My name is Peggy Kaplan. I am interviewing Dennis Tishkoff. Today’s date is April 21, 1999, and we are located in the offices of Shoe Corporation of America at 2035 Innis Road, Columbus, Ohio. The focus of this interview will be on the business relationship between Denny Tishkoff and Herbert Schiff. The interview is being conducted for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society as part of the Oral History project.
Interviewer: Denny, would you please tell me your full name?
Tishkoff: Dennis Barry Tishkoff.
Interviewer: And can you tell me the date and place of birth?
Tishkoff: Columbus, Ohio, February 9, 1943.
Interviewer: And tell me the names of your parents?
Tishkoff: Harold Tishkoff and Esther Goodman.
Interviewer: And is Esther from Columbus?
Tishkoff: Esther was the daughter of Nathan and Augusta Goodman of Columbus,
Ohio. She was actually born in Cataragus, New York.
Interviewer: And your father, was he born in Columbus?
Tishkoff: He was born in Canton, Ohio, and is the son of Jacob and Dora
Interviewer: Very good. Do you have any memories of your grandparents?
Tishkoff: I have fond memories of my grandparents.
Interviewer: Can you tell me a little bit about your grandparents, where they
lived and some of your fond memories?
Tishkoff: I was born on Champion Avenue and my parents were living with my
grand- parents. My father was in the service and stationed in Okinawa at the
time of my birth and I was living with my mother and her parents on Champion
Avenue. My grandfather was a scrap iron, scrap metal, or scrap dealer, had his
own company: Goodman and Sons in the south end of town right next to where
Grossman’s scrap yard was. He was a very outgoing, rather temperamental,
incredibly funny, won- derfully warm person. My grandmother was a traditional
Jewish grandmother. She absolutely fit every characterization everyone has ever
seen on “I Remember Mama.” That’s her. She was a remarkably strong
person. My grandfather was a womanizer, was a war hero, good looking in his
youth. Took advantage of that. She tolerated his dalliances and raised a family
while he was earning a living.
Interviewer: Do you have brothers and sisters?
Tishkoff: I have a younger brother, four years younger than me, Stewart. He
was born in Canton, Ohio. He was born after my father got back from the service
and he moved to Canton to be with his family and to try to carve out his
business life there. So we lived in Canton for a period of time. My father’s
business failed. He was in the army surplus business, came to Columbus after
brief stops in West Virginia and Gary, Indiana, and started working for Shoe
Corporation which at that time was known as the Schiff Company. It was just
before it became Shoe Corporation of America.
Interviewer: About what year was that?
Tiskhoff: Oh God. That one was, I had to be probably 6 years old, 7 years
old, so we’re talking about 50 years ago so we’re dealing with ’39- ’40.
Interviewer: How old were you when your father came back from the service?
Tishkoff: I was 3, going on 4. I don’t recall my father in those days. My
first recollection of my father, we were in Canton, Ohio. I was very close to my
mother but I wasn’t very close to my father because of the separation and
because I think that probably in his mind “there’s this kid that I must
have sired” but we just didn’t have a bond. He had a very close bond with
my brother and I had a really close bond with my mother.
Interviewer: Very good. So your grandfather here in Columbus was in the scrap
iron business? And they continued to live here after your mother and father
moved to Canton?
Tishkoff: Right. They moved to Whittier Street and then they moved to Astor
Avenue in the 1954 Parade of Homes.
Interviewer: Very good. So your family moved to Canton and your father’s
business failed and then through various other stops, came back to Columbus to
work for the Schiff Company?
Interviewer: Okay. Along the way, can you remember the houses that you lived
in in Canton and then here in Columbus when you came back to Columbus? Tell me
Tishkoff: We were in a duplex in Canton with my grandparents and then we
moved to our own home on Miami Court, NE which was just up from Geers Avenue. I
went to school at Bellstone Elementary and back to Columbus, we moved in with my
grandparents on Whittier. My parents found a rental house on Columbus Avenue
just outside of Bexley and then we also moved to Colonial-Williamsburg Village
on Roosevelt Avenue, north of Maryland Avenue and that is where I grew up.
Interviewer: Where did you go to high school?
Tishkoff: I went to Eastmoor High School.
Interviewer: And then where did you go to college?
Tishkoff: College at Ohio State and Michigan.
Interviewer: And Michigan?
Tishkoff: And Michigan. My mother was ill at the time. My parents had had a
series of adversities. My father had lost his job with Shoe Corp in 1960 and
they moved to Flint, Michigan, where he found a job with a company called Yankee
Stores that was ultimately bought by Harry Gilbert’s company years later. Ivan
Gilbert actually bought the company.
Interviewer: So you have a heritage of shoe business?
Tishkoff: Shoe business and retail. And by virtue of that move to Michigan, I
became an out-of- state student because I was under 18 when I was attending Ohio
State. I had just turned 17.
Interviewer: So you graduated from high school very young?
Interviewer: Were you accelerated in the grades?
Tishkoff: I was just brilliant.
Interviewer: Just brilliant?
Tiskhoff: I was a scholar. I was accelerated.
Interviewer: Did your mother work?
Tishkoff: My mother worked, also worked at Shoe Corp for one of the top
executives at Shoe Corp named Earl Coplon who became one of my mentors
ultimately. And so I grew up with a heritage of both of them working at Shoe
Corp. My father was an assistant buyer and my mother was a secretary. And I
began work here, I don’t know if I’m getting ahead of myself or not, when I
was 9 years old, in this building.
Interviewer: In this building here on Innis Road?
Tishkoff: On Innis Road, right.
Interviewer: What company was it?
Tishkoff: Shoe Corporation of America at that time. It had become Shoe
Corporation of America shortly before that, coming from the Schiff Shoe Company.
Interviewer: Well we’re getting to that in just a few minutes. Tell me a
little bit about your Columbus neighbors as you were growing up. Who did you
walk to school with? Who did you ride to school with?
Tishkoff: Nobody in particular. I was basically a loner. While I was active
in sports at the Jewish Center, I didn’t necessarily congregate or run around
with a lot of kids. There was a kid who lived across the street, Mark Cohen. His
father was – I can’t remember his father’s name but he was associated with
the Jewish Center in those days.
Interviewer: That would be the Jewish Center that was located on College
Interviewer: You were not associated with Schonthal Center at all?
Tishkoff: No. Well the Jewish Center.
Interviewer: Schonthal was the predecessor to the Center on College. What
sports did you do at the Center?
Tishkoff: I did all sports, basketball, baseball, tennis, whatever I could
do. I liked compe- tition. I liked the idea of, I loved team games. Grew up on
football at Eastmoor High School and at Ohio State.
Interviewer: Was the Jewish Center a social place for you or just sports?
Tishkoff: It was somewhat social for me. As I said before, I was a loner. I
grew up with a chip on my shoulder.
Interviewer: Because of your father being that way?
Tishkoff: Well because of my mother’s illness actually.
Interviewer: I see.
Tishkoff: I was being rather embittered as to life, fate, why her, and I was
very close to my mother and I resented the fact that she was dying so I wasn’t
exactly friendly with God. He and I were not extremely communicative. We fought
a lot. I believed in God and I still do. But we fight a lot because I don’t
believe in a lot of things that God does.
Interviewer: You and Herb Schiff have very similar backgrounds.
Tishkoff: Very similar.
Interviewer: Herb was very much impacted by the premature death of his
Tishkoff: Right, Herb and I are related.
