Interview with Donald Snider on November 3, 1996 by Mollie Lakin. This interview is taking place at Mr. Snider’s home, 729 Strawberry Road, West, Columbus, Ohio, as part of the Oral History program of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society.
Snider: I was born in the city of Columbus, on Main Street, actually right near
Washington Avenue. I’m named after a friend of my father’s – a very dear friend
who befriended him when he came to Columbus from New York. I can start tracing my family
history back as far as I can remember. I’ve been in central Ohio all of my life. My
earliest recollection of Columbus is when I was about 1 1/2 – 2 years of age, I suppose.
Interviewer: And where were your folks from?
Snider: My dad came from Russia. My mother came from Lithuania.
Interviewer: Do you remember the year?
Snider: My mother was about 3 years old when she came over.
Interviewer: So that would be about the 1800s?
Snider: It was late 1800s – close to 1900s. My mother’s family settled in
Nelsonville, Ohio because we had cousins there. And of course, they were all in the junk
business at that time. That’s all they knew.
My mother’s family moved to Columbus just about the time of the flood in Columbus
– about 1914. The year in which I was born.
Interviewer: What’s your earliest recollection of Columbus?
Snider: I remember my grandmother who used to sing Yiddish songs to me. I suppose I was
1 years old. My Zayde – I used to go with him on the horse and wagon in the summertime
and I enjoyed it very much.
Interviewer: Do you have brothers and sisters?
Snider: I have an older sister, Faye Levison. She’s the only one surviving now. I
did have a brother who passed away last year. That was Russell. We started out – my mother
put me in business back in 1939 in as much there was nothing left to take care of Russell
and put him in some kind of a business, she said that I would have to take care of my
brother and make him a junior partner and we started out together in the funeral business.
Interviewer: Tell me how you got started in the funeral business. You were young at
Snider: I was about 22 years of age when I got started in school. Prior to that, I went
to Ohio State and considered – I was in pre-dentistry – going into dentistry because my
uncle, Don Shusterman, was a dentist.
Interviewer: He was quite well-known.
Snider: He was doing very well and he was very well-known in town and I thought perhaps
I would go with the firm. Then I got started into school at OSU and it seems we had about
6,800 Jewish souls in the city of Columbus at that time and there were very close to 20
Jewish dentists. After I got started in college, I came to realize that my uncle’s
practice would not be large enough for two families. He already had a family to take care
of so along the way, I thought I’d get a job and quit school until I decided what I
wanted to do. After working at Lazarus in Men’s Furnishings for about 2 years and
saving what I could, I decided to look into funeral direction because there was no Jewish
Funeral Director in town.
Interviewer: None at all?
Snider: None at all at that time.
Interviewer: Where did the Jewish people go then?
Snider: They used to go to three different chapels and the business was pretty equally
distributed between Schoedinger, the oldest firm in town, Cook & Son on Parsons Avenue
where a lot of Jewish people lived and Tifereth Israel which was an old, established
congregation in town.
Interviewer: But Tifereth Israel didn’t have funeral services?
Snider: They had funeral services but they used Schoedinger. There were no Jewish
chapels so they worked with what they had. I thought, perhaps there would be a chance for
a Jewish fellow to come in here and start a Jewish funeral home. I went into Cleveland and
looked into the mortuary college and talked to the Dean. He sold me on the bill that there
certainly was an opening in Columbus for a Jewish funeral director and I should work at
it. So, I decided to go to school there and at that time . . . .
Interviewer: How old were you then?
Snider: At that time, I was about 20 years old. There was two years in school and two
years apprenticeship at that time.
Interviewer: Where did you serve your apprenticeship?
Snider: I served my apprenticeship starting – nobody would believe how tough it was in
those days. I couldn’t find a job in Columbus. None of the funeral homes wanted a
Jewish funeral director so I had to start in – actually I was out of school for about six
weeks and I decided I couldn’t find anything in town, I would have to go elsewhere so
I went to Mansfield, Ohio and I started there, working for $8 a week.
Interviewer: For a funeral home?
Snider: A funeral home in Mansfield, yes, a Catholic funeral home, and we had to learn
to do everything. Everything the funeral director needed at the home, in the way of
cleaning, we did janitorial work, we did painting, we did the cleaning of automobiles –
everything. It was part of the apprenticeship. The fact that we learned how to embalm and
how to direct a funeral – that came along with everything else. We had to do night
ambulance work as well as removals of the deceased from the hospitals.
