When he got out of there, he went to Bloomington, Indiana because they had a
fabulous curriculum development department and he worked there with two of his
friends in that field. Then he came here and started his own business called
“Learning Design Associates.” They write, do production, do art work
for textbooks of all kinds.
Interviewer: Where are they located?
Lazarus: They’re located in German Village in an old school house on Mohawk
Interviewer: Is it the old Mohawk School?
Lazarus: I think it is. He works for publishers and farms out most of the
jobs. I don’t think they publish anything themselves, but it’s a big
operation now. They’re so sophisticated and computerized, there was a time
when they had twenty or thirty input people working in that plant. That’s all
they did. They had writers all over the country to write for them and put their
stuff into the computers. He’s just done a fabulous job.
Also, Stuart is now head of the National Hospice Foundation. He was head of
the National Hospice Organization because of Frannie. He now travels all over
the country helping them set up community committees and community
organizations. Did you see the show of photographers up at the Wexner Center?
Well, Stuart’s company did all of the educational work for that exhibit that
started in Washington with pictures of Hospice patients. When he sets out to do
something, he does a marvelous job. As you know, he’s married to Cindy.
Interviewer: She’s a very talented lady.
Lazarus: She used to be Cindy Cecil, a lawyer and president of City Council.
She is now a judge in Appellate Court, elected several years ago. She’s a
wonderful gal and they have one daughter, Frannie. You know who she’s named
Interviewer: I’ve seen her.
Lazarus: Sibling Wendy has also had an incredible career. She was president
of her class and president of the school.
Interviewer: It’s genetic.
Lazarus: She then went on to Smith. After two years, she applied to Yale. The
last two years at Yale, she was in the first graduating class that had women.
Both she and Stuart were very active. Wendy was a very good tennis player. Very
good. She went to France one summer. Stuart was very active in swimming. Peggy
was not active athletically. But, their mother was a great tennis player and
athlete. When Wendy graduated from Yale, she went down to North Carolina where
she earned her Masters Degree in public health. She worked very closely with
Marion Edelman and still does. She married Harley Frankel, another great guy who’s
really a public servant and has worked with the federal government. He was
budget director for the state of Colorado, executive vice president of major
league soccer and today he’s the president of something athletic.
There’s a funny story about this. When I was asked to go on the Federal
Reserve Board in Washington during the Carter administration, I went to
Washington to look it over. Who should be in the personnel office but Harley
Frankel. He did not pass on this. He did not have anything to do with it. I
spent three days down there in Washington they wanted me to be Vice
Chairman. I couldn’t do it. Frannie was quite sick. I turned it down. They
were looking for someone with different skills than I had. So, I said no
they begged me, but I said no. Bill Miller, I worked with on the Federated Board
said they didn’t ask a Conservative Republican this was a Democratic
Interviewer: Have you always been a Conservative Republican?
Lazarus: I’ve always been a Republican. I’m not that conservative.
Interviewer: I want to ask you about the different things you’ve done in
your life besides Lazarus which is very impressive. I would like you to talk
about Lazarus it has been such a focus in this town. I remember when I was
growing up, it was where everything was happening all the time. You talked about
your family but what happened under your watch? Anything significant?
Lazarus: In a big organization like Lazarus, there is no one person who does
everything. Nor are there six people that do anything. The primary job of a
management is to instill in people an attitude about customers, about growth,
about economics and then stand back and watch them do it. You can initiate a lot
of things by talking to people, but should you get credit for yourself? No. No
more than when we built the temple on East Broad Street. Sure I was president at
the time, sure I facilitated helping get some of it done, but Jack Resler
donated the land and he really should get the credit in moving out there. There
were six or eight who participated in planning and construction. I just happened
to be on the scene. And you’ve got to give a lot of credit to Rabbi Folkman
who was really the primary motivation.
But getting back to Lazarus, I started my career there when I was 12 years
old. I used to work during holidays and sometimes over the summer. In those
days, they had showcases all over the place. I couldn’t even see over the
showcases I had to stand on a box. But I worked there and helped people. I
worked in sales, I worked behind the scenes, receiving and all over the place.
When I first came into the store permanently in 1936, I worked on a regular
basis in the piece goods department, selling. I sold for a year or two. Ill
never forget the first sale I had. We were having a sale at nine cents a yard of
percale strips to make a patchwork quilt. I spent the next two hours cutting
those strips for a total sale that amounted to about thirty or forty cents. That
was my introduction to patience with customers and service in retail.
Interviewer: It’s not around anymore.
Lazarus: No. There’s a different kind now. There’s a better sensitivity
because of computers and to be able to spend more time with the customer.
Lazarus: I started in piece goods, then I went to bedding and linen, then I
became what was called head of stock. Later I became an assistant buyer in the
basement and finally I became a buyer. I bought ladies fur coats. A funny
thing used to happen in retail. We used to run these $38.00 fur sales you
probably don’t remember them and for every sale, wed find two or three
minks in the stock and mix them in with the rabbits and God knows what else. I
remember being on the floor one day it seems I was always on the floor
when a lady came into the store screaming. She tried to convince us that the
skins weren’t dead and they smelled to high-heaven. We gave her back her money
and sent her on her way.
Then I became a buyer on the third floor the Collegienne Department,
sportswear. In 1939, I think it was, we were the first store in the country to
have true special sizes. One of the things we did, we went out and researched
and found that there was a big difference in the hips, the waist, above the
waist and the bust. We got people to manufacture according to our specifications
for those sizes. We bought out the market because there wasn’t anybody that
made those sizes.
Interviewer: I remember the Junior Shop well. It was a terrific department.
Lazarus: It was. Then in 1941, I was in the Army Reserve and I got called up.
I went to Albuquerque, NM and was assigned to an air base out there. I was
scheduled a few months later to go to the Philippines, but when I was called
back they wouldn’t let me go which was good because the fellow who took my
place was killed. Shortly after, about a year later, I was in the quartermasters
office and was responsible to a senior officer who was shipped off to Africa
about a year later. Two months after that, I got orders to report to Africa
this was in 1942. There weren’t even planes crossing the ocean yet. So I
shipped off to Norfolk and was waiting for a ship (there weren’t many ships
going to Africa) and got an urgent call from the Air Force. There was an old Pan
American clipper leaving Miami the next day and I was to be on it. Among others
on that plane were General Schwartzkopf (the guy in the Lindbergh trial with the
New Jersey State Police and General Norman Schwartzkopf’s father). He was on
his way to Iran where Roosevelt had appointed him in charge of the Iranian
defense force. Also Margaret Higgins was on that plane. Do you remember Margaret
Interviewer: Wasn’t she a journalist?
Lazarus: Yes. She was journalist for the New York Tribune. Well, we took five
days to fly in the sky (we could only fly in the day) Island jumping. They had
taken out all of the seats except the one cabin where Margaret Higgins was. We
slept on the floor. We flew out of the Ascension Islands in the middle of the
Atlantic Ocean. We spent a day there, then flew to in Africa. That’s where we
landed. At that point, Pan America was flying a route into Freeport. We flew
from there down through Liberia and down to a place called Accra. It was a
German territory and it’s now Ghana. The Air Force was taking over Pan
American Airways with the specific assignment of setting up route all through
Africa and Egypt to support the British who would be coming. So I got a real
quick tour of Africa. We set up the routes through the middle of Africa, across
the desert and we set up routes through Leopoldville which is now Congo where were
reading all about the trouble down there. It was a fascinating experience.
