Interviewer: It is July 23 (2018) and I’m Bill Cohen for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society. We’re in the home of Marvin and Sue Katz in Bexley and we’re going to interview them both at the same time about their memories of the Columbus Jewish community.
Interviewer: I wondered if each of you could each start briefly and tell me a little about your parents and grandparents. In other words, what countries do your ancestors come from?
Marvin: My grandfather came from Russia in 1895, Sol Katz, and he opened the first kosher butcher shop in Columbus at Fifth and Main Street and he maintained a butcher shop on Livingston Avenue between Champion and Ohio Avenues for many years, till I was probably 15 or 16. He lived next to the butcher shop. My aunt and uncle lived with him. His other brothers lived there. I used to go there every Wednesday, growing up, and he would sit with me and take care of me and I would play with him. I remember my grandfather died in 1947. Until that time, he was pretty active. He moved out of that house. My grandmother on my mother’s side came from Russia. She never learned English. I don’t know the year she came but we have a lot of family in Columbus. Then when my grandfather got too old to run the butcher shop, my uncle, Ben Katz took it over and he ran it until he moved to New Orleans and my father worked there. He worked in the butcher shop in order for his brothers, Ben, Norman and Herman Katz to go to college. He never went to college because by the time they all got through, he was too old. He worked so that they could go to college.
Interviewer: Your father did.
Marvin: My father did, Abraham Katz.
Interviewer: So that butcher shop was operating approximately what years, or what decades?
Marvin: From 1900, I think when they first came here, probably until, it was operating when we first got married, Sue. It probably died when my grandfather died in 1947. I would guess. I don’t know exactly.
Interviewer: So it was a real Jewish institution for nearly half a century?
Marvin: Yeah, we all worked there off and on a little bit, but my grandfather mainly, he was a butcher and my grandmother came here and she never worked. I didn’t know my grandmother on my father’s side. She died before I was aware or old enough, and then a lot of uncles, Herman Katz was active in the community for many years. He was my uncle. He married Myrtle who was Sam Melton’s sister. So we were all involved pretty much in the Jewish community over the years.
Interviewer: Sue, what about your parents or grandparents? Where do you trace your ancestry to, what countries?
Sue: My grandfather on my father’s side came from the east central part of Europe, the Carpathian mountains. It was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. I don’t know what it’s called today, maybe it’s Czechoslovakia, or something. My mother’s father came from Russia. I don’t know where her mother came from, but probably. My grandmother and grandfather Polster lived in Central Ohio from the time that they first came. He lived in Circleville. He was born in Circleville, as were many of the Jewish families of our community, the Polsters, the Wasserstroms, the Friedmans, the Schlezingers, the Gutters. They all started down there, in Circleville.
Interviewer: I don’t know that a lot of people realize this. We think of Jews being in the big cities and you’re telling me that some of the stalwart establishment, big name, Jewish families that we know in Columbus, they really got their start in the small town of Circleville?
Marvin: The mayor of Circleville was Jewish, for many years, Larry Gordon.
Sue: Ben Gordon.
Marvin: Ben Gordon was the mayor there for years. Ted Lewis came from there. Didn’t ???? come from there too?
Sue: Well that was the Friedman family.
Marvin: The Friedman family came from down there. Ted Lewis is a Friedman.
Interviewer: Why did all these Jews flock, at least first, to Circleville?
Sue: Maybe that was the county seat, or something. They were all merchants. They didn’t speak English. My grandfather was 16 when he came to the United States. My father was born in Circleville in 1899 but then his family moved to Columbus when he was just a year old.
Interviewer: Your father’s name was?
Sue: Lawrence William Polster. He had three brothers and four sisters.
Interviewer: What did he do for a living? He had a shop?
Sue: No, well the family was in the restaurant equipment business as they still are today. I think four generations later. My grandfather started it and then my father and his brothers and subsequently their children and now some of their children, Mike and Jeff are running the business. My father retired from that at middle age.
Sue: Then he went to work with Marvin and I, in the various businesses that we have. My father called himself a merchant. His father, before him, traveled through the mideast, I guess central Ohio, whatever it is, probably on a horse and buggy, I don’t know. He sold tablecloths and pots and pans and household goods. He would stop sometimes and spend the night with some of the customers and then they would teach him English and in exchange he would give them things for their house. When I was in the sixth grade, my teacher for English was Ethel Beavers. My grandfather had stayed at their house when she was a child and their family taught him the beginnings of his English.
Interviewer: You were both born in Columbus?
Marvin: Yes, we were both born in Columbus.
Sue: Yes, but my mother moved here from New York City. Her family lived in Brooklyn, New York, where my grandfather, Sherman, started a livery service with horses and lateron limousines and later on got into being a funeral director and he was the first Jewish licensed funeral director in Brooklyn. That business is still being carried on today by a fourth generation, still a Sherman in Brooklyn. So the history goes way back. My mother’s family was not quite as large as my dad’s but still she had two brothers and two sisters. So both families were pretty large and we all are very close. My mother managed to keep us getting back and forth to visit her family periodically so we knew all of our first cousins pretty well and all remain close and the same here in Columbus, although, at this point in time, a lot of my first cousins here and of course all of the former generation now have passed away. So we visit them when we go to the cemetery.
Interviewer: When both of you were in elementary school, here in Columbus, where did you live?