Interviewer: You’re related?
Tishkoff: Yeah. Not a lot of people know that.
Interviewer: How are you related?
Tishkoff: He could tell you better than me but we’re very distant cousins.
His, I believe Robert’s second wife was a distant cousin of my father’s. But
I can’t tell you the tree. He can tell you the tree.
Interviewer: We’ll have to investigate that. That’s very good. Which
synagogue did your family belong to?
Tishkoff: Beth Jacob on Donaldson Street.
Interviewer: Did you participate?
Tishkoff: I remember going to Donaldson Street in the balcony, sitting with my
grandmother up in the balcony when I was a kid and then I was Bar Mitzvahed
at Beth Jacob on Bulen Avenue and I’m not an active, I’m an active supporter
of the Beth Jacob here in Columbus.
Interviewer: Tell me about your young life in Beth Jacob. By the way, off the
record, I was with Rabbi Stavsky yesterday and he said to send regards to you.
Tishkoff: Thank you.
Interviewer: I saw a picture of you in a youth group many years ago. We were
looking through the archive collection. But tell me about your young life in
Beth Jacob. Did you participate with the youth group?
Tishkoff: When forced.
Interviewer: Forced by whom?
Tishkoff: By my parents or when coerced by Stavsky. I grew up when Rabbi
Greenwald was still there – he was still alive. I didn’t exactly have a
relationship with Greenwald. When he died and they hired Poupko. I developed a
bond with him. I thought he was a pretty neat guy.
Interviewer: Too bad he was only there for such a short time.
Tishkoff: Yeah and too bad he was not honest in his relationships with people
which obvi- ously led to his demise in Columbus because I hear he was a
brilliant man. When Stavsky came into town, he actually, he was a guest at our
home. We were the first home he visited as Rabbi in Columbus and he came over
for dinner and I liked him instantly and still do.
Interviewer: So your parents kept a kosher home?
Tishkoff: My parents kept a kosher home. I grew up in an Orthodox environment
and I still belong to an Orthodox shul even though my beliefs are much
different. I believe in the right and necessity for that shul to exist in
Columbus, Ohio, so I try to support it any way I can.
Interviewer: I haven’t asked you about your spouse. Would you tell me your
Tishkoff: Fahn Zelizer. She was the niece of Rabbi Zelizer.
Interviewer: Her parents would have been?
Tishkoff: Her parents were Ruth and Michael Zelizer. Michael’s, my
father-in-law’s brothers, he had two other brothers, one that lived in New
York and Cody Zelizer in Columbus, who was also in the scrap business.
Tishkoff: And I knew him since I was a kid because my grandfather used to
deal with them. So it was kind of an interesting turn of events when I showed up
at their house the first time. In fact, it was even more interesting because
when I was young, and actually this is where Jack and I met, Jack Bernstein and
I met. It was at Martin’s, the old Martin’s on Broad Street.
Interviewer: Right. Operated by Martin Godofsky.
Tishkoff: By Martin Godofsky. Jack and I were carry-out boys and he’d been
there about a year longer than me. Jack’s older than I am, much older than I
Interviewer: By how many months?
Tishkoff: A couple months.
Interviewer: Were you in the same class?
Tishkoff: No. Jack went to Bexley; I went to Eastmoor.
Interviewer: Okay. Same grade?
Tishkoff: He was a year older. And actually there were three of us at
Eastmoor, Jack Bern- stein, Harry Cooperstein and myself and they were probably
my first real Jewish friends. I used to really associate with a lot of the
non-Jews in the east end of Columbus. I always felt, as I said before, I had
this chip on my shoulder and I was not necessarily a nice kid and I would do all
kinds of stuff to build that reputation Short of murder, I don’t think there’s
anything else I haven’t done.
Interviewer: Did you ever get in trouble with the law?
Tishkoff: Always. As a matter of fact, it was the, when I was 16, the turning
point in my early development came when I was picked up for stealing at Lazarus
by a plain- clothes lady who changed my life really. She was a remarkable lady,
I don’t remember her name which is really a shame but more importantly, I
remember her which was okay.
Interviewer: And she made an impact?
Tishkoff: She changed my life. She was the only person that I was ever able
to talk to in those days.
Interviewer: Did you ever wonder if she had followed your career?
Tishkoff: She did for a while.
Interviewer: Did she?
Tishkoff: Yeah. I have forgotten her name but I haven’t forgotten her and
when I used to come back to Columbus after I had become an executive with Shoe
Corp and with, after I left Shoe Corp to go to another company, I used to come
back and have lunch with her all the time and she was just a remarkable lady.
Interviewer: You were lucky.
Tishkoff: I was more than lucky; I was blessed. She could have impacted me
very negatively that day and she was smart enough to see something that…
Interviewer: She saw something you didn’t see?
Tishkoff: That no one else did either. She scared the hell out of me, I’ll
tell you that. Nobody else could scare me.
Interviewer: Good. That’s good. Well let’s go back to the reason I wanted
to bring your wife in, so we could talk about your religious family. How did you
bring up your children? In Beth Jacob?
Tishkoff: We brought up our children in Beth Jacob. Actually Mark was Bar
Mitzvahed in a Conservative shul in California because we lived in
California at the time of his Bar Mitzvah. But Greg who is our youngest,
was Bar Mitzvahed at Beth Jacob.
Interviewer: And you have a daughter?
Tishkoff: I have a daughter who never was Bat Mitzvahed.
Interviewer: Wasn’t popular then?
Tishkoff: No and she was not, she grew up with a lot of stage fright and it
wouldn’t have been for her to stand up in front of a group of people. Now you
can’t get her off the stage. In those days she was kind of a shrinking violet.
Interviewer: Your children, are they continuing with their Jewish way of
Tishkoff: Yeah as a matter of fact. Mark and Sam, his wife Samantha, were
married by a rabbi and are members of Beth Jacob. My daughter married a Catholic
boy, Tom Pampush who works with us and is like a son to me, and is raising her
child to be Jewish and is Jewish and as a matter of fact they meet weekly with
Interviewer: Has he converted?
Tishkoff: He is not converted yet. I don’t believe he will until his mother
passes and when his mother passes away then probably he will. I think out of
respect for his mother and their religion which I absolutely respect.
Interviewer: Interesting. I’d like to ask you a question about that. It’s
a national concern that Jewish children, Jewish young people who select a spouse
who is not Jewish, the demographics are showing that the children of these
marriages, the mixed mar- riages, are not being raised Jewish and a lot of
Federation money is going into outreach programs to couples like this. Do you
think they’re doing a good job? Do you think that we’re reaching out to make
mixed marriage couples more com- fortable in our Jewish society?
Tishkoff: Yeah, I do. I think there’s a faction that, I won’t say a
faction ’cause . . . . like to note a fractionalized people which we are, but
there is a group of people that embraces people because they’re nice people
and they’re also Jewish or they also want to be Jewish and they also want to
raise their children to be Jewish and there’s a group of people who shun those
people and I believe as long as that exists it becomes difficult. It’s
certainly a lot easier not to raise your child Jewish in a mixed marriage than
it is to do it the other way. The activities in Israel now with the government
and the impact of the people of the Orthodox zealots so to speak, com- pletely
turn me off and I’m a supporter of Orthodox Judaism.
