This interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society is being recorded on April 17, 2012 as part of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society’s Oral History Project. The interview is being recorded at 2392 E. Main St. in the office of Markpoint Development. My name is Helena Schlam and I am interviewing Howard Schottenstein.
Interviewer: Howard, I’m so happy you agreed to be interviewed.
Schottenstein: My pleasure.
Interviewer: Let me start by asking about your early life. Were you born in Columbus, and how long have you lived here?
Schottenstein: I was born in Columbus November 23, 1948, and have lived here all my life. My first name is actually Irwin. Howard is the middle name. I was named after my great grandfather, I.H. Schlezinger, who had been in Columbus since he came over on the boat. I never knew the gentleman, of course. I was named after him.
Interviewer: Did you know stories about him since you were named after him?
Schottenstein: I didn’t know stories about him, but he was considered a very well-respected man in the Jewish community, and I was always made aware of that fact. He was a founding member of Congregation Tifereth Israel. He had been president maybe more than one time. The lower social hall at the time the building was built was dedicated to him, so when I would go in that building, I would see the plaque with my great grandfather’s name on it. As a little kid I took great pleasure in going “That’s my great grandpa. I’m named after him.”
Interviewer: That’s wonderful that you enjoyed it. Some kids wouldn’t have.
Schottenstein: Yes, of course. I didn’t know his behavior or hear stories about him very much. My grandfather never talked about that.
Interviewer: Do you know from where he came?
Schottenstein: They were Hungarian and a very well-educated family. They owned a scrap yard here in town called I.H. Schlezinger & Sons. It was a very, very large scrap yard and still exists today, but it was bought by Worthington Industries and may be owned by someone else. As a child, I remember going to visit the scrap yard, and I have very good memories of visiting the scrap yard. It was fun.
Interviewer: Was that in connection with your father or grandfather?
Schottenstein: My grandfather, Louis Schlezinger.
Interviewer: Let’s talk about your grandfather, Louis.
Schottenstein: His family lived on Bryden Road in Bexley, which is very unusual at the time they lived there. My great uncle Edward actually graduated from Bexley. So the Schlesinger family lived in Bexley for quite awhile. Louis graduated from East High School. When I was born in 1948, they lived on Fair Avenue, which is kind of interesting. This is Bexley geography. I now live on Brentwood. Their house is directly behind me on Fair Avenue. When I walk around the block, I see the house my grandparents lived in. When my parents’ house was being built, we lived on the third floor of that house on Fair. I wish I could remember the address. My very first memory of life is living in that house.
Interviewer: You were very lucky.
Schottenstein: Yes, and I was only maybe three or four years old. But that is my very first memory, living in that house.
Interviewer: So that was your grandfather Louis’s house.
Schottenstein: And Lucille.
Interviewer: I was going to ask. You anticipated. Tell me about her.
Schottenstein: Yes. Lucille was the most wonderful grandmother. You knew Louis loved you, but he was not as warm an individual as my grandmother was. Her family came over to the United States in the 1850’s, I think, or 1860’s, and were from Cincinnati. My great grandmother on her side of the family was born on the site of Cincinnati City Hall.
Interviewer: What was her maiden name?
Schottenstein: Reichelsheimer. It took me four years to learn how to spell Schottenstein. I don’t know how to spell Reichelsheimer, but there is a Reichelsheimer, Germany. If you look on a map, there is a Reichelsheimer, Germany, so obviously they came from around that area. My great grandmother was a women’s haberdasher and owned a store on Mt. Vernon Avenue. Her brother Henry owned the house on the corner of Cassady and E. Broad. The house is right there today, right next to Ahavas Shalom. I believe he owned a music store and was an inventor. So that’s what I know about them. What was fascinating is that I would sit on my great grandmother’s knee and she would tell me stories about when the fairgrounds were at Franklin Park. She was there and lived down the street or next door to Dr. Harding. She knew President Harding’s family. When you think that here I am and it is 2012, and I was sitting on the knee of someone who was born in the late 1860’s, it is an amazing transition. She would tell you about it. It was wonderful.
