June 11, 2004. I’m here at Heritage House in Columbus and I’m speaking to
Flo Zimmerman, Florence Zimmerman, and she’s going to tell us about how it was
to grow up Jewish in a small town. Florence, what else are we going to talk
Zimmerman: Well I can tell you briefly that I was the third child of Max and
Libby Burson. My father was a merchant, owning the Burson Boston Stores, mainly
the Boston Stores. He had other brothers who also had Boston Stores in Elyria
and Newark and small towns. I was very fortunate and had a wonderful childhood.
There were perhaps ten Jewish families in Tiffin, all of various ages so we didn’t
pal around with another Jewish girl or another Jewish boy. Our friends were
primarily Chris- tians. We went to Sunday School 25 miles away or 21 miles away
to Fremont, Ohio and they would get a rabbi from HUC to give Sunday School
lessons. Now other people who would go to the lessons were Janet and Mitchell
Price from Fostoria, the Gilbergs and various families from Fremont and so the
classes were very small. The Bar Mitzvahs were an ordeal for people to
manage so my father’s relatives first came to Akron, Ohio, where they settled
and many of them remained. And that was a large community with religious
training and people who could teach my brothers what they had to know about a Bar
Interviewer: How old were you, where were you in the…
Zimmerman: I’m the third child. I had two older brothers.
Interviewer: Their names?
Zimmerman: Albert, he died a month before his Bar Mitzvah and I had
another brother who died when he was 36 and my parents died very young. My
father was Max Burson, 54. My mother was Leah Libby who was 63. My father
setttled in Akron originally where he drove a milk truck or a bread truck. He
and his brother somehow got involved with department stores.
Interviewer: Where did they come from, Florence?
Zimmerman: My father was from Russia, Tulna, Russia.
Interviewer: Spell it.
Zimmerman: T-U-L-N-A, Russia.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Zimmerman: My mother was from Brooklyn. Her family originally came from
Lithuania. I did not know any grandparents. When I was born, the grandparents
had died and my father, who originally landed in Akron, had moved to Tiffin
where he started his business.
Interviewer: Florence, was their name ever anything besides Burson?
Zimmerman: I haven’t, oh probably, probably, but I don’t know.
Interviewer: Okay. All right.
Zimmerman: My mother’s family was in, outside of Cincinnati and Kentucky
they had a tobacco farm. I did not know them because I was so young where other
people had died.
Interviewer: What was your mother’s maiden name?
Zimmerman: Kolker, K-O-L-K-E-R. My mother was a, went to school at Cincinnati
Jewish Hospital and became a registered nurse in 1917, I think. She also was a
social worker and she graduated from St. Louis, I think. She met my father in
Akron, Ohio, where she was visiting relatives. And my father was visiting his
mother and they lived about a block away and somebody introduces them to each
Interviewer: Florence, you said there were other Jewish families in Tiffin?
Interviewer: What brought them to Tiffin? I know you said your dad had a
Zimmerman: Yes, business.
Interviewer: They had businesses. The Danzigers had department stores and
their relatives are from Columbus and I think Harold and Ruth moved back to
Columbus. The Bursons owned ready-to-wear stores. The Grossmans had the scrap
business. The Rosenblatts had scrap business. They had four boys and one girl
who remained in Tiffin primarily until they got married or something like that.
The Matthews, Mr. Matthews worked for a, I think the, oh it was, when was the
Depression and people had nothing?
Interviewer: I guess about the end of the 20s and early 30s.
Zimmerman: Yes. He had two boys and a girl. They got a good education. Janet
went to Ohio State and was my friend and she later went to Smith College and her
brother Jack was head of the Speech Department at Pittsburgh. Hiyam Jacobs was a
good friend of ours and had a small ready-to-wear store. Bud Pisk had jewelry, a
Jewelry store where, that’s where he made his money. And the people stayed in
Tiffin because that’s where their income was.
Interviewer: Flo did most of these families come to Tiffin at around the same
time or who would you say was the first?