I stayed there about 1 to 1-1/2 years and then the invasion of North Africa
took place. We got the assignment of opening up a base at Dakar on the west
coast. Following the invasion in Africa, we set up a route across North Africa.
When we flew into West Africa, it was in the hands of the French. The plane
landed and we were surrounded by French who were pointing their rifles at us
while our top ranking officer went into see Admiral Darlan. He was the free
French commander. We finally got a hold of a car, we set up a base there and I
was fortunate enough to command the base. It was from that base that Roosevelt
came over on the battleship for the Casablanca Conference. He landed in
Bathhurst, a British territory, and just below Dakar. Three of us went down to
Bathhurst – it was the first time Id been in an Amphibian and I said to the
young lieutenant who was flying, “This is the first time I’ve landed in
an amphibian. Make it a good landing.” He said, “You got nothing’ on
me; this is my first landing, too.” Anyhow, we had a reservoir landing and
it was filling up with our planes and others at the Casablanca where he met with
Churchill. I think Stalin was there, too. It was some experience that I happened
to fall into.
I returned to Central Africa about six months later. We were living on a boat
in Dakar Harbor and there were just a few of us. I got fifteen or twenty
packages of Christmas presents. I gave a box to each of the guys so each had a
good Christmas and I had a fine time giving them away. A few months later, when
I had been there about a year and a half, I had orders to go to China and India
to help in the “hump operation”.
Interviewer: No. I was only eight years old when that was over.
Lazarus: Well, the “hump operation” was an incredible feat. We had
to fly over the Himalayas and there was no pressurization in the airplane. We
helped supply a very large operation the Flying Tigers.
Interviewer: I remember hearing about that.
Lazarus: So, I lived in India and China for nine months. McArthur was
planning a landing in the Philippines and he wanted us to set up three air bases
on the mainland of China for him to operate out of. The general asked me to go
back with a courier satchel for two weeks to set up supplies for these air
bases. It was everything from the steel mats that we laid down for runways to
food, to uniforms, to medical supplies. It turned out that there were three full
freighters of ships. So I came back and the powers-that-be in the Air
Force gave me priority one. To travel over the country and take anything I felt
was needed. One of the stops was Long Beach, from which was where the stuff was
being shipped. Ruth and Bob Glick were there. So I stopped and spent the night
with them. They had just gotten married and they were just great. I came back
because I had been overseas for two years. You had to come home for so long.
Interviewer: I didn’t realize there was a time limit.
Lazarus: There was in those days. I don’t know if there is now. In any
case, you had to come home for so long and then you could go back. Then I was
given the assignment of the chief of supplies for what was the South American
division helping when the groups from Europe came along. I had the job of
helping to send the troops back. It was interesting fascinating.
Interviewer: You were in South America? Why?
Lazarus: We had to keep the routes open in case the Germans caused any real
problems. Until that time, they were still in Europe. I stayed there and then
got orders to report to the Pacific. This was after Id been back in this
country for about six months. As the chief of Supply, I got to San Francisco and
they called me back and said I had been overseas too long and couldn’t go. Six
months later, I got out of the service – after five years. I was shot at mostly
by the Japanese, I crashed a few times in airplanes, had the most marvelous
experience anyone ever had, met incredible people and I saw the world at Uncle
Sam’s expense. I was very lucky. I started out as a second lieutenant in the
reserves and when I got out, I was a full Lt. Colonel.
Interviewer: How old were you then?
Lazarus: When I went in, I was twenty-six years old and I was thirty-two
years old when I got out in 1946. Then I was with my family and then got
married. It is interesting, when I came back, it took three full days to fly
from Calcutta to Washington, DC. Three full days and nights, on different planes
every eight hours. When I got to Washington National Airport after a beautiful
flight, who was there but my brother, Si and his wife and it was 3am.
Interviewer: Where they living in Washington?
Lazarus: Si was still in Air Transport. I had another interesting experience.
Right after the peace in Europe, about ten of us flew over to meet with General
Clark. These were the guys that were going to be transferred over to the
Pacific. When I got there, they would not let Si and me stay in the same room.
It was because I was a Lt. Colonel and he was a Major. Can you believe that?
Interviewer: I believe anything. Look what they’re doing now.
Lazarus: When we were in India, I was the guy that had to plan space. We took
over an old jute mill on the Hoogley River outside of Calcutta. Calcutta in the
summertime was unbearably hot. But we didn’t mind because we had these big
breezes which were also hot.
Interviewer: When you look back, do you ever wonder how you got through all
of it? Was it because you were young?
Lazarus: Yes. And because I had no responsibilities at home. I told my dad,
“Ill do what I have to, take what comes and if I don’t come back, I
had a wonderful life.”
Interviewer: How did your dad take that? I’m sure he didn’t like that.
Lazarus: No. But interesting enough, he dictated a long letter to me everyday
that I was overseas. He did it for all of us. So I had a pretty good idea what
was going on with the family and in Columbus.
One that irritated me no end, I came back to Columbus after that long trip to
India and China. I was frustrated because people couldn’t care less about the
war. They weren’t sacrificing anything. Their only concern was how they could
make more money. So at the end of the fourth day, I told dad that I couldn’t
handle it anymore.
Interviewer: Why do you think that was that way in Columbus? I lived in New
Rochelle during the war and we rationed and all that. Do you think Columbus was
isolated during the war and didn’t know what was going on?
Lazarus: I think people avoided going into the service. My friends were all
gone. Most of the people I knew were not here. The ones who were here stood out
like a sore thumb. There weren’t any Rosie the Riveters, there weren’t any
guys who were really dedicated to doing something for their country. There were
too many guys who took advantage of the situation.
Interviewer: Do you think being in the army changed your life?
Lazarus: I know it did. And it was the Air Force.
Interviewer: Wasn’t that part of the army in those days?
Lazarus: In the early days. But then it split off. When was that?
Interviewer: I don’t know. I thought it was after the war.
Lazarus: It could have been. I know I had to be transferred from the army to
the Air Force during my service in the war.
Interviewer: My husband is ten years older than I and he just made the war at
the end of it. But he never went overseas. It was, however, such an important
experience in his life. It’s hard for me to relate to it because I’m so much
Lazarus: My experience was pure luck. I never related and still can’t to
many people because the assignments and responsibilities I had. I must say that
I learned a lot. Did I enjoy it? I loved what I was doing. But we went through
hell, too. We went to some very difficult places. In those days, there was no
cure for malaria. The first quinine we brought to Washington from Southern
Africa into the Gulf because people had to be inoculated or they’d all die.
Now there isn’t malaria anymore. Its hard to believe. Well, it’s all hard
to believe. Airplanes weren’t air conditioned or pressurized. Everything we do
is so comfortable and it wasn’t like that back then.
Interviewer: When you came back, after the war, was it difficult to adjust to
civilian life again?
Lazarus: It was easier for me because I got married six months after I got
out. Then I went back to the store. They put me in a job where I was
merchandising all the apparel and ready-to-wear. It was a big change. The
biggest change was going from an organization where there’s all these rules
and regulations about what you can and cannot do, into a real free wheeling job.
There’s nothing less structured than apparel and I had a lot to learn and it
wasn’t easy. About a year later, my dad died.
Interviewer: When did he die?