I put my money where my
mouth is much more so than my presence. I think it’s too bad that we have
allowed that to happen because I don’t think it’s good for any of us. I
think it’s history repeating itself. Judaism does this to itself historically
all the time and that’s why we end up in the desert more times than not
because we will not unify, we will not agree that we can believe in the same God
differently and that’s, to me, unfortunate. I believe in God the way I want to
believe in God. I actually don’t question anybody else’s desire to believe
in it in their way. I don’t want to influence them, don’t influence me. Just
allow me to be what I am and yeah, to me the most important thing in Judaism is
the Ten Commandments and nowhere does it say that you have to be Orthodox. It
just says . . . . do these ten things, you’re a good person and to me that’s
the most important thing.
So that’s how we raised our children. We didn’t
raise them with color in mind. We don’t care, I don’t care if people are
black, white, green, yellow or purple, it didn’t matter to me. I wasn’t
raised that way. I was raised just, people are people. My mother taught me there
are two kinds of people in the world, good ones and bad ones. Always associate
yourself with good ones and that’s what I try to do.
Interviewer: You have passed that on to your children?
Tishkoff: That’s what I tried to do and it seems to be working. My son who
is, my youngest son is a freshman in the University of Kansas who grew up never
ever associating with Jewish kids in high school. He preferred the non-Jewish
kids as his friends. Goes to Kansas, becomes a member of AE Pi fraternity, an
all-Jewish fraternity, he’s Pledge Chair, he’s going to be President of the
fraternity. He just conducted a Seder at Kansas.
Interviewer: Made you proud. Made you very proud?
Tishkoff: Proud . . . . Made me proud both ways but the point is that he was
raised with the idea in mind that two kinds of people. That’s all he cares
about and that’s all I care about. So we care about as a family. We don’t do
everything right and I don’t say that our way is right for everybody but it’s
right for us.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Well that’s the important thing. When you were a
youngster, religious holidays, were they celebrated in your home?
Tiskhoff: Uh huh. My home, my grandparents’ home and we still do. We have
Seders for 30 people both nights. We go through the rituals. I love traditional
Judaism. I love it. I think it’s wonderful. It’s what Judaism is to me.
Interviewer: Do you read Hebrew?
Tishkoff: I read Hebrew.
Interviewer: Does Fahn?
Tishkoff: Fahn does not. Fahn was not Bat Mitzvahed because it wasn’t
Interviewer: It wasn’t popular . . . . girls. Confirmation was the popular
Tishkoff: But her father at one time was in a yeshiva and was studying
to be a rabbi. Her father became a boxer instead and her father was a great guy.
I dearly miss him. He was a wonderful guy. He was more of a father to me than my
father was to me.
Interviewer: So he became a role model father for you?
Tishkoff: Uh huh.
Interviewer: During your growing up when you did not have a great bonding
with your father, was there another male that you modeled after as a role model
kind of father or a relative, an uncle, grandfather?
Tishkoff: Maybe my grandfather thinking of it that way but probably not.
Probably I was, I worked for this, and we’re back to this again, but my whole
life revolved around Shoe Corp because I started at such a young age and that’s
what it was. Earl Coplon who my mother worked for was a, certainly a mentor, a
father figure to some degree, and George Nacht was a mentor, Herb was a mentor
and probably in those days, the most important person was Saul Komessar.
Interviewer: Hmmm. Tell me about that?
Tishkoff: He was related to me. His brother married my mother’s sister. So
he wasn’t really related and he was related.
Interviewer: What was his brother’s name?
Tishkoff: Sam married my Aunt Edith.
Interviewer: Edith, her last name?
Tishkoff: It was Goodman, Edith Goodman and became Komessar.
Interviewer: Did they live here in town?
Tishkoff: They lived here for a while and then they moved to Chicago. So they’re
in Chicago now. But those four or five people were extremely influential to me.
Interviewer: That’s in your adult life?
Tishkoff: That’s in my young adult life. And even before that.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Before we get into the business, how did you and Fahn
Tishkoff: We met at Jack and Amira’s house.
Interviewer: You did?
Tishkoff: We did not. We met at Jack’s house. Jack Bernstein’s…
Interviewer: In his parents’ house?
Tishkoff: Right, on Ardmore. As I said before, Jack and I were very close.
When he started dating Amira, obviously we were part of that whole scene. We
used to double date, we used to do things together and have fun together. I was
doing well following in my grandfather’s footsteps: love ’em and leave ’em
Interviewer: Was this high school or college?
Tishkoff: This was high school and into college. And as it turned out at one
particular point, I was dating a girl right across the street from where Fahn
lived so she used to see me over there, see my car parked on that side of the
street and a couple of months later, it was parked on her side of the street but
the way it happened is I had broken up from a lengthy relationship with someone
and I was somewhat embittered about it because it wasn’t me that broke it
up. It was the girl that broke it up and I was nuts about her. And I had a date
for this particular night. It happened to be Jack and Amira’s engagement
party, and I had a date with a girl named Marilyn Dworkin who, I don’t think
the family lives here any more. I have no idea what happened to her, I mean from
that night. I have no idea what happened to her.
So we went to the party and I
was talking to a fellow that I was double dating with which was the custom in
those days. You didn’t go anywhere by yourselves, you always double dated. And
I said, “If I’ve ever been serious about another girl in the next five
years,” I said, “you’ve a right to punch me in the mouth. By the
way, who’s that blonde over there?” And he said, “Who are you
talking about?” I said, “That blonde right there. I’ve not seen her
before however, I’ll marry that girl.” He said to me, “What are you
crazy? You just told me…” and I said, “Forget about it,” I
said. “I’m going to marry that girl.” And I walked up to her and I
wouldn’t leave her alone the entire night and she was with another guy who was
ready to kill me.
And I had no fear in those days, any problems or anything. And
anyway, I called her that whole weekend, asked her out and she wouldn’t go
and I found out she was dating some guy from out of town who wasn’t at that
party but that’s another issue. He really was dating, she was in college and I
was persistent. I just kept calling her and finally I called her up and said,
“You know, this guy’s not coming back,” and I said, “I’m
going to take you out in the meantime.” And she said, “Well how did
you know he wasn’t coming back?” And I said, “I’m not sure I did.
Why?” And she told me he wasn’t coming back. She had talked to him that
morning and apparently he wasn’t coming back.
Interviewer: Timing was right.
Tishkoff: So we went out that night and we went out several nights in a row
after that and her father was ready to kill me. And there is a funny story
about, I don’t know if we’ve got time for all this stuff but there is a
funny story. When I was with Martin’s, Jack and I were working at Martin’s,
Fahn’s mother and aunt used to shop there religiously every Sunday morning and
Fahn’s mother can be an intimidating lady when she feels like it. She actually
is a wonderful person. She’s got a heart bigger than half the world. Just like
Herbert was with the other half of the world except both of them try very hard
not to let anybody know that. At any rate, she used to walk into Martin’s and
Jack and I used to hide. We used to literally hide.
There was a drug store next
door named Morgan’s Drugs and we used to go to Morgan’s Drugs whenever we
saw her, and go on break and go over there until she left the store. Well that
didn’t sit very well with her ’cause she used to realize what was going on.
Years later when I walked up to the door the first time and she answered and we
both had a heart attack. She having a heart attack thinking, “Oh my God,
what is he doing here,” and me saying, “Oh my God, I got to be in the
wrong house.” Anyway, so they were extremely cordial. She’s a remarkable
Interviewer: How long did you and Fahn date before you got married?
Tishkoff: It was over a year. It was over a year. We did, I proposed to her
after the first week.
Interviewer: After the first week?