Zimmerman: I’d say my father when he was from Russia. He had somebody
sponsor him in Akron and his family, his five brothers and two sisters, were in
Akron and he had the opportunity to start a business. And when he did and his
brothers also got into the department store business. And when they did this,
they were quite successful. It was the time when there were, people didn’t
have cars so they only came to get their merchandise on Saturday. The farmers
wanted Levi things and everything. They got yard goods to make dresses. And the
people who had businesses, that was a thing.
Interviewer: Well I know one of your father’s brothers was Joe Berson and
he went to Newark, Ohio.
Zimmerman: Newark, Ohio.
Interviewer: Okay. Want to talk about him for a minute?
Zimmerman: Oh my Uncle Joe, remember I’m younger than my relatives. But he
had red hair and he was from Russia and he fell in love with his first cousin,
Aunt Freda. And when her boat came to New York, he went to meet the boat. He was
so happy and it was a very, very nice . . . . marriage. They had two boys and
one girl. One of their sons is a doctor in San Diego.
Interviewer: That’s Doctor Bill?
Zimmerman: Uh huh. And Alice is a social worker in California, . . . . And
Albert, I don’t know what he’s in.
Interviewer: Okay. And his other brothers, who went to Elyria?
Zimmerman: My Uncle Frank went to Elyria, Ohio, and had Bursons, or Boston
Store and it was a very nice store. They worked hard. They got their merchandise
from people who, would be salesmen who traveled on the road. It was later on in
years they had a buying office in New York. But in the early years, salesmen
used to take their merchandise from store to store, to little cities, and
traveled like that.
Interviewer: You had two other uncles?
Zimmerman: I had Uncle Louie and I think there was another Uncle but I’m
not sure. And my father had two or three sisters. They were in Akron and they
had children and it was during the Depression that my father and his brother
took care of his sisters and their families and they were large families. And my
Uncle Frank and my father sent Hy Subrin to Harvard Law School.
Interviewer: Who was Hy?
Zimmerman: Hy Subrin was my father’s nephew.
Interviewer: Can you spell Subrin?
Interviewer: Okay. Tell me more about Tiffin. What was the city like? Did you
have neighborhoods where . . . .
Zimmerman: We didn’t have Jew—. I was born in a very nice neighborhood. I
did everything. I was a cheerleader. All my friends were Christian except for
Janet. I participated in everything but the choir and they said that they didn’t
need my voice for the choir. I was a Girl Scout. I was a Y-Teen. And then I
became active and as an adult, I directed Community Chest. I was in Junior
League. I was in Eastern Star and other clubs.
Interviewer: Were there any Jewish organizations at all? You didn’t have a
synagogue of your own in Tiffin?
Zimmerman: We had no synagogue and there weren’t any Jewish people my age.
The closest person was Janet Price from Fostoria and that was 15 minutes or
something like that. And she was the only one close to my age. So I became
friends with everyone from the first grade on and these are my friends today.
Interviewer: So you did observe, you went to synagogue in Fremont?
Zimmerman: In Fremont and then High Holydays and everything, we often went to
Akron and we belonged to a Conservative synagogue in Akron.
Interviewer: So were there other community agencies that you were aware of?
Did they have any charitable or educational organizations?
Zimmerman: In Tiffin?
Interviewer: Uh huh. Other than the . . . .
Zimmerman: Not Jewish charitable. They would ask from the Federation from
maybe some- place that you donate a chair at the synagogue or we were always
involved in donating money to all Jewish funds when we were approached. My
father was a very charitable man.
Interviewer: So it was more or less uneventful growing up?
Zimmerman: The men did not mix. The men were not friends of the other Jewish
Interviewer: Uh huh. Was there, were you aware of anti-Semitic activity?
Zimmerman: I’m sure there was anti-Semitism but it was never directed to me
or my family. But I’m sure because Tiffin was comprised of 50% Protestant and
50% Catholic. But I went to public school and I never had a bad experience, a
truly bad exper- ience.
Interviewer: How about social activities.