Lazarus: 1947. Uncle Fred had moved to Cincinnati to set up a central
headquarters for Federated because he felt that Federated and Lazarus were
making all the money and they were “milking” us. So he decided there
had to be a central management and he set up a financial and legal real estate
management. Then Uncle Bob was left here and made both Ralph and me the
Executive Vice Presidents. He said one of us is going to have to get out of
merchandising and one of us will have to support sales staff. Three years later,
Uncle Bob became very sick. In 1951 or 1952, Ralph was transferred to
Cincinnati. They had asked me to go but I told Uncle Bob I didn’t want to be
considered at all. Id done enough moving around. I said somebody has to stay
here and Id rather stay here. So I did. I became the sole Executive Vice
Interviewer: When I worked at Lazarus, you were what?
Lazarus: What years are we talking about?
Interviewer: 1954 or 1955
Lazarus: Our jobs didn’t change at all. Uncle Bob stayed as the
merchandiser he was the most natural and brilliant merchandiser there was
Interviewer: What does that mean when you say that? He knows merchandise?
Lazarus: He knew what merchandise to have at the right place, at the right
time and he had a sense of projected fashion. He had a sensitivity to fashion.
Stocks went right. He knew how to get rid of them. How did he get rid of them?
Marking them down or had them taken out of their own hides because in those
days, we held people responsible for the profits in their own departments. The
only way they could do it was to give the right kind of service and the right
merchandise at the right time.
Interviewer: You know what’s interesting? Lazarus was certainly a huge
store, but you didn’t have the feeling it was huge like when you walk into
a Wal-Mart or Target today. I’m overwhelmed with nostalgia.
Lazarus: Our whole philosophy was quite different than it is today. We felt
that the escalators were our mall and we were no different than a shopping
center is today. We tried to design them so they were off of the malls and off
the aisles, but were attractive and fit people in. That’s why we put
escalators at the farthest end of the building so people had to walk through
the store to get there. Everything they did was designed to make shopping a fun
and exciting experience.
Interviewer: How did you learn how to do that? People go to school to learn
that, don’t they?
Lazarus: No, they can’t.
Interviewer: They try to.
Lazarus: They try to, but they can’t. They can use their brains to
accelerate the process but you have to have a feel for people and customers and
looks and design all of the things that make a shopping center work.
Interviewer: Not much today.
Lazarus: Sure, the centers are. They’re still pretty attractive, although I
don’t think the experience of the centers is a lot better than the department
stores today. And God knows, the mass market stores are just places to go to
quickly get what you want and get out.
Interviewer: They’re not user friendly?
Lazarus: What is?
Interviewer: Nothing. Super markets are like that.
Lazarus: They’re better but unless you go back to the same supermarket all
the time, it’s difficult.
Interviewer: I guess unless you’ve experienced something like Lazarus, you
don’t know what you’re missing. So, you accept what’s going on now, but
when you’ve had that kind of experience and then it’s gone, or, you walk
into Lazarus and try to figure out where you’re going, where you pay, and
there’s no one around, and there’s no place that looks like it might have a
cash register hidden, it’s quite different.
Lazarus: It’s unfortunate. The store is much too big today. In 1953, we put
an addition on the front instead of building branches because our studies showed
us that the biggest branch we could build was 50,000 square feet to support the
population. We couldn’t build that kind of store in 1953. Remember, when we
built the west store, we built that as a trial because we knew that the big
branches wouldn’t take off. But we built this extension, worried that someday
it might be too big. And we framed that north building so somebody could put
elevators in someday and split it off. But somehow or other, the air
conditioning system was put on top of that. It was a right decision then.
The problem with business today, there’s too much investment in fixed
capital and they can’t move and sway as consumers move.
Interviewer: I think there’s too much today. Everything’s over-built and
it’s getting worse.
Lazarus: I mentioned before about the sincere, real attitude of the family,
but the business could only thrive to the extent the community thrives. And if
the community is going to grow, then we had to be interested in all aspects of
the community physical, race, religion, education everything. A lot of
it came about through urging others which we constantly do; a lot of the
directions we accomplished on our family center up on the fifth floor.
I mentioned my grandfather was very active in the community, as was my dad. I
was. We all got into almost all the social services. We were leaders in giving
to Jewish charities. Somebody in the Lazarus family was always active or
initiating a charity. We’ve all been active in the schools, the University,
politics, hospitals, and religion. If Columbus is going to be the City it used
to be, it takes active citizen participation which you don’t get today.
Businesses are wrapped up with professional managers. Professional managers don’t
have a vested interest in Columbus, which we honest-to-God feel. We really feel
it’s part of our lives. When there are major problems to be solved, some
organization had to be started to coordinate human services.
This interview with Charles Lazarus for the Columbus Jewish Historical
Society was recorded November 24, 1996 as part of the Columbus Jewish Historical
Society Oral History Project recorded by Bette Young.
Lazarus: Today is my brothers birthday.
Interviewer: Simon Lazarus? Last time we started to speak about Reform
Judaism and your experiences as a Reform Jew. I thought it would be nice to
Lazarus: As you know, my family has been connected with the temple, not since
it started because I believe it started before my great grandfather, Simon
Lazarus, came over to the country in 1848. The temple officially started in
1851, when they started to worship on the second floor above my great
grandfathers store. It was a small store, 20 feet by 40 feet, and was located
just south of Town Street on High Street. Heed been trained as a rabbi so he
started holding services above the store. But there’s an old Jewish law, as
you know, when eight families get together, they have to hold Friday night
services, so the temple really started by holding services in peoples homes.
Great grandfather was the first rabbinical leader and he obviously was very
active with the congregation. His son, Fred Lazarus, was also very active in the
congregation. He was the treasurer and kind of held the financial back strings
of the congregation.
Interviewer: When was this?
Lazarus: As he grew up in the 1870s. After he died in 1917, my father became
treasurer until he died in 1947, and then, I became treasurer. So my involvement
with the temple officially started then. I then became president of the temple
I’ve forgotten what years, but I think it was ten or twelve years later. I
was president when the temple moved from Bryden Road out to East Broad Street. I
well remember the old temple because I was in it all the time. The Sunday night
minstrels they used to have down there my whole family was in them. My
brothers and cousins and I had a band that played on Sunday nights down there,
with the Summers family. Sam was a great pianist in those days. The temple had
an old Turkish architecture. We were all very active in it. I went to Sunday
school there and was confirmed. I never was Bar Mitzvah. The temple in those
days had no such practice it was only the Orthodox who had Bar Mitzvahs. We
had no Hebrew then, either.
Interviewer: And they didn’t cover their heads?
Lazarus: No. There were no yarmulkes or talus then. There was very little
religious formality except it was a foregone that we all went to temple on
Friday night and we learned the morals and ethics of Judaism, but not the
rituals. Over the years, thanks to the changes at the Hebrew Union College, the
Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Union of American Hebrew
Congregations and Nelson Glucks explorations in Palestine, all the
formalities and training of Reform Judaism have changed dramatically. Nelson
started a college campus in Palestine and did a lot of digging and so forth. My
father, who was very close to his predecessor, Julian Morgenstern, who was
president of the Hebrew Union College, couldn’t buy any of this stuff and it
really didn’t happen until after Morgenstern gave up the job and my dad was no
I remember going to a conference of the Union of American Hebrew
Congregations with my mother-in-law, Gertrude Watters, who had been president of
the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods. At that meeting, there was a long
debate on social action and it was at that meeting that Rabbi Gittleson of
Boston, called a few of us (and I guess I was the ring leader)
“Communists” because he thought we were trying to turn back the clock
to the way things were many, many years before. We didn’t want to see
political social action which was what they wanted to get into. Anyhow, I
started to lose confidence in Judaism as that took place.