Interviewer: You were fortunate that she told you stories.
Schottenstein: You know I was young so I’m not sure I remember all of them, but I do remember her talking about Columbus at the turn of the century. It was fascinating. I love history. That’s why I’m a member of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society. I love history and the continuity of it through the generations. My grandmother, getting back to Lucille, was a wonderful grandmother, loving, and I’d sleep over at their house when I was a kid. That was a treat. My grandfather was a bit colder, like I said. I knew he liked us. A typical story of grandpa would be that he would take you out for your birthday with grandma. That was a tradition. One year I was Keunnings Restaurant with them downtown, it was a great restaurant. It was located on High St., one block north of Broad & High. It was really classy. The waitress came and asked me what I would like to eat. I said I wanted fried chicken. My grandfather said “You can have anything you want. Why do you want fried chicken?” I said, “I just want fried chicken. I like fried chicken.” He said, “They have wonderful roast beef. You can order steak.” He turned to the waitress and told her that he told me I could have anything I want, and he chooses the fried chicken. That was my grandfather. You were always a little bit intimidated about him. I remember one of my mother’s bridesmaids once told me, when I was an adult, that the kids were a bit intimidated by my grandfather. “You know the problem with your mom was that she never realized that her parents had money”. For a Jewish family with a scrap yard and living where they did, they had money. People don’t realize that with the last name Schottenstein and the visibility of the name, the Value City Arena, etc., people think my mom married into money, but she didn’t. My dad, at one time, was the person marrying up, when he got married to her in 1946. He delivered meat to their house.
Interviewer: I do want to hear about your parents. I want to ask before we go to them if you have memories of celebrating Jewish holidays with your grandparents.
Schottenstein: Oh, yes. I remember the one time I got drunk when I was small at my great grandparents’ house. I know I didn’t drink a lot, because I could only have been four or five years old. But I remember running around drunk and then passing out. My other grandparents, Myer and Libby Schottenstein, lived on Bedford Road in what’s now part of Old Town, the inner city. I remember that as well. I remember walking up and down Livingston Avenue with my aunts – Rosalie, Miriam, Phyllis and Elaine, going to stores. I sometimes drive back down Bedford if I’ve got my aunt or someone and take a look at the old house they grew up in. At times it doesn’t seem like a time span that far, but it is probably sixty years. The house looks the same. I remember the house full of my aunts and family, and my grandmother Libby cooking in the kitchen.
Interviewer: Did the two families combine for Jewish holidays at all, or would you go to one family and then the other?
Schottenstein: No, I don’t think they combined very often because the Schottenstein family was huge. There was no way you could combine that family with the Schlezinger family. You’d have to rent an auditorium. I remember Passover with both families, so what we probably did was alternate the two days. One day you would go to one set of grandparents, and the other day you would go to the other one. But they were fun days with the young aunts and uncles and cousins. I was the first grandchild on both sides of the family.
Interviewer: The little prince.
Schottenstein: Until Debbie was born, and then I was relegated to duke and Debbie became the princess. She deserved it. She really played the part very well. My mom will tell you if you interview her and ask her the question, she will tell you that Howard was spoiled. Everyone wanted to have me over at their house. I don’t remember any of that, but according to her, I was passed around a lot.
Interviewer: Well, that’s a good way to move to your mother and father. So tell us about them.
Schottenstein: My mom was Ellen Mae Schlezinger Schottenstein. She never worked. She was a homemaker and raised five children.
Interviewer: She worked a lot, if I may correct you.
Schottenstein: Yes, but never worked in business. She was a homemaker and housewife and raised five kids, so you’re right, it was quite a bit of work. She was a member of the Sisterhood, played mahj and did the things that many, many young women did in the 50’s and 60’s. We always had a housekeeper, too. You don’t see that as much today as you did then, at least in my circles. Mom had help several days a week, which was not unusual. Other women had help, too. The thing I remember about the people who would help your mothers out is that each of them had a specialty. If you were a kid and you found out that over at the Flicker household (Artie Flicker, now a rabbi), their housekeeper could make great apple pie. So if you found out that Shirley Flicker’s housekeeper was making pie that day, you made it a point to go visit Artie so you could get a piece of pie. I remember that one of the people at a house made great fried chicken. There was a great enjoyment for the kids to catch the good food that some of the housekeepers made.