After about 8 months in Mansfield, I found a job in Columbus at Cooke & Son and I
worked there earning $10 a week for about 6 months. Now Mr. Cook, at that time, was
interested in getting more of the Jewish funerals and he used me as his aide. I attended
dinners at the synagogues and met up with people. Of course, most of them knew me and I
came to be very close friends with many of the people around the synagogues because I knew
this to be my future and they should know me better. But I was paying for these dinners
out of my salary at that time and any business I could bring in to my boss at that time,
he profited by it but there was nothing there for me. So, I had a discussion with him,
relative to this. Believe me, Mollie, those were tough times.
Interviewer: Oh, I am sure. What was the reaction among the Jewish community?
Snider: They all liked me.
Interviewer: Did they like the idea of a Jewish funeral home?
Snider: Oh yes. They wanted it. They wanted it badly but it took a lot of money and it
wasn’t the kind of thing that you could get help from any outside organization. You
had to do it yourself. You had to find some way to get started yourself.
Mr. Cook and I had a discussion about this. I said, “I’m not asking for
anything out of the ordinary but it seems to me, if you’re benefiting from this, you
should pay for these dinners.” Dinners at that time cost $2-$2.50 but taking it from
a $10 a week salary – it was a lot of money. Well, we had a falling out over that and I
said, “If you’re not willing to reimburse me, I’m going to have to seek a
job elsewhere.” He said, “Well, I can see you’re dissatisfied with the
situation here so you might as well start looking.” I did find a job with Arthur H.
Maeder & Co – also a funeral home. I had to fulfill an apprenticeship, you see, and I
had about a year to go for it so it had to be through before I could take the State Board
examination. I went to Arthur & Mader and luckily he needed an apprentice and he
offered me considerably more than what I had been getting at Cook & Son. And there was
nothing at all about trying to bring in business so I took the job with him and he was
very, very good to work for and he was very helpful to me. I was glad for the change.
I completed my apprenticeship with Arthur H. Maeder and it so happened that the State
Board examinations were given once a year and you couldn’t get licenses without
taking the examination and passing. There was one examination for embalmers and 6 months
later, the examination for funeral directors. Well, you couldn’t conduct a funeral
unless you were a licensed funeral director. I had to wait a whole year and work an extra
year as an apprentice before I could take the State Board examinations.
I finally got my licenses and I started in business in 1939 at the age of 26. My mother
put me in business and we started the business at 1760 East Main Street which was a small,
single residence between Fairwood and Bulen on the north side of Main Street. We lived in
four rooms up over the funeral chapel and the lower four rooms were used as the funeral
home. There was a very nominal out-lay at first – just basics and all these friends were
so good to me. They followed me – they wanted me and they stuck with me.
Interviewer: The Jewish community?
Snider: The Jewish community – yes. I had to rent everything to start with. Funeral
coaches were costly – everything was so costly, I had to rent. I could hardly wait until I
could get enough together to buy a funeral coach of my own. It took me almost three years
to be able to buy a funeral coach.
Interviewer: Meanwhile you rented the hearse.
Snider: I rented everything to stay in business. The only thing I had was the funeral
Interviewer: And the knowledge. And the license.
Snider: That enabled me to perform my services.
Interviewer: Were you readily accepted by the Jewish community? Were they happy you
Snider: The Jewish community was happy to have a Jewish funeral home but in those days,
things were governed by certain elderly members of the different congregations and they
were used to going to the other funeral homes and I found it difficult to break into the
business although these people wanted me. I think I lost the first five Jewish funerals
after I opened my business. I said, “Boy, this is tough.” I never realized you
were governed by these people who took over the whole thing.
Interviewer: Like politics?
Snider: Yes, like politics and the families who wanted me to serve them had nothing to
say about it. So there was one family who called me around 2:30 a.m. They had lost the
mother in the family and the brother-in-law – who I’ll never forget, said that he
wanted me to serve the family and he called me directly.
Of course, I went over to the home immediately and started to get some newspaper
information when the elderly member of the congregation to whom that person belonged, said
he would call so and so – one of the funeral directors – O’Shaughnessy. The
brother-in-law stood up and said, “What are you calling O’Shaughnessy for?”
The elderly member said, “Well, to conduct the funeral.” The brother-in-law
said, “Are you going to pay for the funeral?” The elderly member said, “No,
you’re paying for the funeral.” The brother-in-law said, “Then, Mr. So and
So, if you don’t mind, you’re not needed here at all. If I’m going to pay
for the funeral, Don Snider is my funeral director and I want him to serve me.” And
with that, the elderly gentleman left the premises and that was my first start.