Interviewer: Do you remember what years these were?
Lazarus: Probably in the late 50s or early 60s. Rabbi Folkman, who couldn’t
stand any of that stuff either, took a pretty firm stand along with the
congregation against these traditionalists who want to revert to formality and
wearing talus and yarmulke in temple. I basically started to lose interest. I
used to sit in when Folkman was here, on conversions because I was president and
part of all the action. I knew what was going on at the temple.
I was president when we planned and then built the new temple. Jack Resler,
Jack Ratner we were all involved. It was a big undertaking for us and in the
Interviewer: And you children belong to Temple Beth Shalom?
Lazarus: They do today. All of them confirmed at Temple Israel. Two of my
children who live here Peggy Schwartz and Stuart Lazarus both belong to
Beth Shalom. They can’t understand the formality at Temple Israel. I hate it
myself. I don’t understand Hebrew, I was never taught how to speak Hebrew and
I was never Bar Mitzvah.
Interviewer: Was Stuart Bar Mitzvah?
Lazarus: No, but my grandchildren for the most part have been. I’m going
out to California on Thursday where Stuart’s twin sister’s daughter is being
Bar Mitzvah on Saturday.
Interviewer: In a Reform temple?
Lazarus: Not really in any congregation. It’s interesting. She’s being
Bat Mitzvah in the Santa Monica Playhouse. She’s a nut about acting and they
have a very liberal rabbi who’s performing the Bat Mitzvah as he performed for
her brother, David Lazarus Frankel. It is quite different.
Interviewer: Do you know anything about humanistic Judaism?
Lazarus: No. What is that?
Interviewer: It’s very much like Reform Judaism but they don’t put any
emphasis on God.
Lazarus: I went to a humanistic (if that’s what you call it) wedding last
week for my step-son-in-law in St. Louis, where God was not mentioned even once
and there was no Hebrew. It was totally on morals and ethics and practices and
the way you live.
Interviewer: That’s true. They teach the kids Jewish history.
Lazarus: And that’s really what I believe in. I think, first of all, were
Americans and, second of all, were Jews. I think, as Jews, we have a moral
and ethical obligation to try to convince others that these moral and ethical
practices are the basis of Judaism. But, I sure don’t believe that the drama
and vestments they wear are all part of the Judaism I know or even understand.
But, that doesn’t mean I can’t go to temple. There’s still enough in the
services and in the history of the temple and of Judaism that I do understand
that pertains to ethics and morals so I can at least enjoy it.
Interviewer: The next thing well talk about is the Kit Kat Club.
Lazarus: You probably never heard of the Kit Kat Club.
Interviewer: I think I heard of it.
Lazarus: The Kit Kat is a club of thirty-nine men in Columbus who get
together once a month for literary purposes. It started in this country in the
early 1900s and was an exact copy of one that was started in the late 18th
century in England that met with thirty-nine people.
Interviewer: Is it nondenominational?
Lazarus: Rabbi Folkman was in it. He’s the one who got me into it. There
are quite a few Jews in it today Mark Feinknopf I’ve forgotten who
they all are, but it’s totally nondenominational. We don’t, however, have
women and that’s because the tradition of Kit Kat Club from which it was
founded and started was all men.
Interviewer: Where did they get the name?
Lazarus: From Kit Kat in the late 1700s. At Kit Kat they have an official Kit
Kat who plans all the menus because in the 1700s, they had very elaborate meals.
Kit Kat, Mutton Pie, etc. Each meal is really something special and Mr. Kit Kat
gets up and tells what were going to have that night.
Interviewer: Where do you have these meetings?
Lazarus: The meetings today are usually held at the Columbus Club. The annual
meeting is usually at the Rocky Fork Country Club. This year, however, it was
held at the Columbus Country Club. Women and outside guests are invited to the
annual meeting. At tonight’s meeting, which is a members only meeting, we will
talk about revising the constitution and new members and is being held at the
Ohio Village at the Historical Society.
Interviewer: So what are they going to revise? Are they going to let women
Interviewer: What do you do there? Do you have dinner and then discuss a
paper that someone has prepared?
Lazarus: Yes. Someone prepares a paper and we discuss it. We learn a lot. No
one can talk about his own field. It has to be original research.
Interviewer: I belong to a women’s group like that. Does each person give a
paper once a year? How does that work?
Lazarus: No. About every three years. When you get to be a certain age, you
can apply for an associated membership and you don’t have to give papers
anymore. I haven’t given a paper for years.
Interviewer: What are some of the things that people talk about? Is there a
Lazarus: There’s no theme. Everybody talks about whatever they have a
latent interest in. Somebody just talked about the Mayan culture, for example.
Somone else talked about old silver. It’s fascinating.
Interviewer: Ill bet it is. And there are thirty-nine people in it?
Lazarus: Yes. Interestingly, I just proposed for membership Rabbi Nemitoff.
It hasn’t been acted on but it will be tonight. I think he’d love it if he
were a part of it because it would give him some relief from his daily
activities. It’s something we look forward to.
Interviewer: Yes. Our club meets twice a month. We give papers each
person once every two years. But we follow a theme. This year, they’re giving
us assignments so it’ll be interesting to see how it works out.
What I want to talk about next is your involvement in the community. The
things you’ve been involved with over the years. I’m sure you can’t tell
me everything because it would take too long. But if you could talk about the
things you’ve been involved in that you think are significant.
Lazarus: Well, I mentioned before that the Lazarus business was going to
survive only if the community prospered and they had a prosperous place to do
business. I also feel that if you want happiness in life, there are three things
you have to be happy with and they all have to be in balance: the family, the
job and the community. I always felt I had an obligation to each, in just that
order. To do that, I had to get involved in almost everything in the community
that related to the business, locally and nationally and to the
community-at-large. So my major efforts were to spread the gospel of ethics and
morality of Judaism into all three of those communities.
I was the first general chairman of the United Appeal way, way back in 1951,
when it first started. The United Appeal grew out of the old Community Fund. My
father had helped start the Community Fund and he and Uncle Bob had helped push
it in 1923. Everyone in the family was involved in that. I was involved in all
kinds of things schools, religion (not only the Jewish religion, but others
around town as well).
Interviewer: Like what?
Lazarus: Meeting with Catholic and Protestant leaders. My motive was to work
behind the scenes. I would take jobs as president or chairman only when I
thought real leadership was needed. When I felt something fundamental was needed
in the community, I would work behind the scenes. For example, we started a
group called “The 32 Group”, who’s only objective was to improve
African-American and White relationships in the community.
Interviewer: When was this?
Lazarus: Late 50s, early 60s. We asked the black community to select sixteen
representatives of the white community in whom they had faith. And, then, we
asked them to choose sixteen representatives from the black community. We had no
public meetings. We met behind closed doors. And, we met sometimes for days on
end to listen to the complaints of the black community and to try to help them
solve them. That organization stayed in business for a few years, until we got
to the bottom of some of the problems. A lot of what you see today in community
relations is a result of that organization.
Also, in the early 50s, Columbus had the worlds worst transportation
system. We were getting nowhere with the Chamber of Commerce. That’s why I
would never become an officer of the Chamber. They talked a lot and did nothing.