Interviewer: Was the help African-American, or not necessarily, or you don’t remember?
Schottenstein: I remember. Primarily African-American. I remember one of my aunts had an older woman who was not African-American. As a child, they were always a warm kind of individual, friendly person that was like a vice-mother, would be a good way to put it. Greg Margulis’s family had a lady there who is still alive, and she later babysat for our kids.
Interviewer: That’s wonderful.
Schottenstein: But there was a lot of that. It was a different world.
Interviewer: Close relationships.
Schottenstein: Yes, the domestic help was a big part of a child’s life. My father had a furniture store when I was young on Cleveland Avenue almost at the corner of Hudson. My grandfather Schlezinger bought and owned part of the building. He owned one of the stores, that made up of whole store. I think my grandfather either owned it before my dad opened the furniture store or bought it in order to help my dad. Originally Dad worked for his cousin selling furniture right after the war at Schottenstein’s Value City or Don’s Furniture. Then he opened up his own store and his brothers, Irving and Bernie, had a store in the south end, on Parsons Avenue, that they called Steelton Furniture. They operated these stores in conjunction with each other. They bought furniture together. One of my fun things to do back then would be to spend Saturdays with my dad at work. He was open on Saturdays, on Shabbos. I would go to work with him sometimes and spend the day with my dad, or on a spring break from schoo,l go to work with dad and spend the day with him at his store. There was an ice cream shop on the same block. Elbin’s Ice Cream and Sundries. Dad would give me fifteen cents and I would go get an ice cream cone. There was a movie theater down the street. We could see a whole afternoon full of movies. “Ma & Pa Kettle,” Francis the Talking Mule,” and Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. That was the kind of thing they were showing then. You could spend all day watching movies and then walk back and Dad would take you home. It was a decent neighborhood back then. Other Jewish people owned stores around there. Elsie Oppenheimer’s family had Yahr’s Furniture across the street. Sam Abramson’s father owned a shoe store down the street. One of the Koslens owned a store down there. So there were a few Jewish families in that area with businesses. It was a very nice neighborhood then. Now it is not as nice. In the mid-60’s Dad and his brothers started building apartments, which really was the golden age of building apartments. They did very well at that and eventually, in the mid to late 60’s, probably ‘67-’68, Dad closed his furniture store and my uncles closed their apartments. Steelton Furniture and just been built. They built Wyandotte communities. There are Wyandotte apartments that still exist. At one time they owned and managed well over 2,000 apartments. And then Irving and Mel started M/I Homes and kind of broke away..
Interviewer: Were you expected to go into the business?
Schottenstein: I did go into the business in 1971 when I graduated. I went into the rental business. It was interesting because in high school, in summers, I would work on the job sites as they built these things, as a laborer. Then I went to college and came back, and I actually became the boss of my bosses in high school. It worked out. It was a good thing. I think they were good individuals.
Interviewer: You learned the business from the ground up.
Schottenstein: I literally learned the business. We did build, but I really was property management back then. I worked for them for maybe nine years. Family is difficult to work for, and I decided I would see what it was like to be outside that organization. Alvin Schottenstein offered me a job in the department stores. He was very kind to me. I worked there about a year, maybe two, and then I didn’t like that, so I went back to my family for a very short time and eventually started my own business building apartments and condominiums.
Interviewer: Very interesting, but we need to back up so I can ask you where you went to school. To begin with at the lowest level.