Marvin: I lived in the south end on Ellsworth Avenue. I went to Fairwood Elementary and Roosevelt Junior High and then to South High. I graduated South in 1948. My mother graduated from South in 1928. She came here as an orphan, so to speak, in 1922 with two brothers. She was 12 years old. She was the oldest of the three kids who traveled from Russia by themselves. She learned English. She started school when she came here. She was 12 years old, learned English, graduated high school in six years, went thru all the years and graduated in 1928. She spoke English. Her writing was sometimes undecipherable, but she was very with it all the time. We lived on Ellsworth growing up until we moved to Bexley in 1948.
Interviewer: You moved to Bexley in 1948 kind of symbolizing how the Jewish community in Columbus lived on the near east side until after WWII and then there seemed to be a big movement to Bexley and toward the east. Sue, what about you, where did you go to Elementary School?
Sue: I lived in Bexley from the first day of my life. I grew up on Powell Avenue, 2459 Powell. My parents lived there before I was born and that’s where I lived. I went all through the Bexley schools, Cassingham Elementary and middle school, we called in Junior High then, and Bexley high school. All of our daughters went to the Bexley schools and graduated from there and my sister and brother, the same. I have a younger sister, Kayla, who now lives in California and a brother, Bob, whose real name is Lewis Robert, but we call him Bobby. We’ve been Bexley residents for most of our life although Marvin and I did move out to the country in 1980. We stayed there, near Hoover Dam, for about thirty years. At that point our children were all off to college and out of school and now that we’re snow birds we moved back to Bexley where we can be closer to the one daughter, and brother, and people who live here. Our children think it was time for us to downsize a little so we did.
Marvin: We’re here five months a year and in Florida seven months. We leave here the end of October and come back sometime in the Spring and we like that.
Interviewer: Marvin you lived in, what I call, the old Jewish community in the thirties or forties whatever. What are your memories of that? You mentioned your family, of course, had the butcher shop. What other memories do you have of that time?
Marvin: I was very active at the Schonthal Center which was the old Jewish Center. I worked there, in fact, I worked with Drew Sugarman and Jacobs, I can’t remember his first name. I worked there when I was 14, 16, in that area, and I was the first employee at the new Jewish Center in 1948 when they opened. I was the assistant manager of the bowling alley at the new Jewish Center. I was going to college and I worked the night shift at the Center with a guy named Harry Stewart. When he left, Carl Berman took over as manager. I worked there for probably a couple years, I don’t remember exactly but around that time and I worked around the Center. I was the first one in the new pool when they opened the pool at the Center. The old Schonthal Center was a very active place. We had a teen area on the third floor called “the corral.” All the teenagers went there every Saturday night and it was a big thing. You’d get 100 kids there Saturday night. I learned to play table tennis from Tybie (Thelma) and Leah Thall. They used to practice there for their tournaments and I was working there so they taught me how to play. That was a nice memory of that time. They were well-known table tennis champions, world class. I don’t think today they could compete because styles have changed. I watch them play now and it’s just impossible. It was an interesting time. That was the main Jewish organization that everybody went to. We had a high school fraternity, called AEB, I think it was called and we had, in fact I have a picture of everybody in it, and I’ve been keeping track of the ones that are still here. There’s only a few of us left. We had about thirty guys in it. It was strictly high school. But the Center was a big thing and it was right next door to the most important thing which was the 571 Shop which is the bakery. We loved it there. The Columbus Hebrew School was across the street. We were at 555 East Rich and I went to Hebrew School across the street. Mr. Solomon was the principal and Mr. Metchnik was a disciplinarian (laughs). It was a fun time and we had a good time growing up in that area.
Interviewer: At South High School in the 1940’s and in junior high, you were at Roosevelt, I assume there might have been a lot of Jews but you were still in the minority. What was that like?
Marvin: It was not even a question, everybody got along. In my whole life I was never picked on in school, never bullied, never, no comments made. We had a couple guys that didn’t like Jewish people bu they let us know, “We don’t like Jews but you’re alright.” You know that’s (?) but it was never a problem growing up. Most of my friends were not Jewish because where I happened to live there were no Jewish kids in my street. I was the only Jewish family on my street. We lived across the street from the guy, Martin Carpet Cleaning. They grew up across the street from us. They were our playmates. The lady next door was German, very German. Never a problem, it’s interesting, I thought there would have been but there wasn’t.
Interviewer: Your family had a butcher shop. Was there also Martin’s Kosher Foods at some point?
Marvin: Not at that point. That was afterwards.
Sue: He was younger.
Marvin: Actually my name is Katz. That is not our real name. Our real name is Godofsky. Martin (Godofsky) is a relative. My grandfather, Sol Katz, before he came to this country was a Godofsky. In order to stay out of the Russian army he got adopted by a lady who had no children and became her son, kept him out of the army, but her name was Katz so he came here as a Katz. We’re related, we’re Godofskys.
Interviewer: You are really related to Martin and Leah Godofsky?
Marvin: We’re Katz’s and we’re not Kohens. Everybody says “Oh come on up, you’re a Kohen.” We’re not Kohens.
Interviewer Oh I see. They think because your name is Katz, you are a Kohen.
Marvin: Typically a Katz is a Kohen. She’s a lady so she’s alright. Growing up it was very easy in Columbus. Even today, as an adult, I’ve never had a problem with most people. I’ve had a couple people over the years but not that it was a problem.
Interviewer: Sue, what about your early childhood? You were already in Bexley.
Sue: I was different, very different from his. Being a few years younger, I lived in Bexley and my playmates were all Jewish. I got along with everybody at school and I don’t ever remember being singled out because I was Jewish, maybe I just didn’t know. Wedidn’t have a Jewish Center when I was in elementary school. When it came to the east side, it was wonderful. At that point I was already a teenager and all of the youth groups would meet at the Jewish Center. We had BBG and Councelettes and the Teenage Council and all these things. In fact, I remember going to all the different meetings and was very active in the different groups as a teenager. Marvin was working at the bowling alley, running the bowling alley and that’s when we started dating. I was a sophomore in high school.