Interviewer: Do you remember the name of the elderly person, Donald?
Snider: Oh, I remember the name but I’d rather not mention it.
It made me feel great that somebody would want me enough that he would stand up for me.
So that was the start of my funeral business. It seemed that after that one start,
everybody else found they could hire their own funeral director and I was called following
that. In fact, I did 47 out of 53 funerals that first year.
Interviewer: There definitely was a need.
Snider: Oh, there was a need and I have letters that I’ve kept from people that
sent me – thank you notes, this, that and the other for the services I rendered the
families. I realized there was a tremendous need for a Jewish funeral home in the city of
Interviewer: How long were you on Main Street?
Snider: I was there for 14 years.
Interviewer: Were you married at that time?
Snider: We were married in 1940 – a year following the start of my funeral home and
Jeanette was a tremendous help. She was actually my partner. My brother was called into
service about 4 1/2 months after we started and he went on to be a First Lieutenant in the
Interviewer: That’s Russell?
Snider: Russell. Russell was in the service for 4 years and saw service overseas and he
came to realize that the business just wasn’t big enough for two families. While he
was in service, he met his wife-to-be, Cecilia and they were married while he was in the
service. Russ realized that the business couldn’t take care of two families so he
wanted me to buy him out and I arranged to do so.
I hired people after that, to help me because it was the type of business I
couldn’t run by myself and I realized I needed help as time went on. From a very
modest beginning, we started to branch out. We found we needed larger quarters and after
14 years in the original funeral home, I started to look for something bigger. I needed
more land, I needed a larger building. When I started out, all the families seemed to want
was burial – burial by a Jewish funeral director. And after that, as things went on, the
families came to realize that they could have a choice – whatever casket they wanted,
whatever type of service they wanted, how many limousines they wanted and all of this was
additional cost. And they came to want things nice. They, themselves, selected what they
wanted in a casket and the type of service and how many limousines and police officers –
and they were willing to pay for it as long as they had it.
By this time I had my own funeral coach and limousine and what we needed additional, I
could always rent. I would help other funeral directors around town when I wasn’t
busy and they were glad to help me. We had a wonderful relationship. And even some of the
funeral directors who used to serve the Jewish people, said, “Don, you’ve done
things that we could never do because we couldn’t deal directly with the families as
you’ve been able to do.” This was my salvation. The people wanted things nicer
than what they previously had so that was also my salvation.
Interviewer: And you moved into larger quarters?
Snider: We moved into larger quarters and of course, as the Jewish population in town
grew, so did my business.
Interviewer: They moved east, is that right?
Snider: Always, always moved to the east. Yes. And burial because that’s where
Mizrach is located and my relationship with the elders in the Chevra Kadisha was
wonderful. I look back on the years and the people I have met and worked with was the most
wonderful thing that ever happened to me. I came to know so many wonderful and
enlightening things about these elders.
Interviewer: Human nature.
Snider: Yes. Really. They were wonderful to me and I credit them for being so beautiful
in their religion. They felt it was a mitzvah to perform the religious rites to the
deceased who cannot do anything for themselves so they do it for them and they said
prayers. I came to know these people and it really was a wonderful experience. If I would
call them at 9 o’clock in the winter time and the snow was up to their knee caps and
the family wanted a funeral the following day . .. .
Interviewer: This was the Chevra Kadisha?
Snider: The Chevra Kadisha. If the family wanted the funeral the following day, they
would come out at 9 o’clock and make the Tahara which took an hour to an hour and a
half and dress the deceased for burial and place it in the casket. They did all these
Interviewer: Do you remember these people?
Snider: Mr. Shulman, Mr. Yenkin from the Frey-Yenkin Company – marvelous. I have to
rack my brain. From Tifereth Israel there was Morris Polster.
Interviewer: And you were part of them all?
Snider: Oh, I loved them all because they were always willing – they never said no. If
they had a cold, they forgot about their colds, came out and wanted to do their mitzvah.
These people were so great. Like I said, I came to know them all and it was most rewarding
for me to think people would do this out of religious respect
Interviewer: It meant a great deal to them, too?
Snider: A great deal, yes. They felt enlightened. Harry Goldberg, head of the Chevra
kadisha, from Agudas Achim, taking over after his dad passed away. He did a beautiful job
keeping the cemetery real nice.
Interviewer: That was the old cemetery on Alum Creek Drive.