Zimmerman: I was very, very involved socially. I was Secretary of Junior
League. I was in Community Chest directing things. I was a Girl Scout leader and
camp leader and Y- and YWCA had a club and I went to that.
Interviewer: So you were just a small number of Jewish . . . .
Zimmerman: There were no Jewish people.
Interviewer: in your age group.
Zimmerman: That’s right. There weren’t any.
Interviewer: So . . . .
Zimmerman: I went with the friends I met when I walked to school every day
and walked home every day. And we told our secret secrets that girls tell to one
another and we had slumber parties and these, this was my life. And I had a
very, very happy life.
Interviewer: You knew that you were going to go away to school at someplace
like, well what were your ambitions then? How did you think your life was going
Zimmerman: I think I had no ambition, I had absolutely no goal. I, my mother
and father said, “Graduated. You’re going to college.” So I said,
“Okay”. And they signed me up for Ohio State and I said,
“Okay”. And my father was a friend of Max Friedman from Circleville.
And he was a traveling salesman and when they came to Tiffin, they would eat at
our house. And my father and Mr. Friedman became friends and his daughter was
going to Ohio State and I was going to Ohio State and they arranged to have us
Interviewer: Which daughter?
Zimmerman: Mickey, Maxine Friedman.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Zimmerman: Who’s married to Howard Schoenbaum of Columbus.
Interviewer: So you used to see her . . . .
Zimmerman: She was my roommate at college.
Interviewer: I didn’t know that.
Zimmerman: Yeah. And after the freshman year I think Mickey dropped out and I
kept going. I liked college.
Interviewer: What were you studying there?
Zimmerman: Social Work.
Interviewer: And did you graduate?
Interviewer: What happened after that?
Zimmerman: I am five hours from graduation but they put me in the yearbook
and gave me a pin and everything. After that I got married. I went to Saginaw,
Michigan. I married somebody from Akron, Ohio and I divorced him after 16 years
and I had three children, three girls.
Interviewer: I think I met one of them
Zimmerman: . . . . religion? I had three very different girls. One is in Los
Angeles and she is very, very religious.
Interviewer: Her name?
Zimmerman: Marley Hershberg
Interviewer: H-I-R- . . . .
Zimmerman: H-E.R-S-H-B-E-R-G. Her husband is a stockbroker for Merrill Lynch.
Interviewer: And she lives where?
Zimmerman: What’s the big city, Los Angeles.
Interviewer: And she has a religious family?
Zimmerman: She has the most religious family you may ever meet. And she has a
life that has really changed because she grew up and became involved politically
with Metzen- baum and John Glenn and all those people. But she chose to be
religious and she has five children, Zvi, Marsha Dove, Hannah, Rivka and Avraham.
Her life is centered around the Torah. My one grandson is in the Yeshiva in New
Interviewer: Would that be Zvi?
Zimmerman: Zvi, uh huh. I have one daughter in Florida and there are no
children and her husband is a draftsman and there is no religion.
Interviewer: What is your second daughter’s name?
Zimmerman: Leigh, L-E-I-G-H. She observes Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashonah and those
Interviewer: Going back to Tiffin, did you have Seders or any kind of home
celebrations, Shabbos observance or . . . .
Zimmerman: We always had Friday night observed with the brochas and we
did not keep kosher. We had help at my home. There were two maids and then they
did the cooking and the cleaning.
Interviewer: Did your mother do any cooking?
Zimmerman: I don’t remember her cooking much. But she was a nurse and if
there was a lawn fete or anything they needed a nurse, she would volunteer and
she was very, very involved with my oldest brother who died when he was 12. So
her time was really with him and then with me and Gene, my brother Gene, and
Interviewer: When you grew up did you help in the house with cooking or would
you say you were domestic, you know?
Zimmerman: I wouldn’t say I was in any way domestic.
Interviewer: Okay. Tell me what it was like at Ohio State.