Interviewer: So your romance began at the Jewish Center?
Sue: He was already a college student. Anyway, at that particular time we had a sorority in high school. It was called Sigma Theta Pi and it was a Jewish sorority. Many of the girls who were in it then are still around now I see some of them once in a while. We just had our 65th anniversary year from our high school graduation. Miriam Goldmeier and I were two of the three that were in the parade together when I drove the golf cart.
Interviewer: The Bexley July 4th parade?
Sue: At the July 4th parade a few weeks ago. Bexley was a nice, safe place. We could play in the street. We walked to school without a chaperone. When we were old enough, we could ride our bike down to Main Street. There was a place to get ice cream and not a whole lot more except the pharmacies, that I can recall. We didn’t have something called pizza until I got into high school. We had White Castle but I wasn’t allowed to go there because my dad didn’t like onions (laughs).
Interviewer: So everybody, Jews and non-Jews got along in Bexley?
Sue: We did. On our street our neighbors were not Jewish but within three or four blocks a lot of the people, I suppose, were. When it was a Jewish holiday they did not close the school. There were school classes anyway and we were still expected to keep up with the work but I don’t recall being looked down on or picked on. I think the only time that even any of our children had a problem with getting out for the Jewish holidays was one daughter had a Jewish teacher in the second grade and she gave her a really hard time.
Interviewer: The Jewish teacher gave your Jewish daughter a hard time?
Interviewer: Because your daughter wanted to be off for a Jewish holiday?
Sue: That’s it. I won’t mention her name. She’s still in the community. She doesn’t teach anymore (laughs).
Marvin: Funny, isn’t it?
Interviewer: Does that symbolize something?
Sue: I never quite understood but, as Jews, we all celebrate our religion differently. Some people observe some things and some people observe others and some don’t observe. That’s their personal privilege. She didn’t feel that way, I guess. Our children all went on to go to Camp Ramah when they were a little bit into high school and whatever and I think that’s the biggest thing that ever changed their life. To this day, all three of our daughters are still in touch with their Ramah friends and they have remained their best friends. In fact, our daughter, Bonnie, went last year with her husband and thirty-some other people on a reunion trip from Camp Ramah that the original tour guide took them to eastern Europe, to all the places where they went before and a few more. This is all those years later.
Interviewer: The kids, now grown up.
Sue: The kids now who are now 60.
Interviewer: They went on a tour in eastern Europe and they had gone on one earlier?
Sue: Yes, from Camp Ramah when they were 16 and the same counselor then who was the tour guide arranged this tour all these years later when they were in their 60’s.
Marvin: Because of the Ramah connection and Tifereth Israel, Sol Wachs came. Our kids all read Torah. Even to this day, they’re all in their 60’s they volunteer. They are all Hebrew speakers. They follow traditions all along. It’s been very nice. My daughter, Bonnie, is in New York. Now they have a place in upstate NewYork and she volunteers for the holidays in Liberty, New York to read the Torah for the synagogue there. She only wanted to read one portion but last year or the year before he said, “By the way you’re doing the whole Service.”
Sue: She reads Torah at Tifereth Israel too. We’ve been life-long members of Tifereth Israel as were our parents from the time it was started, and grandparents.
Interviewer: So you would have memories of Rabbi Nathan Zelizer?
Sue: Oh absolutely.
Marvin: My grandfather was a member of Agudas Achim originally. For some reason he got mad. I don’t know why and started Ahavas Sholom, the Ohio Avenue Shul. It was close to his butcher shop. He got some guys together and they started the shul and it survives to this day.
Interviewer: So this was a second Orthodox synagogue as an alternative to Agudas Achim?
Marvin: Yeah. I never was a member there but I used to go there once in a while with him. I remember that as a kid but I have no memories of it except I would go by there once in a while. Now I see it but it’s not Jewish anymore.
Interviewer: So growing up though you went to Tifereth Israel?
Marvin: Tifereth Israel but when I was growing up, on Saturday mornings all the boys went to Agudas Achim Services, on Saturday as a group. That’s what we did. Harry Maybruck, Stan Maybruck’s Father, an the Service and we went there because he would tell us stories afterwards that we loved (laughs). They weren’t very nice stories but we all went there on Saturday mornings. We walked there. We would take a bus up there. We never had cars in those days.
Interviewer: This is interesting. Your parents were members of the Conservative synagogue, Tifereth Israel but on Saturday mornings you and other teenage boys would go to the Orthodox synagogue.
Marvin: My mother’s family were all Orthodox, belonged to Agudas Achim. I don’t think any of them belonged to Tifereth Israel. My uncle had a permanent seat at Agudas Achim. He always saved a seat in the first row. He had a permanent seat. They’re gone now. I was active in Tifereth Israel. Sue and I both got active in the Federation when we were in our teens. I remember having a big fund raiser at the Drexel Bexley theatre. Bexley theatre was where we had a teen meeting there on a weekend to raise money for the Federation and that was our first start, really, in being involved with the Federation.
Interviewer: You were just a teenager?
Marvin: Yeah, I think I was 16.
Sue: I was maybe 10 or 12, I don’t remember exactly. I went to the Excelsior Club and played Bingo and I won $10 and Judy Roth came to call on me for United Jewish Fund so I gave $10 to United Jewish Fund because I had just won that. I was so excited that I was able to do that. Then the next year they came to see me I didn’t have $10 and they were mad at me (laughs).