We formed a separate organization called The Development committee of Greater
Columbus, way back in the early 50s. The only function of that committee was to
see that the city, the county and the federal government did the proper planning
for a highway, sewer and water system for the city of Columbus.
Interviewer: Where did you get the funding?
Lazarus: Private sources. We hired an executive and the highway system you
see today is the direct result of the planning of the city, county and federal
government on the urging of this committee. We had a lot of federal money. We
only stayed in business about ten years until the planning was done.
Interviewer: Who were some of the members? People like the Wolfes?
Lazarus: Yes. Edgar Wolfe was an original member. Preston Davis, Don Weaver.
The way to get something started in a community like Columbus is not through the
newspaper. Then we had the same kind of a problem in education when the City of
Columbus had one committee with each new administration. They must have had
twenty administration committees. We had community meetings one after another
and finally agreed that a committee on education and employment was needed to do
nothing bridge the gap between education and employment. We worked with the
Interviewer: Who did this? Was it privately funded?
Lazarus: Another privately funded group with a separate board and our only
job was to try to get sponsors for the different schools in town. Most of the
public companies today have adopted schools in Columbus. This all came out of
that committee. When the project came along far enough, we disbanded the
committee, mostly because the Chamber of Commerce was fighting everything we
did. They didn’t want somebody showing they hadn’t done anything when they
Interviewer: Isn’t it run by the Chamber of Commerce now?
Lazarus: Yes. The Adopt-a-School program. I have a firm conviction that this
is the only way things get done in a community. My dad and some others started
the Metropolitan Committee. You probably don’t even remember that, with Paul
Gingher, Edgar Wolfe and some others. Then Uncle Bob was involved and then me.
Our only function was to hear all the requests for funds in Columbus for bond
issues as we came out of World War II. It was out of this committee that the
hospital drive built the modern hospital system of today.
There is a different climate now. There argent any more people in Columbus
with a vested interest in the long range future because most businesses are
owned by outsiders, or most people here who own businesses have multiple
operations all over the country and even the world. It’s very difficult today
to find a group with a vested, long-range interest in Columbus.
Interviewer: What do you think about the hockey team coming to Columbus?
Lazarus: I think anything that’s to the benefit of Columbus, that will make
it a strong, more vibrant city, has got to be supported. And, I also think that
many things, as time went on, the museum, the symphony, etc., which all of us
were very active in, as they improved, helped to attract a different quality of
professionalism from outside. They helped the University recruit, they helped
Battelle recruit. Now those people are here and coming in all the time and they
demand more choice in terms of recreational and cultural life.
Interviewer: What about the Columbus Foundation? Did you have a hand in that
Lazarus: Yes. And my wife was the first lady on the board.
Lazarus: That’s right.
Interviewer: How old is the Columbus Foundation?
Lazarus: It was started by Harrison Sayre, to my recollection, either right
after World War II or just before it. And, the key person was Dick Oman. He was
the first part-time executive of it and did all the legal work on it. It’s
probably the greatest foundation in the nation today. On a per capita basis, it’s
unbelievable. It helps support the public charities they do a fabulous job.
Interviewer: The Columbus Foundation is a first class operation. One of the
things I wanted to ask you is what was the relationship between Jews and
non-Jews socially while you were growing up and as a young adult? I know how it
was for me. Do you feel you were treated differently than non-Jewish children?
Lazarus: Sure. Particularly in some places. Ill tell you about my first
experience with it at Williams College. Everything was open to us dancing
Interviewer: Except you couldn’t join the Columbus Country Club or the
Rocky Fork Country Club.
Lazarus: I’ve been a member of Rocky Fork for years.
Interviewer: It was closed in the 50s.
Lazarus: Maybe in the 60s. But I’ve been a member since the 70s. And there
are other Jewish members. Columbus Country Club no. But, there’s something
in history that I can’t trace down. My grandfather, Fred Lazarus, was an
original chartered member of either the Columbus Country Club or the Columbus
Club one of the two.
Interviewer: How do you know that? By hearsay?
Lazarus: Not by hearsay. By family history. This gets back to religion. If
you were trained in the Orthodox temple, you were trained to look inward. You
were trained to come to temple, to look to your fellow Jews for everything you
did. If you were in the Reform movement, you were trained to look outward. Even
Rabbi Folkman did this. You were trained to look at the community at large and
that was the basis of whatever integration we did. I had a very rude awakening
to that when I first went to Williams College in 1936. I’d been to Exeter,
which was totally integrated. I was a member of a fraternity and was advised to
go to Williams, play on the tennis team, etc. I got to Williams and the first
week I was there, there were fifteen fraternities and they asked many, many
people in that freshman class but not a single Jew of which there were about
forty or fifty. We all had all our meals at the Common Club, starting that first
week. All the other members in that freshman class had meals at one or another
fraternity which they were asked to come and look over. So, I left Williams at
the end of my second year. I just couldn’t handle that kind of environment. I
went down to Yale and graduated from there.
Interviewer: And was it different?
Lazarus: Quite different. Even though most of the crowd I ran around with
Interviewer: Were they?
Lazarus: As were my roommates as well as others.
Interviewer: Your roommates were Jewish by accident?
Lazarus: My roommates were Jewish. I think the college steered that. But my
friends, no. I hadn’t started as a freshman, but as a junior. So, I took the
people my brother knew he was there and my cousin, Fred, was there and
they knew people from the younger class.
Interviewer: In Columbus, even though you weren’t allowed in these clubs,
you were totally integrated into activities in the city.
Lazarus: Well, remember, there had been Jewish clubs for years. The old
Progress Club on Parsons Avenue was a totally Jewish City club. So, the Jews
really segregated themselves to start with. Then in 1922 or 1923, my father and
Sam Summers founded Winding Hollow Country Club and that was totally Jewish.
Interviewer: Do you still belong to Winding Hollow Country Club?
Lazarus: No, they moved, you know. Over the years, there were non-Jews who
applied to get in. There was a requirement to belonging to Winding Hollow
Country Club that you give a minimum amount to the United Jewish Fund. There
were some great non-Jews at Lazarus who my father tried to get into Winding
Hollow Country Club, but couldn’t.
Interviewer: Because they wouldn’t give to the United Jewish Fund?
Lazarus: No. Because they only allowed Jews. In some areas, Jews tend to
segregate themselves. I don’t happen to believe that’s true Judaism. I don’t
think that’s part of our mission of selling our morals and ethics.
Interviewer: That’s the Reform Jewish mission and that’s what I grew up
with, too. That were a light into the people. And I believed it. They’re
two different religions Reform from Conservative and Orthodox.
Lazarus: Today. And that’s why I’ve kind of lost interest in it. I still
go to temple periodically, but normally for Yarzeits or some special event at
the temple. I fundamentally don’t believe in what they’re doing.
Interviewer: It’s a problem.
Lazarus: On the other hand, there’s more and more people who are interested
in reversion to traditionalism in all religions Catholics, Protestants,
Jews all of them.
Interviewer: Let’s move on. I have a note here that you want to talk about
Thanksgiving and your Uncle Fred.