Zimmerman: Loved it. I loved it. I had a good roommate. I wasn’t pressured
to be an A student because I’m dyslexic. My brother used to go to school and
never take a book home and have straight As. And I just studied like mad and I
was a C student and struggling for the C. So that’s my scholarly behavior.
Interviewer: Do you remember, do you have other memories of Ohio State? I
know you were involved with Hillel and some of the activities there.
Zimmerman: I liked Hillel. I moved to Baker Hall and I was the first Social
Chairman in 1945-’46 at Baker Hall. And this was the end of World War II when
the boys in the service come back. And they were in quonset huts but they had
been in service and when I planned an activity, a dance or something for Baker
Hall, we always had the people there. I was also Social Chairman when Jean
Peters, the movie star, was in our dormitory. And I had a reception for her. She
was a very modest, unsophisticated person who . . . . married Howard Hughes.
Interviewer: Did you remember Marilyn Fleischman?
Zimmerman: Very vaguely, very vaguely. I, the Jewish kids, . . . . they stuck
together. I was with Shirley Cohen and friends, you know. They were from Elyria,
Lorain, and I was not a serious scholar, to put it mildly but I went to Hillel
and I loved going to Hillel. And I met good friends, Rosalyn Sonenstein. Her
maiden name was Edels- berg. And she was in my bridal party and she was some
person. She was the most righteous person and helpful person and kind person and
she lived her life to its fullest. Ros and I, it was during the Civil Rights,
and a lot of people were not in the position they are today and we would go to
certain meetings. Somebody would call a meeting and we’d go and we’d protest
things and we’d have garbage in the car or eggs or something like that and I
would have quit long before but Ros, she’d call me and I was in because of
her. Things have changed now so much, so much, but when we did it it made a big
difference. I know that in the dorm we used to eat and there were a couple of
black girls and no one would sit with them. And Margie Hunter whose father was a
judge and she was a student and I got to know her and I said, “Sure,”
you know, she was just wonderful. I invited her to my wedding. Well this was
unheard of in 1945, ’46, ’47. There was not the integration that there is
There is a time in my life that I am very proud of and my husband and I had
moved to Lima, Ohio. I divorced him after 16 years but I knew I had drive and
the know-how to make money and my goal was to help the American Cancer Society.
My father, mother and two brothers had died of cancer and there was a lady, I
forget her name, that came to me and asked me if I would accept the position as
Chairman of the Northwest Division of the American Cancer Society, which meant
raising money for 11 counties. It was truly the thing for me and I did so well
and I am proud. I started the first golf tournament. Jim Shellray was Executive
Director for ACS in Toledo, Ohio. And I said, for fund-raising, I said,
“Why don’t you ask Jack Nicklaus if he would participate.” I asked
him if he could start a golf tournament. But I knew Jack Nicklaus’ father was
in Columbus and was suffering from cancer. And Jim called Jack Nicklaus. It was
the first event of that kind of any health agency. There used to be separate
drives for diabetes, separate drives for Heart Fund and things like that. But
Cancer Society functioned solely on what they got. We had golf tournaments. We
had benefits of all kinds. People would have plays and give the money that they
made over in the (tape side ends)
Zimmerman: One quick thing . . . . once a year, it was usually a Saturday . .
. . I was appointed on the State Board, County Board, I was President, Vice
President of that. I used to speak in cities like Columbus and Cleveland with
the National Honorary Director such as Fred Repack, Lorne Green and Lawrence
Welk. So I traveled during the days from one county to the next and we doubled
all figures and they asked me to teach other people how to get these little
functions. It may have been a yard sale, not a yard sale but you know, rummage
sale. Whatever they did, I helped them organize to teach them how to make money
and donate it to the American Cancer Society. When I left my work, there were so
many parties for me. There was articles in the LIMA NEWS that Hope Strong wrote
about my achievements in the various organizations in Lima.
Interviewer: When did you leave Lima?
Zimmerman: I left Lima . . . .
Interviewer: Were you living in Lima?