Schottenstein: At the lowest level, Mrs. Krause’s Nursery School at Tifereth Israel was my first experience of school. I’m not even sure I was yet potty trained completely. I did not enjoy nursery school. I think I dropped out of nursery school. Then I went to Maryland Avenue School for all but maybe six months. While a house was being built, I had to go to Broadleigh School, which is nearby. But most of the time, it was Maryland Avenue School. I had to do fourth grade twice. I was initially one of the youngest kids in class, and I just had a very difficult time. So I was held back in the fourth grade. You’d think it was a bad experience, but it never affected me. In fact, it was one of the better things that ever happened to me because I had close friends a year ahead and I had close friends a year after. That catch up period, taking that year and doing it again, took so much pressure off of me. It just was like a weight lifted off my back. It was not something that ever affected me detrimentally.
Interviewer: Good for your parents that the supported that.
Schottenstein: Yes. Nowadays parents generally hold back their kids. They aren’t in such a hurry to have them go to school. So probably today my parents probably would have felt comfortable just saying we’ll keep him another year and let him get more mature and older. I did somewhat better. I wouldn’t say I was a scholar after that, but I did better. I then went on to Bexley High School and graduated in 1967. I got into Ohio University and did excellent there. But I’m not sure I could have gotten into Ohio University today with my grades. I graduated cum laude at Ohio University with honors and was president of my fraternity, Phi Epsilon Pi, which is now ZBT. But college really changed my whole disposition and my life. In high school I had a lot of friends, but I didn’t run for any class officership. I just kind of stuck with my friends and worried a lot about whether I was getting into college and whether my grades were high enough. I got into college and a whole world opened up to me. I became very active in fraternity life, was in the fraternity government, the inter-fraternity council. My grades were excellent, and there wasn’t a lot of pressure on me to get good grades. In college you take the things you’re best at generally after your freshman year. I took a lot of courses I enjoyed and I did very well at it. I majored in journalism. I have a BSJ. I got into Capital University Law School and I was there one day, one class. I’m not sure it was the right or wrong thing. I don’t regret it. But I sat in that class, and, like you said, I liked to make jokes, which I do. Life’s awfully serious anyway, so we might as well laugh. But I made one joke in this law class, and everyone kind of didn’t turn around, and it was dead silence. I thought, “Holy cow, these people are really serious. I don’t want this. I don’t want to be here.” So that’s when I left law school and started working with my dad and my uncles.
Interviewer: When did you get married, and tell us about how you met your wife.
Schottenstein: That’s an interesting story. I was almost 29 when I met Linda. I liked to say I dated every type of girl known to man before I met Linda. A friend of mine took Linda out. He was about three or four years younger than me. He told me he met this girl but she’s too nice. If you’re a guy, you understand this. But he wasn’t ready to meet a nice girl. So I said that I took this other girl out. She was also a nice girl, but I didn’t get along with her. But she’s very nice. We agreed to switch. I gave him this girl’s number and he gave me Linda’s number, and that’s how I started dating Linda. We don’t know what happened to that guy, but his name was David Madora and he sold furniture.
Interviewer: This was in Columbus?
Schottenstein: Yes, he and I both lived at Wyandotte East. Linda lived at what is now Bexley Village. It was called Georgetown on College Avenue. So anyway, I dated Linda for two years and then she says we discussed this, but I don’t remember. One night we went out to dinner and she came back to my apartment. She said to me, “Howard, I’m calling my dad. You can tell him we’re either breaking up or getting married.” I said, “What?” She dialed the number and said, “Hi, Dad. Howard wants to talk to you,” and handed me the phone. And I had that much time to decide if I was going to get married. I was close to thirty-one at the time, so I figured, well, why not? Linda was as nice a girl as you were going to meet, so now it is thirty-two or thirty-three years later.
Interviewer: That would make a great movie.
Schottenstein: And she actually told this story to Margie Hollander (Mark and Margie). Anyway, she told this story to Margie, who did the exact same thing to Mark about two years later. And they are still married. Linda’s not like that. She’s not an aggressive high pressure type of person, but being in business, I enjoy a closer. I like someone who can close a deal, and I like someone who puts it on the line, and she did it. I kind of respected that. So that’s how we got married.
Interviewer: Wonderful story. In the process, you mentioned that you’ve been married for awhile. Were you married here in Columbus?