Lazarus: Uncle Fred, in his partnership with dad, Simon, Robert, and Jeffrey
was really all business. He firmly believed that the retail business, Lazarus,
in particular, could do a lot more business between Thanksgiving and Christmas
if the calendar was changed so Thanksgiving always fell on the fourth Thursday
in November. That way there was more time between Thanksgiving and Christmas,
and, hence, more shopping days. He, at that time, was very active nationally and
started to use national organizations to influence the administration. He
personally convinced FDR that Thanksgiving should be changed for the benefit of
consumers. Well, it happened and is still in vogue today.
Interviewer: That’s amazing.
Lazarus: He came back the following day after it was announced. He came into
my fathers office as he usually did every Monday to sit around the table and
discuss the business cycle and my father said, “What God damn fool
convinced the administration to do this? It’s utterly ridiculous.” Uncle
Fred looked at him and said, “You’re looking at him.” That’s the
end of the story.
Interestingly, out of that, Uncle Fred, on the national scene started an
organization called the American Retail Federation. This was an organization of
state associations forty-eight states, except, I think there were only
twelve retail organizations and states. He asked me, in the 50s, if I would take
over the presidency of the American Retail Federation with the specific purpose
of organizing all forty-eight states. And we did there are now fifty-two
Interviewer: What was the purpose of this organization?
Lazarus: Grassroots support for the American Retail Federation for national
legislation that affects retail industry. It’s since consolidated with the
National Retail Merchants Association, which is fine, but they’re now a
fifty-two state organization because of what happened then as a perfect example
of the whole family working on these things to make for a better community.
Interviewer: I want to ask you about your family. Most family businesses are
a disaster. I remember my father, who absolutely adored Fred Lazarus, used to
say, “It’s shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves of three generations unless you’re
a Lazarus.” You know what that means? He would try to tell us why your
family succeeded the way they did in terms of getting along. Most families don’t
get along there’s a lot of competition and fighting. What do you think it
Lazarus: Well, we had very clear and specific objectives, primarily about
people. Our customers, the people who worked in the business, our vendors and
our family. If a family wanted to come into the business, they had to have the
same objectives as the people who went into the business had. It was drilled
into us from the time we were teenagers and even before that. On the other hand,
if you talk to anyone who worked at the store in those days, it was a totally
different business than it is today. My dad, Uncle Bob and I used to spend hours
on the floor, talking to our associates, talking to customers, to vendors, to
other people in the business. Today, it’s a computer business, it’s a
In the 1970s, when I was on the board of the Federated and Ralph was the
chairman of the board, we both firmly believed there had to be a mandatory
retirement at Federated because of what had happened with his father who stayed
on forever and wouldn’t get his nose out of the business. So, they developed a
mandatory retirement of age sixty-five and I retired at age sixty-seven, after
they asked me to stay on for two more years. And, at the time I retired, I got
out of absolutely everything. I never saw another figure. I never wanted to see
another figure. I stayed out of the stores because everyone was telling me how
much they missed me around the stores and I still stay out of them for the most
part. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been retired for sixteen years.
Interviewer: I want to talk about that. What have you been doing?
Interviewer: You have this beautiful office.
Lazarus: People call me periodically. Ask my advice. Ask me to come to a
meeting. I’m no longer on any boards religious, secular, commercial of
any kind. I got off all of them. At the temple, I am way off that. Why? Because
people on the board constantly talk about how there are too many past presidents
on the board. And the congregation felt that a group of past presidents ran the
congregation. As soon as I started hearing that, I stopped going.
Interviewer: Do you have hobbies? You were so active.
Lazarus: Art is a hobby. I watch the family books. When I moved over here, I
started the Lazarus Family Office which is an office that anyone in the family
can use if they want work done or want advice. We pay our own staff. Bob and I
are here he’s right next door. He still works about one third of his time
for Federated. He works on Public Relations. I’m not bored. The biggest
adjustment you have to make and this bothers most of my friends is that
nobody wants you anymore. No one seeks your advice and all of a sudden, you’re
nothing. Well, fine, that’s what I like. I like to do nothing and I do
Interviewer: I don’t believe that. I want to ask you about Johnson’s
Trade Policy Commission in Belgium.
Lazarus: I was a member of that commission which advised Johnson on trade
policy. It had the heads of organized labor, the heads of corporations, and I
felt like a duck out of water. But, I went to all the meetings.
Interviewer: It was held in Belgium?
Lazarus: I was over there. They asked me to go over there a couple of times
because the European Common Market was getting set up in those days. I forget
what they called it.
Interviewer: I think that’s what they did call it.
Lazarus: They wanted to talk, not to the staff, but to some members of the
commission. So when I got over there, I was treated like royalty, but the
members of the state department would not leave me alone. They were afraid I was
going to say something that was contrary to public policy. But, I had some very
interesting meetings in Belgium with the Germans, French and some British. They
were fascinating, but they served as a great base for my later job with the
American Retail Federation. When I went around the country giving speeches on
free trade and advising people that this country was much better off, in the
long run with free trade and learning how to compete. In those days, we still
had barriers up and were a pretty isolated country. Interesting experiences.
I had another experience in Washington (I spent a lot of time in Washington).
One of the Tafts was the chairman of a committee on the voluntary agencies
acting abroad, which had a budget from congress that it could dole out to
support some of these organizations Catholics, Protestants, Jews.
Interviewer: What kinds of organizations were these?
Lazarus: Catholic relief. Jewish relief. All kinds.
Interviewer: What did you do on that?
Lazarus: It was advisory although we allocated some money. I guess the state
department took that advice. I got off that at the end of two years.
Lazarus: It didn’t do anything constructive. It was at the mercy of the
executives at the various agencies, particularly the high-powered ones. So, I
Interviewer: Good for you.
Lazarus: And I told you I was asked to be on the Federal Reserve Board later,
which, in itself, was a fascinating experience.
Interviewer: About being asked?
Lazarus: Yes. And going down there and checking it out. Because I was on the
Cleveland Federal Reserve Board, 4th District, for six or nine years,
I knew quite a bit about it.
Interviewer: Why did you decide not to do it. You just didn’t want to
invest the time?
Lazarus: Well, first of all, Frannie was sick. Second, and, probably even
more important, I didn’t think I had enough formal academic background to get
involved with those academicians and be able to hold my own. And, third, Bill
Miller, who was then chairman, who I knew pretty well, really wanted me for
administrative reasons to help with what he thought was necessary in
straightening out the district banks of which there were nine. That would have
meant a lot of traveling and I just didn’t want much to do with that. So three
days later, I told him no.
Lazarus: My experience in the Air Force, traveling all over the world, was
just incredible, but I think the most rewarding thing was my experience with the
store and contributing to its growth and development.
Interviewer: Did everyone love the store the way you did?
Lazarus: Everyone in the family? Yes.
Interviewer: The people who worked there?
Interviewer: It’s amazing. When I worked there, the one thing that really
came through was how much enthusiasm there was.
Lazarus: We tried to make people feel as though they were a part of a much
bigger family and a bigger picture. We tried our best to make people grow. The
thing that I felt best about was not only the stores growth, but the peoples
growth and the way we treated people in the store.
The third thing I felt best about was working behind the scenes in the
community and on a national scene and making the world community a better place
to live. There’s no substitute for seeing something you worked on thirty or
forty years ago, blossom and come to fruition. I feel a little that way about
race relations in Columbus, about the highway system in Columbus, about the
opening of the educational system in Columbus.