Interviewer: You mentioned the Excelsior Club. Give me your memories of that.
Marvin: That’s her.
Sue: I think I was probably around 10 years old which would have been about (19)45 or 6 when my parents joined the Excelsior Club. It was a place where we could go swimming and have parties and be with other kids that was all Jewish and they had a dining room. That’s where we learned to socialize, I guess, as young kids. Earlier than that we didn’t belong to a swimming club. Some people belonged to the Winding Hollow Country Club but we didn’t. My parents sent us away to camp in the summertime so we could do our swimming and whatever there. I don’t remember ever going to another swimming pool in Columbus as my husband talks about the Crystal and the Olympic and the New Sanitary. We never went there because we had the Excelsior Club and we had good fond memories there until the time that it closed. We were sorry when it closed. We enjoyed it there. It was nice.
Interviewer: Was there any awareness when you were a child about why there was the Excelsior Club?
Sue: Oh I’m sure there was but not to me.
Marvin: One of the reasons was the men had a place to play cards. They had no place to play cards otherwise.
Interviewer: The Jewish men?
Marvin: The Jewish men.
Sue: Yeah, that was upstairs.
Marvin: They had the card club at Parsons and Livingston. Max Robbins ran a card game there. When that closed, they moved out to, by Main and Robinwood.
Interviewer: In Whitehall.
Marvin: In Whitehall. The guy from the auto parts store ran that game. I never played. My brother used to. He was a regular at both of those places. Max Robbins, I remember many times I’d be driving on Livingston Avenue and he’d be walking toward, I’d pick him up to drop him off at the doorway, 601 Club I think they called it.
Interviewer: Whether it was because they needed a place to play cards or a place to swim, was it your understanding that the Excelsior Club was created because Jews were not allowed in other places?
Marvin: I belonged, we belonged to the Crystal Swimming Pool on Champion. That’s where I went swimming all my life. My parents went there with me and then if we didn’t go there, we went to New Sanitary on Nelson Road.
Sue: There was no Bexley pool in those days.
Marvin: We never had any problem. The colored weren’t allowed to go there. There were no Black kids.
Interviewer: Black kids weren’t allowed at the Crystal?
Marvin: They could go to the New Sanitary, I think. I had a lot of friends who were Black growing up. My mother didn’t like it but I had a lot of friends who were Black, from school. I got along with them and we played together but not at our house.
Sue: I think Bexley parents and families were not as open to mixing races then even. I don’t remember ever any Black people swimming at the Excelsior Club. We had one family in Bexley schools, the Wilson family, all the years that I went there. They seemed to have somebody in every grade, whatever, and they were nice people but I really didn’t know them very well.
Interviewer: That was the only Black family you knew in Bexley?
Sue: Yes, I was very sheltered.
Marvin: In South, 25% of the students were probably Black, I don’t know. It was never a problem. We all went to dances together. We did everything. I mean it was never a problem for me. In my work life it was never a problem at all. If you could do the work, I hired you.
Interviewer: You two met at the Jewish Center and then …
Marvin: Actually we didn’t meet at the Jewish Center because my sister was a friend of hers growing up. They were playmates.
Sue: We went to Sunday School together at Tifereth Israel.
Marvin: So I knew Sue.
Sue: Sometimes we would sleep over at each other’s houses but he says he babysat. I said he was hardly ever there because we were little girls and he was already a teenager out roaming with the big boys so we really didn’t see much of each other when I would sleep over.
Interviewer: It was at the Jewish Center that romance blossomed?
Marvin: I used to take her home after her meetings because I was working there. We have our 65th anniversary this year, in December. She put up with me for 65 years. That’s not bad. I learned to jump pretty high.
Sue: We have three married daughters. We have ten grandchildren. We have three great grandchildren. It sounds like, since some of our grandchildren are now 28 and 30 the family might be growing again in the next few years (laughs).
Marvin: And we all get along which is the best part. In fact, I don’t have a car here. I’m using my daughter’s car because she’s in New York. It’s pretty nice. I don’t have a car here in Columbus. We’ve been involved in the Jewish community down the road. I was never one to be head of anything. I like committee work. I was on the Board of the Jewish Center for probably 25 years, and Heritage ouse. I was president of Heritage Tower, president of the synagogue but I don’t like being head. I like getting the work done. I’m still somewhat involved with the synagogue but not much with the rest of the community.
Interviewer: Let’s talk some about work. What did you do?
Marvin: I’d like to forget about work. Actually I’ve done more things than most people. I had three kids I had to feed so if one thing didn’t work, I did something else. I’ve done a lot of different things. The main thing, I’ve had packaging companies. When I was in college I knocked on doors and sold Goldcraft Photos.
Interviewer: Door to door, in college you sold Goldcraft photos. You would take pictures of people?
Marvin: No, no, I sold services to Goldcraft Studios. You’d go down to the studio and they took portraits. I did that in college, in the north end. That was successful, I liked that. My dad had three wine stores that he took over from my uncles when they went in the army in WWII. I was 16 at the time so I used to deliver all the beer to the ??.
Interviewer: That was here in Columbus. What was the name of that company?
Marvin: Chateau Wine Stores and right now we were located where, you know where Marcellas is on North High Street, Short North?
Interviewer: Short North.
Marvin: We were in the Yucon Building and then, after that, my dad ran a couple bars for my uncles when they went into the Service because both were drafted so he took over their businesses to run until they got back.
Sue: The Second World War.
Marvin: The second World War. So he ran those and I was 16 or 17 around then.
Interviewer: Where were those bars?