Schottenstein: We got married in Syracuse, NY, where her family was, at Temple Concord. It was a very old Reform synagogue. At the time we got married, it was the typical east coast Reform synagogue. I remember that the rabbi told us we could not have yarmulkes. He said that if someone brings one, they can have it, but you can’t have them there. I told Linda that my family is used to having yarmulkes at weddings. They’re not necessarily going to bring a yarmulke, and I’m not going to tell them to bring their own yarmulke. So this is probably one of the few times in history that yarmulkes have been snuck illegally into a synagogue. We snuck them in and had them at the door against the rabbi’s orders.
Interviewer: Another wonderful story.
Schottenstein: Isn’t that a first though? Illegally sneaking yarmulkes or kippot into a synagogue. That’s a new one. It was a beautiful synagogue that could have been a church. If you’ve been to Savannah or Charleston where the synagogues look like they are out of the Revolutionary War time, with pillars, that’s what it looked like. It’s a gorgeous synagogue. I remember that.
Interviewer: And your family was happy at the wedding because the men were all able to wear their yarmulkes.
Schottenstein: They didn’t know the difference. They never knew. When I met Linda, she was a cantorial soloist at Beth Tikvah, not Beth Shalom. She may have been the first or second cantorial soloist there. They were on Indianola. So then when Beth Shalom was founded, she was their first cantorial soloist. It was held in the basement of the bank on the corner of Chesterfield and Broad. I became a member of that synagogue when she was there, and was actually on their board for awhile. My goal is to one of these days join an Orthodox synagogue and get on their board. Then I will have been on the board of a Reform, Conservative and Orthodox synagogue. And I could write a Ripley’s Believe it or Not. I’m not too sure many people have done that. I still have time. I’m sure I could talk my cousin Jay into letting me go on their board for at least a year just to say I did it. I was one of the members of the building committee at Beth Shalom.
Interviewer: What a good choice they made.
Schottenstein: They were very nice people and I enjoyed the people at Beth Shalom. But Linda eventually left Beth Shalom due to personnel. She and Rabbi Apothekar had problems together, and so she left and joined Tifereth. I became very active at Tifereth because it was the synagogue I grew up in. I eventually got on the board and became president.
Interviewer: I realize that I forgot to ask you about your Jewish education as you were growing up, and that is one of my questions.
Schottenstein: It is primarily all Tifereth going straight through. When I began my education, it was prior to Sam Melton funding the Melton School and bringing all these wonderful educators in from the east coast. I was involved in that transition between the old and the new. I went all the way through. I was confirmed, which they don’t do anymore. Then I went to Hebrew High School there. That’s the extent of my education. I was in USY.
Interviewer: And then you expressed your Jewishness in college in your fraternity, which I take it was all Jewish, or was it not?
Schottenstein: Yes, it was a Jewish fraternity, but we had non-Jewish members. My daughter Anna was on the board of Hillel there. But I never really did much that was Jewish there, to tell you the truth, other than being in that fraternity. One reason is that Athens was only 90 minutes from Columbus at that time. Now it’s less. For holidays I just went home. I didn’t do a lot of religious stuff there. And quite frankly, and I think a lot of young married people were like this. In my years before Linda, religious things were not of high importance. You get married and have children and then your life changes. That’s when I got a little bit more involved with synagogues. But until then it was partying and having a good time, chasing women, carousing with your buddies and going to sporting events. But then you get kids and you go, “Whoa, this is for real. I’d better get serious about this.” As they get older, you join synagogues so that they can be educated. You get more involved because you want to set an example. You can’t just join. You’ve gotta go. I think that’s the way it is with many, many parents. I was on the board of Beth Shalom before my dad passed away. But there was something when my dad passed away that I felt a bit changed. As a last gift to him, I went to Tifereth Isreal every day and I got to know the people who practiced their religion much more than I did. I got to see how important it was to these people and I began to get a little more active in it. Not just for me but because I saw an importance of the institution on everyone’s lives. So that’s when I became an officer and worked my way up through the ranks and became president. The other thing is, I told you I like the continuity of history and how it flows. My great grandfather was president of that synagogue, my grandfather was president of that synagogue, and I was president of that synagogue. The only one who didn’t get to be president of the synagogue was my dad. He wasn’t really a Schlezinger. He didn’t have Schlezinger blood in him, but every generation of my family with Schlezinger blood was president. Who knows? Maybe my son Michael will become president. There is something that makes you feel good about knowing this, so that’s the reason I did it.