Tishkoff: Yeah. I said, “I’m traveling this week and if my plane goes
down, I want you to know that I’m madly in love with you and I want to marry
you.” And I can’t remember exactly the four letter word she may have used
with me. She wasn’t particularly interested in marrying me at that time. But
we worked on it.
Interviewer: That’s a good story. It’s a great story. I like it.
Tishkoff: Yeah we’ve been together 33 years. I had nine months off for bad
behavior but other than that, we’ve been together for 33 years.
Interviewer: Thirty-three years is wonderful. So was Martin’s your first
Tishkoff: No. I had already started in Shoe Corp. Shoe Corp was my first job
when I was 9 years old.
Interviewer: Okay. Let’s talk about that. Nine years old is kind of young
to go to work.
Interviewer: How come?
Tishkoff: Because I was hungry and because, when I say I was hungry I’m not
talking about starving with food, but I was hungry.
Interviewer: You wanted more?
Tishkoff: We lived on North Roosevelt, north of Maryland and the kids that
lived south of Maryland always had more than the kids that lived north of
Maryland and there was, you know, I tried stealing their stuff and that worked
for a while until I got caught.
Interviewer: What year did you graduate high school?
Interviewer: Okay. Keep going. You got caught. Okay.
Tishkoff: So I mean I got caught a few times so, stealing people’s bikes and
baseball gloves, bats . . . .
Interviewer: You wanted what they had on the other side of the tracks.
Tishkoff: Yes and I couldn’t afford it and my parents couldn’t afford it
so I figured if I went to work, I could afford it. And my parents were both
working at Shoe Corp downtown so I knew of this distribution center and I
pedaled my bike over here from North Roosevelt and applied for a job in the
Interviewer: At the age of?
Tishkoff: Nine and they laughed except that somebody recognized my name and
called downtown and said, “Got your kid here. What do you want to do?”
And he said, “Send him home.” In the meantime, I convinced the guy to
at least let me show him that I could work with them because he kept saying,
“You’re too young, too young.” And I said, “Let me prove that I’m
not.” So they put me in a box car ’cause we used to have all of our…
Interviewer: Was this a warehouse at that time?
Tishkoff: It still is. It’s a warehouse and office. But then it was just a
warehouse. See across the road where you see those railroad tracks that used to
be active, they put me in a box car to unload a box car with a bunch of guys and
I kept up with them.
Interviewer: Were you a big kid at 9 years old?
Tishkoff: No I was just determined. I was keen and determined. And they
offered me an opportunity to come here at 50 cents an hour; the going rate was
75 to start summer jobs.
Interviewer: Wasn’t that kind of illegal to employ a 9 year old?
Tishkoff: Absolutely illegal. Herbert did that. You can quote me on that. I
mean he and I kind of tease about that. He wasn’t aware of it. There was child
labor laws; you owe me money. But they gave me an opportunity.
Interviewer: Fifty cents an hour?
Tishkoff: Fifty cents an hour. The going rate was 75. I used to come and help
them unload box cars when they had that opportunity.
Interviewer: And you rode your bike?
Tishkoff: Rode my bike to and from and they got a hell of a deal. They were
getting big-time labor at a cut rate and I was getting a hell of a deal because
there was no place that was going to pay me 50 cents an hour at 9 years old. So
I always had a few bucks in my pocket.
Interviewer: You did this in the summer?
Tishkoff: In the summertime.
Interviewer: Only? Not after school?
Tishkoff: Not after school. Not when I was 9 but I did it every year.
Interviewer: Came back?
Tishkoff: Every year…
Interviewer: In the summer?
Tishkoff: And in the winter, I’d work at Martin’s.
Interviewer: So what did your parents think about you riding your bicycle at
the age of 9 to come to work?
Tishkoff: They didn’t feel particularly happy about it but . . . .
Interviewer: They didn’t stop you?
Tishkoff: Nobody could have stopped me. It just wasn’t going to happen. If
it hadn’t been here it would have been someplace else. I would have found
someplace to work. When I was in college, I used to work two jobs and take a
full load. I was working here full time. I was working at Big Bear at night
unloading box cars at night so we were, and Jack did this for a while too.
Interviewer: He worked here?
Tishkoff: He worked here and he also worked, I think he worked at Kroger. I
worked at Big Bear. But we used to unload groceries at night from box cars and
Interviewer: Do you think you’d be hungry today like that?
Tishkoff: Mine aren’t. My eldest worked his way through school. He didn’t
have to. My daughter waited tables. My young son wants to be a writer. He worked
here but he fights it. He fights it.
Interviewer: Okay. Let’s go back to the box car at 9 years old. Now what
Tishkoff: Met a lot of interesting people. It taught me what the world was
Interviewer: Anybody in particular, by name?
Tishkoff: Well the names escape me but the personalities are still there.
This place had a lot of refugees from West Virginia, a lot of rednecks. It wasn’t
particularly a wonderful place to be if you were a nice Jewish boy. You could
get killed here. I had my share of fights.
Interviewer: How long did you stay in the summertime unloading box cars and
how did you graduate from what was . . . .
Tishkoff: After the first couple of years, they tried me at other jobs and
every time they put me in a place, it could be filling orders or packing and
sealing, whatever it might be, I was always able to outperform the people around
me because I felt I had to ’cause to me it was always competition. If they did
50 orders a day, I can do 51. That was my way to get self-esteem.
Interviewer: Again, very similar to Herbert Schiff who always felt that he
had to work extra because he was the boss’s son.
Tishkoff: Right. Well I wasn’t the boss’s son and I felt I had to work
extra because I was always the youngest and I needed to show them that they
Interviewer: You learned that very young in life?
Tishkoff: Yeah. Life can do that to you sometimes.
Interviewer: So it was life that taught you that. No one person?
Tishkoff: No. Not then.
Interviewer: Okay so you’re graduating to better jobs, better
Tishkoff: And when I got to be about I think it was like 16, they moved me
downtown to the corporate office on Fourth Street, 35 N. Fourth, and that’s
where I met Herb for the first time. I used to work in the Returned Goods
Department which was, that’s the worst job in this company. That’s where you
handle all the merchandise that comes back from the stores that people don’t
want. They wore it for six months and the heel fell off, the sole broke, the
stitching broke, something happened or they just wore it to death and they
wanted a new pair of shoes. And our policy was always to make sure we took care
of the customer so we always took back this garbage and exchanged the shoes.
Interviewer: And you gave them new shoes?
Tishkoff: And they exchanged the shoes and we would, there were a few of us
in this Returned Goods Department that would process the returns to determine
which ones were truly factory damaged, send them back to the factories for
credit. That was my job. And I did that for a couple of years thinking that it
was an endless opportunity because I’m going nowhere, not realizing what I was
learning and what I was learning was shoe construction from the bottom up
actually because you could see what went wrong with a pair of shoes so that if I
was the buyer, I made them so the shoe wouldn’t do that. And years later when
I became a buyer, it served me very well because I was able to do that. I was
able to translate my experience into the present time and actually, I was a
pretty good buyer.
Interviewer: So how did you meet Herb?
Tishkoff: Well we met Herbert because he used to come around the building
roaring from time to time and he was known for that, but his father was running
the business at the time, Robert. And actually I became friendly with Robert
because I used to take Robert home from work all the time. I used to live on
north Roosevelt. He lived at the Royal York and from time to time he’d ask me
if I could take him home ’cause he knew my parents.
Interviewer: He didn’t drive?