Marvin: One of them was on Mt. Vernon, called the Paradise. It was a rough neighborhood. The other one was the Tivoli on West Mound Street and Second Avenue, Second Street. My uncle had a place called Berman’s House of a Million Parts, Oscar Berman, that was right next to his place.
Interviewer: It was an auto parts store?
Marvin: It was a junk yard. They sold a little bit of everything, mainly bicycles. If you wanted a roller for your washing machine ringer, he had it. I remember as a kid walking in assuming he had an artificial leg(?) game.
Sue: If you wanted it, he had it.
Marvin: Oscar Berman, he had that for many years on Mound Street.
Interviewer: Oscar Berman was your uncle?
Marvin: Mother’s brother, my uncle. He’s the one that brought all the other brothers and sisters to this country. He arranged it.
Sue: Tell him about Main Market.
Marvin: My uncles started a grocery store when they got out of the army at the corner of Main and Washington, catty corner from Hepps Delicatessen, if you remember that. My dad became the butcher in that store because he had experience in a meat market and my uncles and I worked there. I would work at the Schonthal Center and at the grocery, growing up. We have a group in Columbus called “Romeo,” Retired Old Men Eating Out. We meet every Thursday at lunch at a different restaurant. A few weeks ago, I go three or four times a year, so I was sitting across from Mike Kravitz, don’t know if you know him or not, I think he’s an attorney, I don’t know what he is. We were talking. I said, “I know Meyer Kravitz, that was your father.” He said “Yeah.” I said “What did he do?” He said, “Well, we bought the Main Market.” His father bought it from my uncles. Isn’t it a small world? I did packaging with my father and then I was in the trucking business. I was on the road as a long-haul trucker for five years, driving a truck.
Interviewer: You drove one of these big semis?
Sue: Double tankers.
Marvin: Also, I delivered gasoline in double tankers. I drove for five years and I decided that was not the life I wanted. It was not too good, never home, so I became a government contractor, service contractor. I cut the grass and collected the garbage at five army bases in the South, Fort Sill. For ten years we did this. Every three weeks a year I was on the road in the South. My kids learned to swim in a motel in Lawton, Oklahoma.
Interviewer: Would this have been in the 1950’s?
Marvin: (19)50 to 60 and then..
Interviewer: Let’s stay there for a second. You’re Jewish and you’re in the deep South in 1950’s and 1960’s. The Civil Rights Movement is going on. People are being killed and beaten, some Jews also involved in the movement. What was that like?
Marvin: I’ll tell you a couple funny stories. We go for weeks, the same place every day at luncheon, Fort Smith, Arkansas this was. We go in for lunch. The Black guys in our crew had to sit outside. They couldn’t come in and eat with us. They had to get their food out of the back door and go out the front. The jukebox in this place had the Spanish National Anthem, Hava Nagila. (Laughs).
Interviewer: That’s what it was labeled.
Marvin: Yeah. Her brother was around 16 at the time so I took him down in summer to work on the crew cutting grass, he still remembers it. I was there when Wallace wouldn’t let the kids come into the school that day. I was there.
Interviewer: George Wallace said “Segregation now and forever.”
Marvin: As for Jewish, never a problem. The only problem I had was with the government because in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. I hired native Indians to work who had never worked in their lives, weren’t allowed to. The government called me up one day. The guy in the base there said “We’re going to fine you big money for discrimination.” I said, “Why.” “You’re hiring Indians.” I said, “What’s wrong with that?” “We don’t want them to work. We want them on the dole.” I said, “I’ll tell you what, you send me a letter about this and I’ll respond.” That was the end of it. They would treat the Indians unfairly. If you needed false teeth, as an Indian, you got a stainless steel bar screwed into your bone. It was terrible how they treated them. We worked there for ten years in the summer. We never had a guy quit. I used a lot of Indians and half my crew was Black. It never bothered me. In (19)68 I decided it was time to quit traveling. I bought a company called Atlas Transfer Company which was a heavy machinery moving and rigging company and I ran that for ten years. We put in the Anheuser Busch Plant here in Columbus, Westinghouse, put in the Honda plant in Marysville, all the big presses and all the conveyors and everything.
Interviewer: You helped install all this gigantic machinery?
Sue: Not help, they did it.
Marvin: We did it. We handled pieces up to 305 tons in one piece before they had the modern equipment they have now. I sold the business to Peter Taub in 1980. I got tired of dealing with five unions. I had five trade unions I had to answer to. I was the manager. I was head of the Negotiating Committee for the Contractors for the Ironworkers and MillWrights (Unions). I did that for a long time. It was not worth it. One day I got mad at the Union and I sold my business. That was 1980. That’s the year we moved up to Hoover Dam, sold our house in Bexley to her brother. We bought it from her uncle.
Interviewer: You bought the house from her uncle and sold it to her brother?
Marvin: Yeah, he’s still there. So I did that until 1980. One day at lunch with Harry Mellman. We were just talking. He said, “You know,”(I used to pack stuff for him so I knew him pretty well. He sold stuff to the government. He and Meyer Mellman sold stuff to the government. I packed it for them.)
Interviewer:You packed it for them?
Marvin: For government specifications. You had to have special packaging to survive humidity and waterproofing, whatever it took.
Interviewer: That was one of your jobs at one point, packaging?
Marvin: Yeah. So Harry said, “You know I’ve got this building I want to sell, why don’t you buy it?” I said, “Well if you’ll finance it, I’ll buy it.” He said, “Okay.” So I bought a building, my first building. Then I found I like real estate so then I stopped doing everything else and I started doing real estate. I like big buildings that are condemned or in bad shape, to buy them at a reasonable price and then I convert them to multi-tenant, mainly artists. I like having artist studios. From 1980 till 2014 I had up to 40 or 50 artist studios all over town plus other tenants.