Interviewer: You must feel good about your kids participation their
Lazarus: Yes. What they’re all doing is wonderful and different from what
we used to do. I am so proud of them! And so was Frannie. Dottie doesn’t
understand it because she lived in New York. This kind of thing never goes on in
Interviewer: Ill bet. Columbus is a very unusual city.
Lazarus: And that’s primarily, in my judgment, because of the people.
Secondarily, because of the people who had a vested interest in Columbus and
tried to see to it that their businesses made other things happen.
Interviewer: Yes. I want to ask you about your family becoming involved with
leadership. Although you tell me Bob well, he’s with Federated.
Lazarus: Bob never wanted a line job with responsibilities. He just wasn’t
built that way. He’s the last of the Lazarus family. A lot of the next
generation that would be the fifth generation.
Interviewer: Is Bob considered the fifth generation?
Lazarus: Fourth. A lot of the fifth generation tried the business and they
weren’t happy. They felt there were ceilings placed over their growth. This
may have been partially true.
Interviewer: So the Lazarus family became uninvolved by the fifth generation?
Lazarus: Well, it started long before that. The seeds for it were inevitable
when Federated started to control management over a period of forty years. We
left the management that was here and cared so deeply about all the people in
the business and became more professional.
Interviewer: When was Federated started?
Lazarus: 1929. But it never got to be an operating company until Uncle Fred
moved to Cincinnati and felt that with better control of the different
managements, performance would be a lot better. This started in 1946. Then Ralph
moved own to Cincinnati in 1951 and, by that time, there was a real philosophy
of centralization. And the young generation growing up couldn’t handle that.
My brother, Si, who started in the business as a lawyer, couldn’t handle it.
He went back to being a lawyer. Jeffrey’s kids, the same thing. None of them
are left in the business today. Bob started in the business he’s a
brilliant merchant and he’s brilliant with people, but he just didn’t want
the responsibilities. Uncle Fred’s kids all went into the business that
is, the men did but they went with the corporate office. None of them are
Lazarus: Their father convinced them to go down to Cincinnati with him. Ralph’s
children started in the business, but they all got out of it. They felt they
should be moved up the line further and faster, but they weren’t. A couple of
people in that generation went into the business, but they didn’t do well.
Interviewer: So there was a fifth generation. That’s a lot of generations.
Lazarus: What your father said is very true. It’s just a question of how
long it takes to get from rags to rags.
Interviewer: Well, I don’t think anyone’s in rags, but that is what he
Lazarus: These mandatory retirement policies which I feel are essential,
force people out when they probably still have a lot to give that’s fine
It’s in the best long range interest of the business.
Interviewer: You don’t think it should be changed since people live longer?
Lazarus: No. There’s too many bright, young people coming up the ladder who
need an opportunity. And the business is changing, too.
Interviewer: We talked a little about the branches of the store. Of course,
when I worked there, there weren’t any and there weren’t going to be any.
What made all of you change your minds about spreading out?
Lazarus: Very simple. All department stores that I know anything about, after
World War II were following the population out to the suburbs. In 1952, we very
carefully studied the population development and the highway development in
Columbus ( we were doing so much business downtown, we needed more space) and
our studies indicated, based on the population, that the biggest store we could
build was 50,000 square feet. And most of the market was lower, middle price,
blue collar workers going into the suburbs. We couldn’t build branches that
Lazarus: We couldn’t get enough of an assortment and we couldn’t satisfy
what people wanted and give the kind of service they wanted. So, in 1952, we
built a 350,000 square foot addition onto the front. We figured wed build
this, it could last another ten or fifteen years and then wed play around
with branches and branch organizations. In 1961, we built a small branch at
Westland, not because that was where we wanted to go but because we wanted to
see if the organization could handle both stores. Which was not an easy thing to
do. While that was being built, we were planning Northland which was a 200,000
square foot store and was a branch we could handle. That opened in 1963. Well,
we went from Northland to Eastland to expanding Westland to Mansfield to
Richland to Indiana where we built four stores and over the next twelve to
fifteen years, we were all over the place. As we did that, our time got less
concentrated downtown, too. My father, then Uncle Bob, and I, and Ralph used to
stand at the side door at Christmas every night and wish everyone a Merry
Christmas and a Happy New Year. We couldn’t do that anymore. As new stores
opened, I tried to get out two or three days before Christmas to all the stores
to wish people a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and thank them for all
they’d done. And finally, I had to go around by helicopter. Which I did. I
took off from the roof of the stores or parking lots. But those personal touches
aren’t here anymore.
It goes back to what I said before. The family, the business and the
community all have to be in balance. If they’re not, you have an unhappy
Interviewer: What do you think of what is happening now, like with giants
such as the Limited?
Lazarus: I could not operate like that. It’s almost entirely technology
based. The business is taken away from the people. The old philosophy we had of
keeping the buyer of the floor to see what it was the customer wanted, can’t
be done now. There are separate buyers, separate distributors, separate people
running the stores and never the twain shall meet. I think that’s one major
reason there’s so much turnover in retailing. You get one guy that’s
Interviewer: You mean turnover in the upper echelons?
Lazarus: Turnover of people and turnover of the businesses themselves. Look
at all the businesses that aren’t here anymore. Look at Woolworth, Kresge.
They’re just not around and I see it as a function of evolution and change of
the people who make up the shopping world and the reaction of people in
answering that need.
Interviewer: Do you believe that chains like Wal-Mart and Best Buy their
days are numbered?
Lazarus: Look what happened to Incredible Universe. It’s happening already.
There’s major turnover.
Interviewer: Sun TV is having a hard time.
Lazarus: A very hard time. And this will continue.
Interviewer: You were going to talk about family vacations.
Lazarus: Family vacations. The most enjoyable part of life. The kids enjoyed
them and so did Frannie and I until the kids got to the point where they wanted
to do things on their own. We always went away together. From the time they were
one and two years old. We had all kinds of experiences with them, all over the
world in this country, until they got to be a certain age, and then we took
them abroad three or four times. You really get to know your children when you
do something like that. You understand how they get along with one another. In
this world, you never do things on you own. You have to have a partner in
anything. Whether It’s a temple, a business or a family.
Interviewer: Did you ever feel the need for a bodyguard? I know that Les
Wexner’s family are heavily guarded and when I was going to Columbus School
for Girls, Nancy Wolfe had a bodyguard that was John Wolfe’s daughter.
Lazarus: In 1926 or 1927, my father came home one night and said, “I
want to talk to you” my brother and me. He said, “We’ve had some
kidnapping threats.” This was at the time of the Lindbergh trials and he
brought the chief of security at Lazarus with him. That night they asked us to
carry two things with us: a tear gas pen that you kept in your pocket (they
showed us how to use it) and a black jack that was loaded with pellets. I just
gave mine to the Bexley police about five years ago because I didn’t want them
around the house. So we had problems but the problems weren’t what they are
today. Nancy had a bodyguard at school?
Interviewer: She had one but I think it was more because she had health
problems. She could have seizures anytime. I don’t think the bodyguard went to
classes with her, but just took her to and from school. It was Preston Wolfe’s
Lazarus: Yes. Johns sister. As people get more and more in the public eye
and more prominent, that’s more of a danger.
Interviewer: It must be an awful way to have to live. Also, did you ever feel
that people treated you differently because you are a Lazarus?
Lazarus: Sure, at the store.
Interviewer: But your friends didn’t?
Lazarus: Not really. They might have initially in some cases but after they
got to know me and understand that I was no different than them I don’t
think so. I think some may have shied away. I think I have gotten favorable
treatment at temple.