Tishkoff: He didn’t drive, not in those days. He may have driven when he
was younger. So I used to take him. He was a nice old man. To me, he was a nice
old man. I think Herbert had a lot of problems with him but I never dealt with
him on a business basis and he was just a wonderful guy. Herbert I used to deal
with because I used to run across the street and get him sandwiches at the
restaurant across the street, named the Curli-cue Restaurant. And I used to get
him lousy chicken salad sandwiches at lunch time; especially when the weather
was bad, he’d send me. But I got to know Herb and I got to see him in action
in a correct way, not in a violent way or anything but his business mind as I
progressed in the company. I went from the Returned Goods area up into
merchandising. I was an order filler in merchandising, mail order clerk they
used to call it. The turning point in that particular time of my life was when I
Interviewer: By your superior?
Tishkoff: No not by Herbert but I don’t doubt that Herbert was behind it.
This was shortly after my father had been fired from the company for reasons
that I’ve never been told. I can guess but I don’t know. And I was pretty
much on edge all the time and just being very careful and not trying to upset
anybody but I just didn’t make any waves on anything in those days. And one
day I got called in by the then VP in charge of all merchandising and
distribution whose name was Dale Klause, called me in and said he was going to
let me go and I said, “Why? I do as much as anybody else in this
place.” And he said, “That’s exactly right. You’re capable of more
and you’re not doing it.” And he shipped the hell out of me so I said,
“All right. Give me a chance. Give me 30 days.” And he said,
“Okay.” And in 30 days, I was promoted.
Interviewer: So his intent was to fire you?
Tishkoff: His intent was not to fire me. He intent was to light a fire under
Interviewer: I see. Let’s just repeat a couple of those sentences from the
other side of the tape.
Tishkoff: so that I would perform to my ability as opposed to just trying to
keep up with other people. It worked and it scared the hell out of me. I needed
the job and I performed. They promoted me in 30 days. I became a department head
in men’s shoes working for Jule Mark who was just a phenomenal person. He was
one of the original founders, not founders so to speak, but one of the original
employees of Shoe Corporation of America, and was one of the more respected
buyers that was on the staff at the time and was a wonderful teacher. Taught me
lots of stuff about buying and the industry and relationships and integrity and
never forgot them. He was tremendous to me.
Interviewer: Now are you married yet at this point?
Tishkoff: At this point I’m single. And running like crazy.
Interviewer: And what happened next? You were in merchandising?
Tishkoff: I was. I did a pretty good job in men’s. They put me in women’s
and I worked with Marvin Marcus and worked for Oscar Musinsky who was stationed
Interviewer: Would you spell Musinsky please?
Tishkoff: M-U-S-I-N-S-K-Y. He was one of the premier women’s buyers in the
country. A real character but knew fashion shoes, knew what was selling. Also at
that time, I became just very enamored with George Nacht who worked in the next
department. He was the buyer in the next department and again one of the
premier women’s buyers in the country. And George was tremendous to me and
just a great teacher.
The difference in those days, nobody was afraid of anybody
else learning more about their jobs than they knew. They were willing to impart
all kinds of knowledge and I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I’ve always
tried to pass it on. I’ve never tried to keep anything to myself because I was
afraid of somebody getting a jump up on me. I’ve always tried to educate the
people that wanted to learn, as a result of that. I became more and more aware
of Herbert at that time because as I was growing in the company, I was running
into him more and more. I would watch him do things. I would emulate some of the
things he would do. He can be an intimidating person. I learned how to do that
pretty well. I could carry on pretty well with the staff and scare the hell out
of people, get them to do my bidding without ever raising my voice which is
something that he can do and when the time came to raise your voice, you could
really be effective if you wanted to rule by fear, which is what I was doing and
which is what he was doing, let’s say. That’s the way he ran the place.
Interviewer: Herb claims that you were his protege. Do you think that he
picked you out of the pack and saw your qualifications or did you pick him out?
Tishkoff: No he picked me out long before I picked him out. I used to do
anything to stay away from him. He was very intimidating. But there is no
question in my mind when I look back at the way I moved, I mean there were other
people in the company that were far more experienced and probably as deserving
of opportunity as I was and probably more so than I was. They put in a lot more
years. They were older. They were wiser. I got the opportunities and I always
got it from afar. I mean there was never anybody, he never called me in and
said, “We’re going to do this, we’re going to do that.” It was
always someone else doing it but there was no question in my mind who was
pulling the strings and whatever it was that he saw, I’m eternally grateful.
He guided me through Shoe Corp. He made the opportunities. He didn’t make me.
I performed but he gave me the…
Interviewer: But he provided the…
Tishkoff: He gave me the opportunity to perform. He gave me the road map and
I was smart enough to go down the road. At any rate, I progressed pretty well up
until the late 60s when we had a major management change at Shoe Corp. Saul
Komessar was fired. The management team that was in power at the time was pretty
much decimated. Herbert had already gone through the company and removed people
he felt were obstacles to the future of the company, many of them his own family
members which caused lots of anxieties in the community. I’m sure it didn’t
make him very popular. I thought it made him pretty wise in some of the
decisions he made.
Interviewer: You agreed with the decisions that he made?
Tishkoff: With a lot of them. There were some people that I really liked that
all of a sudden weren’t there any more.
Interviewer: What do you think his reasons were for with that mass change and
so many people being replaced?
Tishkoff: I think it was a tired company. It was a tired company that had
become too comfortable for too many people. It became their haven as opposed to
their business. I think that, I think it took a lot of guts to do what he did
because he knew, he had to know the personal pain it was going to cause him
later and that it caused him at the time. I mean he let some people go that I
knew, he let Saul Komessar go. I know it killed him because Saul wasn’t
related but Saul was his protege at one time and that had to hurt him
tremendously to do that and he faced a lot of criticism in the community. When
he let Eddie Grayson go he faced a lot of criticism in the community. Eddie was
a very popular guy and still is. He was one of my…
Interviewer: Do you think he let them go because he saw the potential that
they could do more and they weren’t doing it?
Tishkoff: I think there’s some truth to that. I think that may have been
the case in some of the people that were let go. I think in some other
situations, he let them go because they weren’t performing and he was tired of
making excuses and he had a company to run. It was a New York Stock Exchange
company. Nobody was interested in why the company wasn’t doing better. They
were interested in it doing better.
Interviewer: Did he bring in new people or did he promote within?
Tishkoff: At that time he was bringing in new people and that was a bad move
that he realized and rectified within a three year period. But he brought in
some real beauts, I mean they were bad people.
Interviewer: But he recognized it very quickly?
Tishkoff: He ultimately recognized it. He was very close with his corporate
president whose name was Ed Klein. We may have already talked about him in the
Interviewer: You didn’t mention Ed Klein’s name.
Tishkoff: I’m surprised because he was extremely…
Interviewer: Some of the names were a little…
Tishkoff: You can walk into Herb’s office today and on his desk you can see
photos, snapshots and Ed Klein will be in half of them. Herb was nuts about Ed
Klein. Ed Klein was a good man.
Interviewer: What happened to your position when this big shake-up came?
Tishkoff: I was demoted. I had been promoted to a merchandise manager and I
was demoted back to a men’s buyer which was okay with me.
Interviewer: It was all right? Were you demoted in salary as well as
Tishkoff: No, they didn’t touch my salary but they demoted me and I had
this new management team to contend with and it wasn’t an honest management
team and it caused a lot of stress but also enabled me to prove that I can deal
with that kind of adversity.