Snider: First there and then the Jewish cemeteries were all side by side on Refugee
Pike as well. By the way, the elder Mr. Goldberg saw to it that the land was purchased and
it was dedicated for a Jewish burial place. He did a beautiful job setting it up and I
think his son helped him. A great help. Tifereth Israel then bought next door to it and
Ahavah Sholom next to Agudas Achim, then Beth Jacob next door on the east end.
Interviewer: The one on Alum Creek is filled up. That’s part of life, I guess.
Snider: I’d go out to Agudas Achim cemetery on Refugee Pike and remember when I
was burying in the first section of it and today it’s so well filled up
Interviewer: Your wife helped you through all those years? How long have you been
Snider: I’ve been married 56 years. I have two children. My son is Rick and my
daughter is Denise Kohn. I have a wonderful son-in-law, Dick Kohn.
Interviewer: How long were you in business?
Snider: I was in business 41 years. Took most of a lifetime to make a living at it. It
was very difficult at first. At first, we just figured everybody needed burial and many
times we had to assist families in that burial because there wasn’t enough money to
make the burial and for them to keep going. So we worked things out, realizing that our
people had to be buried decently and many times we had to assist them. Of course, times
today are entirely different than what they were then. Back when I started, perhaps 20% of
the Jewish people were living off Central and North Market income and it was very
difficult for them to get ahead. But their families had to be buried as well as any others
and we had to work with them. Many times I accepted payments by the month. No interest – I
didn’t know what interest was.
Interviewer: You did it because it was something that had to be done.
Snider: It had to be done and we offered as much as we could and saw to it that
everybody was buried properly. Of course, the Chevra Kadisha were willing to give their
time and the synagogues were willing to give the grave and the shroud and the funeral
director had to go along. Believe me, I look back and say “I couldn’t make a living on this but those
people had to be buried, too.”
Interviewer: Don, let me ask you something. Did it ever seem, among your friends, there
was something morbid about this?
Snider: There was a time when I first started that the elders didn’t want to shake
hands with me. They thought maybe something would rub off.
Interviewer: How did you feel about this?
Snider: I didn’t think anything of it. It was my job. This was my future-to-be and
I accepted whatever came from it. But those same people, later on, became close friends
and would hug me after they came to know me. I look back on the formative years as truly
There was a Mrs. Gross, one of the elders on the women’s Chevra Kadisha. She would
help any congregation that needed it. She was the most unselfish person that I could ever
meet and she was beautiful in every respect. I’ll never forget her – as many of the
others. I might forget a name but I won’t forget the person, believe me.
Interviewer: Her family is still in Columbus?
Snider: Her family is still here. Her granddaughter is a Chevra Kadisha. The
granddaughter took to it just like her grandmother because the grandmother instilled in
her this feeling of tzedakah – helping those who can’t help themselves. I’ll
never forget the elder Mrs. Gross. I buried her husband – they were from the east,
originally – New York, I believe. She lost her husband shortly after coming to Columbus as
I recall and I buried him to suit her and she let me know how wonderful I was to the
family and how I helped them and she was always a very dear friend of mine.
Interviewer: You made some wonderful friendships.
Snider: Really, I did – with the elders – people three and four times my age, in many
Interviewer: They respected your work.
Snider: I loved them. I got along with them really well.
Interviewer: You saw a lot of changes in Columbus?
Snider: That’s right. And they’d all go to bat for me because I did what they
wanted and what they thought was proper religious-wise.
Interviewer: What was your religious background?
Snider: My grandfather and grandmother belonged to Agudas Achim and we belonged to
Tifereth Israel. I was Bar Mitzvah at the old Agudas Achim because my Zayde belonged there
and he wanted me there.
Interviewer: That was on Donaldson Avenue?
Snider: Donaldson and Washington, yes. But after that, we moved east and joined
Tifereth Israel and I was there most of the years I was married. Later on, our children
went to Hebrew School and they wanted me to belong to Agudas Achim so I was a contributing
member at Tifereth Israel and my family went to Agudas Achim.
Interviewer: Who was the Rabbi at that time?
Snider: At Agudas Achim? Rubenstein. My son was Bar Mitzvah there. Of course, they
didn’t have Bat Mitzvah at the time so our daughter was not a Bat Mitzvah.
Interviewer: You had a good background.
Snider: I had a pretty good background.
Interviewer: Well, you were on Main Street and then you moved all the way out east. How
long were you there, Don?
Snider: I was there about 27-28 years when I sold out to Epstein.