Interviewer: What neighborhoods are we talking about?
Marvin: First we started out at the Omar Bakery building in the south end, then a buggy works, you know where that is? That was our building. I converted that.
Interviewer: The Nationwide building, right next to the baseball stadium?
Marvin: Yes, I sold that to Kyle (Katz) after I had it all developed. There’s a building I bought because it was Atlas Transfer. We were in there taking a big press out when it went bankrupt. Somebody bought a press I was taking out. Two or three guys walk in there with briefcases. I said “What do you want?” “We’re in there to sell the building.” I said “How much do you want for it?” I said “I’ll buy it.” That’s how I bought the Buggy Works. In (19)89 I was in a barber shop downtown and Bunny Rubin was sitting in a chair next to me, Bernard Rubin, Bunny. He said, “What are you doing.” I said, “Well, I’m going to buy another building, I’m going to an auction.” He said, “Why don’t you let me be your partner and I’ll go with you.” I said, “Okay, let’s go.” So he went to the auction and we bought the Yaeger property on Nationwide Blvd., down at the end of Nationwide Blvd.
Interviewer: At the end of Nationwide Blvd. near the river?
Marvin: Near the river where the Casino was going to go later. Bunny and I bought that property. Then I bought a few more around that neighborhood. We made artist studios in all of them and other tenants. I had a police sub-station down there. Then we bought the Columbus International Air Center, you know where that is, next to the airport where Rockwell was. In (19)97 I saw that was coming up for bid. It was bigger than I could handle. It was going to be big so I went to Jay Schottenstein. I said, “Here’s a deal for you. You’d like this property. I think we can get it. I want part of it but I don’t want to own it. If you’re interested, you put up the money and we’ll get it.” He agreed and I set the price. I put the bid in and we got it. We got three million square feet on 180 acres and today it’s the home of DSW, among other people, and Schottenstein Management. Jay bought me out in 2014. That was the biggest one I bought. I’ve owned every big old factory building in Columbus at one time or another.
Interviewer: It sounds like you are the epitome or the poster boy for this relatively new idea that, if you’ve got a neighborhood that’s struggling financially, if you find some good buildings and move some artists in, they can help revitalize the neighborhood.
Sue: He was the pioneer around the idea of that.
Marvin: Yeah I was the first one who did that.
Sue: In fact, the Greater Columbus Arts Council gave us an award a few years back for our service to the Arts community. It was very nice.
Interviewer: What is there about artists who have this quality of helping rejuvenate a neighborhood?
Marvin: They bring character to the neighborhood. We have found over the years I’ve have had probably 150 artists as tenants. I’ve never had an artist not pay the rent, ever, always paid. Sometimes they’re late but they always let you know when they’re going to be late. They always make it up. I’ve never had to kick an artist out of his space for any reason. They don’t ask for much. They don’t require much, didn’t need remodeling. You give them a nice space that’s safe, which we do, and they’re yours forever. I never raise rent, that’s another thing. I never raise the rent on artists. I don’t care how long they’ve been there. In fact, David Black, if you know who that is, he retired as head of Sculpture at Ohio State.
Sue: He’s about 90 now.
Marvin: He is 90. I have had his stuff in storage since 1982 for the same rent he paid in 1982. Sherrie Mollet who is an artist and an intern or docent at the zoo, very active, she was probably the longest renting tenant, no Terry Rodgers was longer. He’s not there anymore. Sherrie was a tenant of mine at five different buildings and she paid the same rent every time.
Interviewer: Let me ask this. You had such a successful career in so many different businesses. Did you go to college?
Marvin: I graduated from Ohio State. My mother wanted me to be an accountant. I took three quarters of Accounting and said that wasn’t for me so I went into Industrial Management which is what I really liked. So that was my …… the accounting background was a key, I think, to my success. I learned to read a statement and to hire an accountant. Don’t do it yourself. I enjoyed a nice work life but I had one underlying motto. That is I give ulcers, I don’t get them. That’s been my operating theory. If something bothers me, I get rid of it. I don’t mess with it.
Interviewer: A business venture or a building for example?
Marvin: I’ve taken a beating a couple times. I walk away, I don’t worry about it. I don’t think about it, never think about it again.
Interviewer: Sue, what about you in the field of work? Did you work outside the home or were you a homemaker?
Sue: Yes. Well I got out of high school and enrolled in college but I didn’t stay there very long. I went to work as a legal secretary. Then, when I had my first child, I retired from that job and I worked as just a mom in the home until my youngest was about six, in 1965. The thing was, one day his father decided that he needed a little help. The secretary who he had had working for him got sick and she couldn’t come into work and there was nobody there to answer the phone or anything like that so I went down one day to help out a little bit, at K-pack Company, and stayed there a little bit longer. Eventually, his dad retired and moved to Florida and I became the president of the company because at that time Marvin had gotten, purchased Atlas Transfer and he was running that. Then later I went to work for Atlas Transfer Company. I was the vice president because he was the president. We worked together for many years and I think that was one of the keys to our success. He took care of everything else and I took care of the inside.
Marvin: I earn it. She collects it and spends it.
Sue: I learned how to do a good job of both.
Interviewer: You were business partners in a way?
Sue: Yeah, we worked together.
Marvin: We worked together all those years.
Interviewer: Some people would think that’s not going to work. You work together too much and you need time apart but it’s worked for you.
Sue: It worked for us.