Interviewer: Did you discuss this with Herb?
Tishkoff: From time to time. We had a situation once where I hit somebody. It
was against the rules to ever have a fight in the building and I knew I was
going to be fired for that. But somebody accused me of being on the take as a
buyer and I belted him and went home figuring, “I’m dead, it’s
over.” Got home and there’s a phone call from Ed Klein said, “Be in
Herbert’s office in 30 minutes.” I said, “This is it,” and I
went back downtown and Herbert said to me…He said, Ed Klein said,
“I’m in Herb’s office. Herb said for you to be here in 30
minutes.” I said, “I don’t know if I can get there in 30
minutes,” and I hear Herbert in the background saying, ’cause they had me
on a voice box and it was before the speaker phones . . . . and he said
something to the effect that, “If it’s 31 minutes, you’re fired. If it’s
30, you still have a job.” And I got there in 30 and I walked in and he
said, “Tell me what you did and why.” So I said, “He accused me
of being on the take and I hit him.” And he said, “Did he get
up?” And I said, “No.” He said, “Good”. He said,
“Get back to work.” And that was it.
Two weeks later that guy was
fired that I’d hit along with everybody else in that management team. A new
management team was put in place and I was promoted. I was elevated, I wasn’t
really promoted at that particular time but six months later I was promoted to
an opportunity on the west coast which gave me an opportunity to help on the
west coast operation. This is where Herbert and I really got in touch. Up until
that time he had been guiding me from a distance. I knew his hand was there. I
didn’t have the personal contact. But we did from that point on. That was
Interviewer: And how long did that working relationship last, ’73 until?
Tishkoff: From ’73 until ’77, he and I were very close. I was always, I
didn’t work for him but I had a a lot of contact with him. Right when I moved
to the west coast I was promised a promotion if certain things happened; if I
produced, and I produced. I did exactly, I did more than what they wanted and at
the end of the four years, they promoted somebody else in my place. Herbert did
it. It was done underneath him. But it was done and I felt like I’d been
betrayed because I didn’t get a contract and I didn’t get a handshake and
the people that were in charge at the time…
Interviewer: You mean Herbert was not in charge then?
Tishkoff: No Herbert was in charge but he was in charge corporatewise.
Interviewer: I see. Okay.
Tishkoff: And we were running, I mean this was one division of the Shoe Corp
. . . .
Interviewer: With someone else in charge of that division?
Tishkoff: Right and that was a guy named Lou Dougherty and Bernie Gutman and
. . . .
Interviewer: They were west coast people?
Tishkoff: No they were in Columbus at the time. Lou was the President of the
Retail Footware Division at the time and Bernie was his Executive
Vice-President. Bernie I thought I had a relationship with, found out later I
didn’t. There was another guy on board at the time named Bob Friedman who used
to live in Columbus who had been head of H.R. who was a real snake.
Interviewer: What’s H.R.?
Tishkoff: Human Resources.
Interviewer: Okay. You know we print your . . . .
Tishkoff: You can print that.
Tishkoff: And I don’t care what happens in twenty years. He was a real
snake. And he was just a bad guy and I didn’t fit in politically with that
group. So at any rate they put in somebody that fit in politically and I said,
“Okay, it had been promised to me. I’m out of here.” So I picked up
the phone. I called the guy I was reporting to at the time and said, “I’m
through. I’m coming to Columbus ’cause I’m going to resign to Herb. And I
did. I flew to Columbus on my own money and walked into his office and told him
what I was doing and why I was doing it and he said, “I don’t blame you.
You’ll be back.” And I left.
Interviewer: You left his office?
Tishkoff: I left his office and left the company. Never worked for anybody
else really except for Martin’s growing up. Didn’t have a job.
Interviewer: How old were you?
Tishkoff: Well that was in ’77 so that was 22 years ago so I was…
Interviewer: So you were already married and a father?
Tishkoff: …two children and no job. Because I thought it was
inappropriate for me to look for a job while I was being paid by Shoe Corp to do
a job. I didn’t think that was kosher. So I quit. I gave them 30 days and at
30 days . . . .
Interviewer: They let you stay for 30 days?
Tishkoff: Oh yeah. They didn’t want me to leave. They just didn’t want me
to be promoted but I stayed and I did what I said I was going to do and at the
end of 30 days, I was out of a job. So I had to go find one. So I picked up the
phone and I called a friend of mine who was in the industry and I said, “I
need a job,” and he said, ” I know of one,” he said. “See if
you can get it. It’s in San Francisco in a company called Mervyn’s.” I
had never heard of Mervyn’s. I didn’t have the slightest idea what it was. I
went there in San Francisco for an interview. Drove up. Couldn’t afford an
airplane; figuring I’d drive back that night.
Interviewer: Meaning you drove from where to where?
Tishkoff: L.A. I was living in L.A. at the time. Drove to San Francisco. They
were based in Hayward which was right across the bay from San Francisco. Had an
interview at, I think it was 11 in the morning. Left two days later. I didn’t
even have clothes with me but they kept me there for two days I saw everybody in
the joint. They hired me, doubled my salary.
Interviewer: What kind of company was Mervyn’s?
Tishkoff: Mervyn’s. M-E-R-V-Y-N-‘S. It was the predecessor that Kohl’s
has become. As a matter of fact, while I was there, the people from Kohl’s
visited Mervyn’s to get a feeling. At that time, they had 41 stores. I stayed
with them for 4 years.
Interviewer: Was it a west coast store?
Tishkoff: All west coast. They grew, they were a general merchandise store so
they did about $10 million a store in those days and they grew to 87 stores at
the time I left.
Interviewer: In a four year period?
Tishkoff: In a four year period. It was a vibrant company.
Interviewer: And why did you leave?
Tishkoff: They sold the company to Dayton-Hudson. They did that 2 years after
I got there. I saw things changing. I had just left an environment which I didn’t
like because of what was going on politically. I saw the same kind of politics
in Mervyn’s that weren’t there when I joined. I’m not a good politician
’cause I say what’s on my mind. Herbert taught me that and not to be afraid
of it. There was no way I was going to fit. They offered me the presidency of
Mervyn’s. They were going to open up a southern division and they wanted to
have an office and distribution center in Dallas and I turned it down. And you
don’t turn Dayton-Hudson down and have a career there. Because they asked me
why. They said it had to be a good reason. My reason was that I thought their
plan was flawed. I thought they were spending money they didn’t have to spend.
They should take that money and invest in a building and in people and
relocations and invest it in technology and they didn’t need to move and open
up an office. They had the whole thing in one place. They could centrally
control it. They have computers use them. Well that didn’t go off too well.
So I figured my days were numbered and as it turned out, I had to make a trip to
Taiwan on business for Mervyn’s. I made a trip to Taiwan. I ran into Herbert
because we were doing business at the time, all the time I was with Mervyn’s I
was doing business with some of the divisions of Shoe Corp.
Interviewer: Did they have a shoe department in Mervyn’s?
Tishkoff: Yes. That’s what I was there for. I was there to run their shoe
departments and it taught me, the experience at Mervyn’s taught me how to run
a shoe department within a store. I had never done that before. I’d always
run, we had always run Schiff’s Shoe Stores, Gallencamp stores, all
self-contained family shoe stores. This was a shoe department within a larger
store and I learned that in four years, how to do that, and that’s what we do
today. That was the basis for what Shoe Corporation has become.