Interviewer: And that was on Main Street and . . . .?
Snider: Main and Elizabeth.
Interviewer: Main and Elizabeth. And you lived upstairs?
Snider: Yes. It was a side street. Our business grew and so the place grew. Now
it’s even greater than it was when I was there. I’ve been retired 17 years and
during these 17 years, there’s been an influx of at least 6,000 Jewish people –
Interviewer: Columbus has grown. Spread out. You have some wonderful memories,
don’t you, Don? What do you remember about the old Jewish section on the south end?
Did you live around there?
Snider: I was born around there. And at that time, we moved to Oakwood Avenue and I
went to South High School. We lived on Oakwood Avenue from the time I was about 8 years of
Interviewer: Do you remember your neighbors around where you lived?
Snider: Oh, yes. We had a wonderful next door neighbor by the name of Mrs. Simmons, a
Catholic woman. We were very close to the Simmons family. Across the Street, we had a
Jewish family by the name of Brodsky.
Interviewer: Phil Brodsky?
Snider: Phil Brodsky is a nephew to the Brodsky family. Jacob Brodsky was his name.
They were people that had stands on North Market. Louis Goldfarb’s wife, her maiden
name, Palestrant, they lived next door to the Brodskys. That’s about all at that
time. We lived across from them. We were friendly with all the families.
Interviewer: Were the Jewish grocery stores close by?
Snider: At that time, there was a kosher market on Livingston, Katz Kosher Market.
Interviewer: Norman Katz?
Snider: No, it was Herman Katz’s family, his father was the butcher.
Interviewer: What other stores were there?
Snider: Cohagen Hardware – long time ago. My uncle had a barber shop – Warsasky on
Livingston and Oakwood. On Wilson Avenue was the Greenstein family. They were a nice, big,
Interviewer: Were these the forebears of Green Pharmacy?
Snider: Yes. Ted Green’s family. My uncle, Don Shusterman, had his office with Dr.
Aaron Canowitz on Livingston and Oakwood.
Interviewer: Your uncle was a dentist, right?
Snider: My uncle was a dentist, yes. And Dr. Canowitz, at that time, practiced / was a
general physician. He took extra courses and went on to Children’s Hospital as an
Interviewer: Where was Children’s Hospital located?
Snider: Off 18th Street on a side street, maybe it’s called Newberry.
Interviewer: Was it a small hospital?
Snider: It was small at that time. But it’s grown considerably, perhaps 5-6 times.
Interviewer: It’s in the same location?
Snider: It’s in the same location but they purchased a lot more land around there
and built additional buildings.
I went to Livingston Avenue School for the last two years of lower grades. Then I went
to Roosevelt Junior High and then into South High School.
Interviewer: When did you graduate?
Snider: 1932. And I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to attend our 60th
Interviewer: That’s beautiful.
Snider: At the 50th anniversary of my graduation, 200 people attended. Some came from
the West Coast and some came from Florida. At the 60th, we had about 48 people attend. We
lost a lot of our graduates in those 10 years. So I don’t think I’ll attend
Interviewer: I hope you attend many, many more. You told me a very interesting story
about donating a hearse?
Snider: It was an ambulance. In 1948, we donated an ambulance to the State of Israel
through the auspices of Zion Lodge #62 B’nai B’rith. It was a used car that we
had used in our business. It was painted black. Henry Gurvis was in the automobile
painting business and he said he would paint it white for an ambulance. And he painted it
white. Not only did we give the ambulance to Israel, but I drove it to New York and saw to
it that the ambulance was placed aboard the ship for delivery to Israel. I saw it anchored
down aboard ship then I took a flight home.
Interviewer: It was B’nai B’rith’s donation to Israel?
Snider: It was through the auspices of B’nai B’rith, we donated it and Hank
Interviewer: Did you tell me that someone you knew saw it in Israel?
Snider: My mother and stepfather were in Israel in 1949 and they saw it on the street.
My mother called me long distance to tell me that they saw it.
Interviewer: Were you proud?
Snider: Very proud to know that I helped in some little way. I guess that’s about
Interviewer: Well, your life has been very interesting and I hope that you continue on
for many, many years and have a novice in your family and good health. That’s the
important thing and what we all hope for. I do appreciate listening to you, Donald. It
meant a lot to me and I know it will mean a lot to the community.
Snider: I hope so.
Interviewer: Thank you, Don, for sharing your personal life experiences with the
Columbus Jewish Historical Society.
End of interview