Marvin: What’s really surprising, we’ve been married 65 years, we’re waiting for that first argument. Even though we worked together, we never had a problem, really surprising to me.
Sue: Yeah it has been surprising. In addition, after my dad retired from the restaurant equipment business, he came to work for Marvin and I. He worked there for I don’t know how many years until he retired permanently. My mother also worked. These were the years when we had the trucking business.
Marvin: We had a lot of things going on at one time. We had a big diesel repair shop on the west side at the same time. I’m a certified
Columbus diesel mechanic.
Sue: In addition, you never mentioned all of the DeLorean gears and the DeLorean auto parts.
Marvin: I forgot about that. We also, when Jerry Schottenstein and Sol Shenk bought the DeLorean cars, they called me up one day and said, “Marvin, we have a warehouse in California we need to move to Columbus. Can you be there Monday morning?” I said, “Sure.”
Interviewer: They needed to move all the contents of the warehouse?
Marvin: To Columbus and set up a parts operation here. So I went out there. I’m out there packing it up, getting it back here and there was a guy named Sam Massey who was their partner in the DeLorean thing. I saw him drive up in his chauffeured Rolls Royce for a meeting so I knew that Sol and Jerry would be there in a few minutes so they’re in a meeting and I’m waiting outside because I knew they were going to call me in. I’d been through this before. So I waited and pretty soon, “Marvin, we want to talk to you. So I go in there and they said, “We decided we don’t want to be in the parts business. We want to sell it. Is there anybody who would buy it?” I said, “Well if you’ll finance it, I’ll buy it.” So I bought all the DeLorean parts. I said, “There’s a couple conditions. One that you finance it and that you deliver them to me. I’m not going to have to worry about getting them. There were 182 containers in Ireland I had to get plus the 68 truckloads in California. I said, “On those conditions.” He said, “Okay.” We never did any paperwork so that’s how things have changed.
Interviewer: You did that all on a handshake?
Marvin: I don’t even think we went that far. I’d dealt with both of them before, Sol, especially over the years, Sol Shenk. When he went bankrupt, we helped him get started again. He opened up a little place on Long Street. Chuck told me the other day, “Remember.” I said, “I remember I came to borrow a forklift from you when he opened up.” Things have changed. Sol never forgot that and Jerry, the same way.
Interviewer: You had all these parts for DeLorean cars so if anybody ever needed a repair, a part, you were the one to go to?
Marvin: We had 300 dealers all over the world. I had 100. We did that for 13 years. Sue ran that mostly. Then I sold it to a guy in Houston who still runs it today. I dealt with Jerry Schottenstein and Sol Shenk, a couple other things we bought, Kerosene Heaters. I can’t remember what else we bought.
Interviewer: Obviously you’ve dealt with a lot of non-Jews in business but it sounds like a lot of your big ventures have been with fellow Jews.
Marvin: That’s an accident. I didn’t care.
Sue: The work that you did at Atlas Transfer was not with Jews.
Marvin: It was not a Jewish business. It was an Italian business.
Sue: Italian and Irish.
Marvin: Atlas was fun. I liked it because…. You’ll like this. I was at Buckeye Steel Casting. Our daughter, Bonnie, had just got her Master’s degree and decided what to do so she came back to Columbus for a year to work for me. I put her down at Buckeye Steel Casting in charge of a 40-man crew to do remodeling down there. Her total experience was living with us. She wore a hard hat, lunch bucket. Sue dropped her off at midnight, the first shift. We were moving some cranes around. I said, “Bonnie, here’s what we have to do. Okay, go ahead, I’ll see you later.” That’s how much….
Sue: As gates clanged shut after she walked in, I thought here my pretty little girl with white skin is going to come out black (laughs).
Marvin: She worked there for a year. By the time she left there, they had written, in six-foot high letters on the wall, Bonnie. Then she went back and got a degree in Psychology at BU. They sent her out to the sex prison in Massachusetts for her internship. At the school, she told me that it was easier there than it was working at Buckeye, for the iron workers who didn’t look above her breasts for six months. She had a 40-man crew of ironworkers, were all Union down there. Ironworkers were millwrights.
Interviewer: She was the only woman?
Marvin: She was the woman. We never worried about her. I was at a meeting down there. You’ll like this. Do you know who George Levine was, Herman Katz’s son-in-law, Sam Melton’s, he ran Capitol Manufacturing for many years? He’s my cousin’s husband. He lived at Summit Chase, you know where that is? I went to a Capitol improvement meeting at Buckeye Steel Casting with their Board one day. They all come in suits and ties and I always made it a point to go in a short-sleeved shirt, no tie, no jacket when I go to a Board meeting with these guys. I’m in the meeting and the president at Buckeye Steel Casting comes in and says, “You’re name is Katz, isn’t it?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Do you know a George Levine?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Well that son-of-a-bitch. His washer overflowed last night and ran into my apartment. I live underneath him. What are you going to do about it?” (Marvin and Sue laugh). That’s right before I got him to spend about $600,000 on a project. You asked me about my work. A couple interesting things I did. For Buckeye, they bought a what they call bag house in LA. They called me up and said, “Marvin, we bought this bag house in LA. We haven’t really seen it but we got pictures of it. We bought it. Can you be out there Monday and bring it back for us?” So I said, “Sure, no problem.” I get on the airplane and go out there. This bag house is a football field long, big mother, up in the air about 30 feet, in the middle of Watts area. Remember Watts in California when they were having the riots? This is where that was and I had to go so I pack up Sue, you were with me one time, and I spent, off and on about six months out there getting this out. I brought 14 truckloads, oversize, from California here. While we were out there, I was shot at in the bag house. Guys would shoot at the bag house because it was a great target. One day I was down on the ground, one day after lunch, three guys or four Black guys from the neighborhood came up to me, were going to do me some harm but my guys up in the bag house saw what was happening. I had about ten guys working. They all came down with their clubs and got behind these guys like you see in the movies. The guys turned around and said, “We’ll see ya.” But they did, we were driving through the neighborhood and they threw stuff at our car. That was a fun job, doing that. Then as part of the job at the airport, we hired some lobbyists in Washington to get some things done we needed to get done. I got an invitation from the Department of the Navy to go on a four-day trip on a submarine. I flew out to Bremerton, Washington and I took four days on the USS Ohio Nuclear Sub, under water. I got to drive the sub, dive it, stand watch, do everything on it. It was really fun. That was a nice by-product of my work.