Zimmerman: Yes . . . . at the time. My oldest daughter Marley was graduating
and she got involved with politics and they appointed her when she was 18 to the
Ohio Democratic Party. . . . to Governor Gilligan’s staff. And this is the
Interviewer: Flo, what is it like in Tiffin now? Are there . . . .
Zimmerman: All right. The downtown is not a busy, busy section because they
have shopping malls and people come to Columbus or Toledo or wherever they are.
They may be, I only know one person that lives in Tiffin and is building a house
and that is Jack Pressman’s grandson. Jack has since died but he is a
podiatrist and I under- stand he lives in Tiffin. . . . . you think that there’s
a community that functions solely because of Judaism, I don’t know. I rather
doubt it. I doubt it very much. When I go, my high school friends organize a
luncheon and I meet with them and since I’m 77 and I’m losing friends each
year, I’m more in grief then because my childhood were with these people
somewhere. And . . . . still the sound of the car and her father forgot about
her. And her father drives home and her mother says, “Where is he, where is
he?” And he says, “What do you mean?” And she said, “You
took him for a drive. Don’t you remember that?” And he said, “No, I
kind of remember. I’m not so sure.” She said, “Well where was
he?” He said, “The only thing I stopped is the gasoline station and
then I came right home.” She said, “What gasoline station?” He
said, “How should I know? It was a gasoline station with some gas.” So
they . . . .
Interviewer: Ros Sonenstein is telling this story but I don’t think . . . .
Zimmerman: Yes, yes. So she said they get in the car and they drive and drive
and drive and they see this little boy crying or saying, “Where were you?
Why did you do this? Why did you do this to me?” And that’s one of Ros’s
. . . .
Interviewer: Yeah because her brother didn’t speak English until he was
Zimmerman: And now you know Ros didn’t speak English until she was about
six. She lived in Detroit and she went to school and she saw some of her friends
and she said, “What about this school?” She named the school. And they
said, “That must be the name of the school.” It wasn’t . . . . It
was W, you know. And she didn’t speak English because at home and the
neighbors, everyone in the neighborhood, the doctors and the butchers and
everyone were Yiddish. And she brought more happiness and kindness then with
humor. And I know she did, if somebody didn’t have socks or gloves, she’d go
out, she’d find it for them.
Interviewer: Ros’s friends will agree with me that she was the greatest
person that, she was the greatest person that I ever knew. She did not want to
address the subject of her illness. She denied it until the end.
Zimmerman: She went to a movie two weeks before. She said, “Let’s
go.” Outside Cincinnati, there’s a boat to go gambling and she had taken
me a couple times, she and Icky. She said, “Let’s go.” And Icky
called on a Thursday or Friday and said, “I don’t think we can make it.
But we’ll make it in a couple of weeks.” And the next week, Icky said
that she went out to dinner or out to a movie. The day before she died or
something, the week before she died, anyhow, and he called me on a Saturday I
think it was. And to her last breath, she functioned well, ’til her very last
Interviewer: Flo, I’m going to discontinue this interview right now and we’ll
Zimmerman: I’d like that.
Interviewer: On behalf of the Historical Society, I want to thank you for
sharing your recollec- tions of growing up Jewish in a small town of Tiffin,
Zimmerman: I’d like to also say like Mickey Schoenbaum, Maxine, they were
from a small town called Circleville. Their uncle was Ted Lewis and their father
was a salesman. But their family wanted to get them more in a Jewish atmosphere
and I think they moved to Columbus. But she was a majorette. I was a
cheerleader. My brother was a basketball game. So we were never ostracized. We
were truly . . . .
Interviewer: Did those Friedman girls, were they in Tiffin?
Zimmerman: No, Mickey Friedman and . . . .
Zimmerman: Mickey and her sister Pollyanna came. They moved from Circleville
but Mickey was a drum major. We were integrated and popular. And I was
bridesmaid to some of my friends who were not Jewish and they also were friends
so it was, I was very happy in my community. I’m sure there was anti-Semitism
but I did not feel it myself.
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Transcribed by Honey Abramson