Interviewer: You said you did it as a gift for your father. It was his gift to you also.
Schottenstein: Going that 11 months was the gift to my father. Becoming president of the synagogue was something that I thought was a wonderful thing to pass on from generation to generation. I kind of hope Michael continues it. You never know with him. That year was not an easy year to go every day. I missed one or two times. When I missed it was because I knew my dad would not mind. It was to go to a family function out of town or to take my son to visit colleges. He would have done it for me, and so I wanted to do it for him. What are your other questions?
Interviewer: I want to hear about your children, but before that, I wanted to ask you about your friends before you were married and whether they were all Jews or whether it was a mixture. I’m interested in the Columbus scene at the time.
Schottenstein: Really I had two sets of friends. Some of them overlapped, but it was kind of distinct. I was a member of B’nai B’rith Singles, and I had my friends that I grew up with, but I managed Wyandotte communities which had a lot of young people. There was a restaurant that my family actually owned called The National Road Restaurant. A lof of young people hung out there. I became friends with these people and we’d go boating and skiing and ride bikes and go carousing together. There would be parties out there at the apartment complex, or other peoples’ homes, or at the pools. So I became friends with both a non-Jewish group and a Jewish group and sometimes there was some overlap there. By and large, it was not all one or the other. They were fun people. Many are still my friends today.
Interviewer: I asked the question really as a backdrop to being able to ask you if you had experienced any anti-Semitism as you grew up.
Schottenstein: One thing fortunate about Bexley is that you are kind of insulated against that. There was only one incident as a child that I can remember. I was a newspaper boy and I had to pick up my papers at a station over on Fifth Avenue and Cassady. One of the boys called me a name, and just that one time. I had never experienced anything like that before.
Interviewer: What did you do? Do you remember?
Schottenstein: You know, I was just kind of in shock because it had never happened before. I didn’t hit him or anything, and he didn’t call me a kike or anything. It was like “you Jew.” So I don’t think I knew what to do. But to say that’s the only thing is wonderful when you think about it. I’ve not experienced any overt anti-Semitism. I’ve been very fortunate. I’m sure it’s there, but the people who are anti-Semitic or I think might have been were always very nice to me. I used to sleep over at Richard Ross’s home, from Ross Heart Hospital, and they owned Ross Labs. Very wealthy old family. Someone told me he wouldn’t sell his house to a Jew. I slept over at his house and was friends with his kids. I was friends with the Miller family, Dixie Miller who was friends with Queen Elizabeth. The family owned Copco Paper, which is now Abbott. I played touch football with Cubby Wolfe, whose family owns the Dispatch.
Interviewer: Did you know them from school?
Schottenstein: Just the neighborhood. We grew up in north Bexley, and school too. But I knew all these people, and they always seemed to treat me okay. The anti-Semitism could have been there. I’ll tell you a story. When I was a junior in college, I went backpacking for three months in Europe with two fraternity brothers. I would go into a major city and these women would come up and ask me for matches. I said that I don’t smoke. It took me like two or three weeks to realize these women didn’t want matches. They were prostitutes. But I’m so naïve it took me two weeks to figure that out. So there may have been some anti-Semitism, but that’s just my disposition. I might have been so naïve that I didn’t see it. But if that’s so, that’s fine. That’s a good thing.
Interviewer: I would say that’s wonderful.
Schottenstein: Anyway, it was interesting the people I was surrounded with when I was a small child were all big Bexley families.
Interviewer: Now that’s very interesting in terms of Columbus history. Well, we need to get to your family and your children. Tell us about them.