Interviewer: You two, both of you, had so many interesting experiences. You mentioned that at one point you spent 30 years, not in Bexley, but up in near Hoover Dam. I just wondered if, since Bexley has been one of the hearts of the Jewish community, especially a few decades ago, it still is somewhat, but Jews have now moved to many different parts of Columbus, parts where they weren’t even allowed in the 1950’s, Arlington. What was that like to be up there, at Hoover Dam, a little bit outside. Did you notice any difference?
Marvin: You know where the Jewish Center campground is up there?
Interviewer: Yeah on Hoover Dam.
Sue: We were involved with the Jewish Center and the camp over the years. When we moved up there, our mailing address was Westerville but I never felt like I moved from Bexley. We did have a group called the Westerville Jewish Women’s Coop or something like that and we used to get together with the Jewish people who lived either at north by the Ohio State campus, or Westerville, or New Albany, outside of Bexley.
Marvin: There was no New Albany at that time.
Sue: Not when we started, yeah, I guess most of the people, it was Northwest. It was nice. We got to meet some new people and do things with them. But basically my heart never left Bexley. Even now, although we live in Florida for more than half of the year, we still feel like Bexley is home and we support the museums and civic things here rather than there.
Marvin: Do you know where the Jewish Center campground is up there?
Marvin: My uncles, Joseph and David Berman, were bachelors and we were really close. I convinced them at the time before they passed away to set up a fund to benefit Hoover Dam campground so they donated a building that we sold to Frankie Katz for $600,000 and that money went in to build a swimming pool, the bath house, the sewage plant, everything at Hoover Dam that’s improved, it’s from their money. I got my other aunt and uncle to fund the ropes course up there. In fact they re-funded the improvements up there and they’re both dead. So we’ve been financing. Millard Cummins donated the ground up there in 1954. Ever since then we’ve funded pretty much everything that’s gone on up there in one way or another.
Sue: Including the new swimming pool liner that they put in this summer. 37
Marvin: We spent $50,000 on that and they’re putting up a new gate so we’re still involved, even though we’re retired.
Interviewer: It sounds like your heart has been in the Jewish community your whole life.
Marvin: Yeah it has been. I can’t think of all the things we’ve funded, don’t remember them all.
Interviewer: Are you hopeful for the future of the Columbus Jewish community?
Marvin: No more than I’m worried about our country right now but I am, the Jewish community. If we keep up the way we are, we’re going to go back to antisemitism being much stronger. They’re empowering all the people that we fought all these years to get rid of. I think the Jewish community will survive, we always have, if we stick together.
Interviewer: You’re worried about a rise in antisemitism?
Marvin: Oh yeah. I don’t think there’s any question about it what I read. Personally, I have not experienced it. I don’t think I will because we don’t go to those areas that would have it but I think we’ll see that it’s rising but not enough that it’s gonna worry me.
Interviewer: Sue, what about you? Are you hopeful or are you worried?
Sue: I kind of agree with him. I’m not so interested now in traveling to Europe or faraway places like that where things could get upset also probably due to our ages, worrying about health, things could happen, better to be closer to home. We still do travel. We enjoy traveling and we’re doing quite a bit of it, just not going quite so far away.
Marvin: We like cruises.
Interviewer: I’ve never been on a major cruise.
Marvin: They’re wonderful.
Sue: You’ll have an experience to look forward to some day.
Marvin: We’re going on one for our 65th anniversary with our family. We’re taking them. It’s going to be interesting. We’ve been involved in the Jewish community all these years. I’ve never wanted to be in the forefront. I like working behind the scenes, much better. It’s been nice.
Interviewer: Before we end our interview, I just want to give you one last chance to say whatever it is that you might want to leave people with.
Marvin: Well we have a new director coming into Columbus for our joint Foundation and Federation and I think one of the things that should happen is, instead of going after the people who have been giving all these years, they should make more of an effort to get the 90% that don’t contribute, not the 10% that do. That’s how many contribute, 2200 contributors now against 22,000 population. Why not put the effort out there? I don’t know how to do it. It’s not my area but that’s what needs to be done. That’s what I have to say.
Sue: I agree with that. I guess, like every other religious institution, we have all these big buildings that don’t get utilized enough that we might have to combine forces and swallow our pride and merge some of the different congregations so that they can financially survive better. Seems like we’ve gotten kind of top heavy in clergy salaries and we don’t know how to get out from under it. It’s not that these people with all their training and education don’t deserve to be well compensated so that they can live a nice life because they are providing a really good service but we have to figure out something so that we don’t all go bankrupt when if we had fewer institutions, we would be very well off financially.
Interviewer: Okay, well we’ll have that be the last word from Sue and Marvin Katz. The date is July 23, 2018 and I’m Bill Cohen for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society.