But I ran into
Herb and because I was meeting with one of his divisions, the guy’s name was
Leo Kay who was running their import division and we used to buy a lot of shoes
from him at Mervyn’s. And we all went out to dinner and Herbert and I started
talking and he says, “You ready to come home?” And I looked at him and
I said, “I don’t think you could afford me today Herbert. I’ve made a
lot of money at Mervyn’s.” And he looked at me and he got this, you’ll
pardon the expression, this “shit-eating grin” on his face and he
said, “Try me.” So I said, “Well I don’t want the money but I
want the title.” I said, “I’m through following other people’s
policies.” I said, “I want to be able to make policy. So I want to be
President.” He said, “Okay”. And I sat back and I thought,
“What the hell is this all about?” thinking that maybe one of us had
had too much to drink or both of us had too much to drink and went home, told my
wife what had happened. She kind of agreed with me that we both had too much to
And two days later, I had a phone call from the then President of the
Shoe Corporation who was George Cleeves called me up and said, “I
understand you ran into Herbert and are interested in making a move and we want
to talk to you about it.” So I flew into Columbus, we talked, I forgot to
ask how much they were paying me ’cause it wasn’t important and I came back
Interviewer: As President of…
Tishkoff: As President of retail footware replacing the guy that basically
had made it possible for me to, well it basically gave me the opportunity to . .
Interviewer: Did they fire him to put you in?
Tishkoff: Yeah they fired him and they fired Bernie Gutman. They put me in
and I was there from ’81 to ’85 until they sold the company to Hill’s in
Interviewer: In the what?
Tishkoff: In a leveraged buyout that went on which allowed Herbert basically
to get his money out of the company which was a major concern of his and
Interviewer: So now Hill’s owned Shoe Corp?
Tishkoff: Hill’s owned Shoe Corp.
Interviewer: Still on the stock market?
Tishkoff: And once they bought it, they took it off the stock market at that
time because they took it private and then they took it public again.
Interviewer: Okay, so when Hill’s bought Shoe Corp, what happened to the
stockholders that owned Shoe Corporation stock?
Tishkoff: They got cash.
Interviewer: They got paid off?
Interviewer: And there was no more Shoe Corporation of America?
Tishkoff: It was known as SCOA Industries.
Interviewer: SCOA Industries?
Tishkoff: Yes. Shoe Corporation of America was dissolved and sold, the pieces
were sold off and what had happened is I had the opportunity to buy Shoe
Corporation and failed. Came up with the money but the deal didn’t go through
and basically everybody was out of jobs. The only piece that wasn’t bought by
anybody was the piece that was the licensed shoe department piece ’cause
nobody wanted it because it was too hard to run and that’s what we do today.
So I bought that. That’s the piece I got. I got left with that and Herbert was
very helpful in counseling me through those times because it was a rough time. I
had to let 300 people go ’cause we were all out of jobs and I was still trying
to buy whatever piece I could buy and I was able to do that. I ended up with
this building. We had, at that time our total revenues were $18 million ’cause
it was the smallest, nothing piece of the business. Nobody wanted it, it was a
piece of crap. And we’ve been able to grow it since ’85. We grew it up to a
$50 million business by ’93. I ran out of cash, sold the business to J. Baker
Corporation and that honeymoon didn’t last long because once again I was back
in a political environment and I’m determined…
Interviewer: So you sold it to them and you were working for them?
Tishkoff: Yes, they only wanted it if I would keep running it. So I
continued, I grew the business ’cause they had the capital and I had the
know-how. So we grew it from $50 million to $171 million in three years and
again in three years, they, J. Baker was having financial difficulties and I had
had it with the politics in place and I bought it back at the end of ’96.
Since then we’re up to $250 million now and we’re still growing.
Interviewer: So do I understand that the company now, Shoe Corporation of
America, is a leased department?
Tishkoff: It’s primarily a leased department, leased to specialty stores,
all kind of a business.
Interviewer: Give me an example of a store that you…
Tishkoff: Stein Mart.
Interviewer: Okay. In other words, you have the shoe department in Stein
Tishkoff: We have a shoe department in Stein Mart. We have shoe departments
in Gotchalk’s…in central California and…in Utah, in…
Interviewer: All in the United States?
Tishkoff: Yeah, we’re in 600 and some locations.
Interviewer: So you lease these departments?
Interviewer: Do you have your employees . . . .
Tishkoff: Our people, our inventory, our fixtures, their space.
Interviewer: Uh huh. So you rent the space from them?
Tishkoff: We essentially work on a license fee and give them a percentage of
our business. That’s the way it works.
Interviewer: So do you continue to counsel with Herbert?
Tishkoff: I have lunch with Herbert when he’s in Columbus once a month. We
split who pays. He keeps track very nicely. Herbert and I have, you alluded to
it before, that about the relationship and the fact that I was his protege,
many people, Betty included, will tell you that I’m the son he never had.
Interviewer: I believe that.
Tishkoff: He and I have a bond. I’ve never asked him for anything and there
have been times I’ve been crying to ask him and he would do it, and I won’t.
And he knows that and that’s the kind of basis of the relationship because
everybody always goes into him asking and I don’t. I never have. Never had to.
And he’s . . . .
Tishkoff: He’s perceptive. He doesn’t give me anything except advice.
That’s the only thing he’s ever given me and then opportunity. He gave me
that. He never gave me money. He never offered to give me money and never
offered anything but advice and opportunity. That was plenty because nobody else
would do that and he did it. I’ve seen every side of Herbert. I’ve seen the
vicious side and he can be vicious. I’ve seen the angry side. I’ve seen a
heart as big as anything. I’ve seen him do things anonymously that people in
this community will only do if their name’s on a building. It’s not
important to him. What’s important to him is that it gets done and it’s the
right reason and I respect that and I’ve modeled myself after that. I won’t
do anything for anybody if my name is going to be used. I don’t want that. I
mean it’s either a good cause or a bad cause and I go back to what my mother
said a long time ago and I just apply it to everything I do. Good people, bad
people; good cause, bad cause. And it’s that simple when you do that. And I do
Interviewer: Herb has a motto that I really believe he’s had all of his
life. His motto is, the saying is that, “I am my brother’s keeper and
hope that my brother never has to keep me.” He learned that very young and
I’m just wondering if your relationship with him, has that rubbed off onto
Tishkoff: Very much so. That’s how much I read into the past. That’s how
much the past is important to me. I’ve got artifacts from years and years and
years of stuff that predates Herbert.
Interviewer: I think we have this in the file.
Tishkoff: If you don’t you can have it.
Interviewer: I will take it. Do you see Herb and Betty socially when you’re
in Florida or is this strictly…
Tishkoff: Generally…rare occasions. Betty’s impossible not to love.
She’s just a wonderful lady and she’s as outgoing as can be. I think there’s
no question in my mind that Betty always wanted Janie and I to get married. She
always wanted the thing that, I don’t know. I’m not sure what our
relationship would be like if that were the case. Herbert and I are two rather
strong personalities and if we were ever in a situation where we were truly
faced with something where it was like, I don’t know what it would be like.
Interviewer: Herb was very business driven. He didn’t have a great social
life except for what Betty provided for him. He didn’t care about the world
around him. He cared about his business and he cared about doing well in his
business and doing better in the business…
Tishkoff: There’s a lot of similarities there.
Interviewer: He was very driven by that. He told me that if he could do
something different, he would have somehow developed a better rapport with his
children because he didn’t have time, being a business person.