Schottenstein: Linda and I have three children. The oldest is Rebecca. She will be thirty years old in June. She has two children – Alex, who is about a year and a half, and Livia, who was named after Leonard, my dad. She will be three in April. They live in Minneapolis and their family owns the two Jewish funeral homes there. Mike and his family own the Jewish funeral home here in Columbus, Epstein. I’ve been promised a really good deal when the time comes, a real deep discount.
Interviewer: Aren’t you lucky?
Schottenstein: I don’t know how I’m going to find out if he keeps his word. I’ll tell you a funny story. This is true. You’ll like this. Rebecca worked and still does once in awhile at the funeral home, after she met Mike. I had never really been to the offices of the funeral home, and I went to visit her one day. There’s the showroom with all these caskets. I’m looking around and I said, “You know, that’s a nice one.” And she turned and said “No, dad, yours is over there.” She said “It’s much nicer than that and don’t worry about the cost.” I said “Thanks, Rebecca. I appreciate that.”
Interviewer: Your daughter has your sense of humor.
Schottenstein: Yes. Anyway, there’s Rebecca. She went to Miami University and met Mike after she graduated at the Matzal Ball, here in town. It was one of those deals where everyone told her she should meet Mike Epstein and she never wanted to. She sat at the bar and Mike was at the stool next to her. They got to talking and there you go. So that’s Rebecca. Mike, the middle child, is graduating from Ohio State University Law School (Moritz Law School) and he’s done very well and he will have a job with Kegler Brown, a very good firm here in town. He went to Syracuse University in the Newhouse School of Journalism. He had a scholarship, and he was a big wig and highly involved in Greek life there. I think he was president of the entire Greek government. In his sophomore year he was in the highest position you could have in Greek government. That was a real feather in his cap.
Interviewer: Was Linda’s family still living in Syracuse then?
Schottenstein: Yes. Linda’s mom and dad and brother and Mike’s first cousins still lived there. So he felt right at home there. My father-in-law was becoming ill. During a great portion of Mike’s time there, his health was not good, and eventually he passed away. But Mike would rake their yard, take them out to eat. He is a good grandson. He was very good and they were very appreciative. My youngest is Anna. She went to Ohio University, my alma mater and graduated with a degree to teach secondary education, social studies. She spent the last year working part-time at Southwestern City Schools in their after school program tutoring kids. She ran the Hebrew High School and Youth Department at Temple Israel this year. She did an excellent job from what I understand. And then she applied for and got into Teach for America, which is a very, very hard program to get into. They only take 5% of the kids who apply. They put these kids into school systems that need good teachers, so Anna has a two-year contract to teach in Indianapolis. She may do an extra year and they pay for a master’s degree too. So she’ll get her master’s degree while she is there. Almost all these kids get job offers because they are really the cream of the crop. I’m very proud of her. By and large I tell people I’m very fortunate. My kids have not given me one ounce of worry in their lifetime. If anything, I’ve probably worried them more than they worry me. They are all three extremely level headed, good kids, who are active in pursuing their interests in community work, which makes me feel good because that’s one of the reasons I did it was to set an example for them. They are doing it. Mike is active in YAD right now. Anna worked for a synagogue and she is in YAD. I’m sure she’ll get involved in Indianapolis as well. I don’t know what Rebecca is doing. She is being a mom and is probably too busy, but being the wife of the Jewish funeral home director, she goes to a lot of Jewish functions. I’m sure she’s involved. She is a member of a Reform synagogue there. They are all good kids and are all on the right path, which makes me very, very proud.
Interviewer: You have every right to be. Well, one of my last questions was about the number of organizations you’ve been affiliated with in Columbus. And you have told us about your involvement with Tifereth Israel, but are there any others that you would like to talk about?
Schottenstein: Through the years I was in B’nai B’rith Singles. I was on the board of Beth Shalom, and I’ve been on the board of the JCC. I’m currently on the board of the Columbus Jewish Federation. I was on the board and president of Tifereth Israel. I’m in Charity Newsies, which I enjoy a lot. I was president of the Central Ohio Builders Association and on their board as well.