Interviewer: Like at Sunday School when you were a boy?
Lazarus: No. After that. When I went up the chairs in the temple. I think in
some organizations, yes. I was chairman of United Appeal I got that job
shortly after I returned from the Air Force and I was young. Some things like
that, I think I was treated differently.
Interviewer: But you didn’t grow up feeling different? You didn’t grow up
feeling you were hampered by who you are?
Lazarus: I don’t think so. On the other hand, we had opportunities because
of who we were.
Interviewer: I think your parents did a really good job bringing you up.
Lazarus: Well, my mother died when I was very young.
Interviewer: How old were you when she died?
Lazarus: I was eighteen years old and it was a particular tragedy for my two
younger sisters and affected my older sister all of her life. She never really
had a mother because mom was sick for most of my sisters life.
Interviewer: Who’s your older sister?
Lazarus: Rose. Mom was sick the last five years of her life and Rose was sent
away to school. That has to affect someone. Do you know Rose? Wonderful gal.
Interviewer: You know, I was married to Bob Roth, Gertrude Roth’s son and
they were very good friends later in life. They traveled together.
Interviewer: Gertrude and Rose. They went to Europe together. Not when Harry
Lazarus: Rose loved life but she had a very difficult life.
Interviewer: Yes, It doesn’t seem fair. You have a note that you want to
talk about what your family has done lately locally and nationwide. We didn’t
talk too much about nationwide other than retail. Did you sit in on any national
boards? I know your Uncle Fred did.
Lazarus: American Jewish Community, Anti-Defamation League. But I tended to
stay away from boards that didn’t provide input and direction. Ralph was on
all of them. I was asked, but didn’t do it. I was asked to go on the Hebrew
Union College board. Rabbi Zimmerman and I were just talking about it.
Interviewer: He’s supposed to be a terrific person.
Lazarus: He’s fabulous. My father had been on the board, my grandfather
before him, but when they asked me, after dad died, I said to please ask Si. So,
Si was on it for a long time. I stayed away from most of those boards because
you can’t be effective on them. So, I tended to stay away except for the ones
that had a specific mission to accomplish like the American Retail Association
of like when Roses husband had multiple sclerosis, I went on that national
board to try to make them more effective.
In those days, they were doing nothing. You can’t do it all. You can’t
just go to meetings and sit there. When that happens, I leave.
Interviewer: I think we’ve talked about everything we wanted to talk about.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Lazarus: Only that I want to make it perfectly clear that whatever I
accomplished in life was only because I firmly believed in certain fundamentals.
Fundamentals that nothing gets accomplished on your own. You have to have
partners, you have to have partnerships and you have to be very clear about
those partnerships, what you want to be, where you want to go and then let them
figure out how to get there.
Interviewer: You’re rare. Most people are just the opposite which is why I
think working relationships can be difficult.
Lazarus: Well, you sometimes have to act differently than what you believe.
Sometimes you have to act like you want to direct and run the show.
Interviewer: Is there anything you didn’t accomplish that you wanted to?
Lazarus: Yes. Lots of things. I can’t think we did everything we wanted to
do or should have done in bringing up the kids. I can’t think I did everything
I wanted in the business community. I can believe that this community could have
gotten along further than it has. I can believe I could have been more effective
in educating our society today.
Interviewer: What do you think about the school vouchers? You know, they give
you a certain amount of money to send your kid to private school.
Lazarus: I don’t know enough about it. If I had my life to do over again, I
don’t think I’d lead the life I led.
Lazarus: I think problems have developed that are beyond solving with human
beings today. As technology has come along, we’ve become a nation of power
groups rather than focusing on the individual which is what this country was
founded on. We’ve taken all kinds of power away from individuals and given it
to power groups.
The biggest thing I would work on is figuring out how financial interests,
which are really the bottom line of everything and everybody, have budgets and
have to pay taxes and you can work that on up to the federal government. They
have no way of measuring what their return is on any money spent on people
at any level. I’ve been telling this to the universities for some time now.
They’ve got to develop as technology has helped us, a system not only for
CPAs, but for CPHAs (certified public human accountants) to measure the return
on people and their efforts, on the local and national levels. Even when they
give to charities, they have no idea what those charities are worth. There is no
way of measuring what we get out of education. It’s all people. What does a
professor contribute to the educational system? It’s going to happen someday
and to my mind, It’s up to the business schools to come up with a system just
the way they did with accounting systems. I’ve talked to the universities
until I’m blue in the face.
Interviewer: Have you written about it?
Lazarus: Yes, but not in depth and detail They’re scared of it. They’re
afraid of anything that isn’t a natural evolution and this is not natural. It’s
too difficult. But people make the world go around and unless we can figure
Interviewer: Well, we used to be able to do that in life, didn’t we?
Somebody worked for Lazarus, we could tell how many sales they made, right? That
way you could figure someone’s worth. It’s these other things that are
immeasurable. How do you measure what a professor does. I think if we could find
Lazarus: Well, what I’m thinking goes a little deeper that that because you
can put someone on a commission in a store and measure the contribution. What
you can’t measure is if because of the way they sell drives the customers
away, so they never come back again. A human accounting system becomes so broad
in scope that you could measure all aspects of an individual or of a charity. I
get so upset with United Way because they’re run by the agencies and the
agencies are out there prolonging their agencies. They’re not going down to
the neighborhoods and finding out what the people need individually, not
collectively. There ought to be an ombudsman in every neighborhood, teaching
people how they can approach the Girl Scouts, The Boy Scouts, if they need
character help, health help or whatever else they need. Then these damn agencies
ought to be responding to it. They don’t and United Way doesn’t know how to
teach them. The Jewish agencies don’t do any better.
Interviewer: It’s the bureaucracy.
Lazarus: As I started to say, if I had my life to start over and I knew what
I know now, I think I might have gone after a different career.
Interviewer: Really? Like what?
Lazarus: Well, computers weren’t here yet so I can’t tell you. If I were
going to do it today, I would try to redirect the changes in this country toward
individual people rather than away from them. Today, it’s headed toward power
groups. It’s there.
Interviewer: So you’d do it as a public official?
Lazarus: No. I’d have to get behind them to find out what things would help
the public officials make these decisions. I believe that right now, were
either heading toward evolution or revolution. And we aren’t too far from
swinging over to revolution.
Interviewer: I agree.
Lazarus: We have too many ins and outs and too many in and out ideas.
Interviewer: I agree with you and think it’s very scary.
Lazarus: It’s a big subject and it’s not being taught in the schools
Interviewer: Why don’t you do some writing? Some editorials for the
Dispatch or something like that?
Lazarus: The young people will come up with it.
Interviewer: I doubt it. You know the difference between this generation and
our generation? We were taught to give back to the community and if one part of
the community hurts, you hurt. It’s like everyone is inter-connected. These
people aren’t taught that anymore. They have no concept of the organic nature
of a community and how it works.
Lazarus: There’s no concept even in organized religion, if you will. No
morals or ethics. Today’s society is materialistic and has to look at the
bottom line and no one has the techniques to do it. To measure what goes into
that bottom line.
Interviewer: Well, I think that’s about it. I thank you very much. I
thoroughly enjoyed this interview.
Lazarus: Thank you. I hope it will be worthwhile.
Interviewer: I’m sure it will be. I’m going to sign off now.
End of interview