Tishkoff: Well that’s not true. With all respects to what he said. He had
time; he chose not to make the time. Just the same as I have.
Interviewer: He chose not to? Okay.
Tishkoff: Just the same as I have.
Interviewer: So you sort of, in other words, if you had it to do over again,
would you be a more “at home” father?
Tishkoff: No. I’ll be honest because he and I were creatures of our history
and what drove me was the fact that I wanted self-esteem and I wasn’t, I would
go to, you asked was I social at the Jewish Center years ago and at the time I
said probably not but there were times when I was and they used to have sock
hops; I used to go to sock hops.
Interviewer: Girls were there?
Tishkoff: Girls were there and I never got them. I was always the guy in the
corner, too shy, too intimidated. All the Bexley smoothies were getting all the
girls and I always felt like I didn’t have what it takes.
Interviewer: Do you think that was created by the Bexley kids? Do you think
that they . . . .
Tishkoff: No I think it was a product of my own insecurities. It was the fact
that I just felt like we lived here, they lived here. It’s not their fault
that they lived here. They didn’t do it, their parents did it. But I drew my
Interviewer: There used to be a saying, the “Bexley snobs”.
Tishkoff: Yeah, I said it. I said it a lot. I wouldn’t date Bexley girls if
I could avoid it.
Interviewer: Were there a lot of Jewish kids at your school?
Tishkoff: There were a number of them, yeah. There were some neat kids there.
I dated a lot not in my religion. I dated a lot outside my religion. I dated a
girl 2 years in high school and a year after that.
Interviewer: What did your parents say about that?
Tishkoff: My mother was pretty smart. My dad was confrontational but my
mother embraced it.
Interviewer: She knew you’d come around?
Tishkoff: She figured it would self-destruct and she said, “Why drive
them together?” and if they make an issue, it would just drive them closer
together and let it be whatever it is and I wasn’t going to do anything stupid
and she knew. In those days you didn’t think about marriage when you were 17
years old, 18 years old. So you…
Interviewer: Smart lady.
Tishkoff: Yeah, my mother was wise. She wasn’t smart but she was wise. She
had guts in her.
Interviewer: Let me ask you something Denny. We sit here and we talk about
reflections of your younger life and the things you’ve done business-wise and
family-wise. If you were to do something different, what would that be?
Tishkoff: (long pause) I don’t think I’d do anything different.
Interviewer: You are very happy with the way you’ve structured and the
Tishkoff: You know, I think we can all improve. I think we can all do better
at lots of different things but who makes you that smart, who makes you that
wise until after you’ve screwed up and I’ve learned so many things from so
many mistakes that have helped me later. Why would I want to eliminate the
opportunity to learn that and so I don’t want to. Life is learning every day.
Life is a journey and you never know what’s down the road for sure. You can
plan all you want and the only plan you know about that’s going to happen is
that you’re going to die. And I don’t plan on doing that for a while. So I
don’t think I would do anything different. If I could affect events, I would
do that. That I would do. I feel very strongly that, I don’t want this to
sound self-serving and maudlin, but if I could affect events, I would have
stopped the Holocaust. I would have stopped it. God should have. He was out to
lunch. There’s no justification for 6 million Jews dying and it’s wrong and
we pray to this Almighty when in fact if he was so Almighty, He should have
stopped it and eliminated the problem ’cause I would have and He’s
supposed to be smarter than me. And if I’m wrong, so be it. Six million Jews
would be alive and I’d be wrong. Okay. I’ll accept that and I’ll accept
the consequences of that. I would eliminate the suffering that my mother went
through for 10 years dying of a disease that was horrible and what it did to her
and what it did to me.
Interviewer: Did she have cancer?
Tishkoff: She had leukemia at a point in time when they just didn’t know
what to do with it and they did every rotten test in the world and it was pretty
horrible for a person who never hurt anybody in her life and I would make that
not happen. People have to die and I accept that. But they don’t have to die
that kind of death and I don’t wish that on anybody except the assholes of the
Interviewer: Have you ever discussed what we’re talking about now with a
Tishkoff: Sure. They think I’m crazy. They buy me books, When Bad Things
Happen to Good People. I don’t want to read that crap. It doesn’t
impress me. What impresses me that there’s this gracious guy who’s up there
that I’m praying to or supposed to be praying to and obviously it’s
perfectly okay for me to say this ’cause he created me and he’s allowing me
to say this ’cause there isn’t any thunderbolt coming down to get me. He
should have not been out to lunch. He should not have been. It is wrong. If he
had a rainbow with a flood that might have, that did happen, it might have
killed the world population at that time of maybe a half a million people in
those days. How about 6 million? Where’s the rainbow? It was wrong and I don’t
have to say it was right and I don’t have to say it was God’s will.
Bullshit, God’s will. Those things bother me. They bother me a lot. I don’t
like injustices. I don’t like that. I’m not a soapbox kind of, desk-pounding
kind of person and I don’t need to go out publicly and campaign but what’s
right is right and what’s wrong is wrong.
Interviewer: Do you believe before your time is done on this earth that you
will come to terms with that?
Tishkoff: Probably not.
Interviewer: Do you want to?
Tishkoff: I’d love to. There’s a lot of pain. But it probably won’t
happen. The realistic side of me says…
Interviewer: Do you want it to happen?
Tishkoff: Would I like it to happen? Sure. How is that going to happen?
Interviewer: Don’t know. You know, you’ve been thinking ways to achieve
other things in your life. There just might be a rabbi or someone out there that
. . . .
Tishkoff: A rabbi isn’t going to do it.
Interviewer: A rabbi’s not going to do it?
Tishkoff: ‘Cause I don’t trust them. Stavsky and I’ve talked about
this. It’s nothing that I, and I don’t mind this being on tape. He has said
to me and I believe this to be an absolute brilliant statement by a brilliant
man because it really put a lot of things in perspective, he said, “You
sell shoes, I sell religion.” I think it’s absolutely a perfect way to
describe rabbis. They sell religion and I agree with that. They are selling the
proliferation of a race, of a people, of a sect that’s different.
Interviewer: Well I hope in time, somehow, something happens that you’ll
come to terms with that.
Tishkoff: It would be good…Yeah like the relationship to me that
Herbert has. That’s amazing to me. ‘Cause he can by as cynical as I can. He
taught me for Christ’s sake and I’m amazed that he is…
Interviewer: He has a philosophy which says his one goal in life is to make
this world one tiny little fraction of an inch better than when he came here.
Tishkoff: I think that’s evident by what he does and how he’s able to do
it and he gives generously of his assets and he does it in an anonymous fashion
and I think it’s . . . . .
Interviewer: But I think he’s made a difference more than just what he’s
given in dollars and cents. I think he’s made a difference…
Tishkoff: He made a difference in me. Absolutely.
Interviewer: So I don’t think that you can really just count what he’s
done during his lifetime only in dollars and cents.
Tishkoff: Right. What he’d done with me is wasted unless I do it with
Interviewer: That’s true.
Tishkoff: So that’s my, that’s what I’m trying to do.
Interviewer: Good. Denny, do you have anything else that we would like to
talk about, Herb Schiff, the company, any association, anything else?
Tishkoff: No. I think that’s it. It’s been quite a lot. I’m sure I
scared the hell out of you.
Interviewer: No, not at all. I want to thank you very much for this
opportunity to record the words for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society. It’s
been a pleasure and I appreciate it very much.
Tishkoff: You’re welcome.
Interviewer: Thank you.
End of interview