Interviewer: Wow, that’s a lot of organizational work.
Schottenstein: Yes, it has kept me busy. You know, what happens as you become past president, you spent so many years with it that you really need somewhat of a break. There’s two past presidents that are really still very, very active at Tifereth Israel. One is Arnie Good and the other is Sheila Chodosh. I have found because I’ve been president, even of my fraternity, is that you need a break. Oh, yes, I was president of the Bexley Area Chamber of Commerce. I forgot that. It was fun. I was also chairman for over ten years of the Bexley Summerfest, where we closed Main Street and had a carnival. I ran that for about ten years. Oh, and I ran three school levies for the City of Bexley. I chaired the Bexley Education Taskforce on the Income Tax which later got passed. I chaired the Revenue Commission for the City of Bexley four years ago. I think that’s everything I’ve ever done.
Interviewer: But that’s very important for Bexley.
Schottenstein: Yes. They were all interesting. The hardest thing was running a school levy. That was tough, and being president of a synagogue. Those were the two hardest things. Almost every time you need a break and step back. You have been consumed by running an organization, so my break is that I’m starting to get involved with Big Brothers. I always wanted to, so that’s kind of my next thing to play around with and do some good. I don’t play golf, I don’t play cards, I don’t have ski places. In order to relax and just get away from business, I like to do organizational work. It makes me feel good doing it. I always like to be doing something. Oh, and I’m on the board of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society.
Interviewer: Well, you are certainly a people person so that makes sense. The last thing that I always ask is from your perspective, how has the Jewish community in Columbus changed?
Schottenstein: When I was very young it was much more close knit because it was smaller. In the Conservative and Orthodox movement, there was a lot of inter-relationships between families. For instance, I’m related to the Wasserstroms, the Polsters, the Schlesingers, the Schottensteins, the Rubens. All those families are intertwined. Not so much in Temple Israel. The Reform movement was kind of off to the side and did their own thing with the Lazaruses, the Feibels. They have their Jewish families. They were kind of doing their thing, but the Orthodox and Conservative kind of were tied together a little bit.
Interviewer: That is very interesting. Do you think that is different now?
Schottenstein: Yes. Now there is much more diversity in where we live. You have the northwest, you have Beth Tikvah, you have New Albany and Beth Shalom, and Tifereth Israel has a place out there. You have more diversity and as time has gone on, there are more families that have been brought in by The Limited and the hospitals have grown and the universities. So you find more families coming in from other places. There are more synagogues, especially Orthodox, and so you find people jumping around a little bit more than they used to. There’s not that “We grew up at Ahavas Shalom” or “We grew up at Agudas Achim, and that’s where our family goes now.” It’s not unusual to see different families at many different synagogues. I notice that difference that there is much more diversity amoungst where people are and where they belong. We didn’t have that before.
Interviewer: That’s a very interesting observation.
Schottenstein: At the High Holidays when I was a kid, I would go to Tifereth Israel. I’d start out there, listen to the rabbi’s sermon and then walk over to Agudas Achim and join my grandfather and aunts and uncles over there. I’m not sure you see all that today. Maybe you do, but it was kind of neat to have family in other congregations.
Interviewer: So do you have any questions for me? Did we leave anything out that should be in?
Schottenstein: I don’t think so. No, but my grandfather Myer had his interview, and my father was interviewed, so it will be interesting to see their takes on the same periods of time that I just gave you to see what was going on in their lives during the overlapping period. That would be interesting. Not just with me, but I’m sure there are other families doing the same thing. I think my mom, Ellen, was interviewed as well. You might check because she would be an interesting interview.
Interviewer: I will, and if you reflect on this overlapping and have anything to say, I’d be happy to interview you again, just specifically on that because that is very interesting to think about. I thank you so much for your time, and on behalf of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society, I want to thank you for contributing to the Oral History Project. This concludes the interview.
Transcribed by Phyllis Komerofsky