This interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society is being recorded
on January 2, 2008 as part of the Society’s Oral History Project. The interview is being recorded at The Esther Melton Community Service Building, 1175 College Avenue. My name is Marvin Borowitz, along with Skip Yassenoff, and it is my pleasure and my honor to speak with Muriel Gundersheimer who has been a very productive member of the Columbus Jewish Community for a number of years.
Interviewer: So, I’m going to ask her to start the conversation with telling us how she
happened to grow up in Waukegan, Illinois.
Gundersheimer: Well, my grandfather and his brother were early settlers in Waukegan. They came over from Lithuania and landed in New York and it’s… like Tevye’s cart. They moved their way north to Chicago and that didn’t appeal — they went to Waukegan and opened the first furniture store in Waukegan. And then .. Oh. My grandfather was
interviewed at Ellis Island right next to somebody else interviewing his brother
and so they gave my grandfather B-l-u-m-b-e-r-g, they gave his brother B-l-o-o-m-b-e-r-g, so our cousins are that name [laughs] and …that’s how I grew up in Waukegan. And my dad then took over the furniture store. Each of his brothers became doctors and lawyers.
Interviewer: How many brothers did he have?
Gundersheimer: There’s Uncle Nate, he’s a lawyer in Chicago; Morris was born in Waukegan. I think that’s it. He had half, also…
Interviewer: So your brother… your maiden…
Gundersheimer: who were cousins
Interviewer: Your maiden name then is Bloomberg?
Gundersheimer: Yes. B-l-u-m-b-e-r-g, but pronounced Bloomberg. [Laughs]
Interviewer: And your mother, where did she come from? Were they already married
when they came to this country?
Gundersheimer: Oh, no. No. She came with her family to Indianapolis and they met [laughs] I can’t remember…where they met. But, then she moved to Waukegan when she married my dad and lived there happily ever after.
Interviewer: So, you went to all the schools in the school system in Waukegan?
Gundersheimer: Yes, Waukegan Township High School. And. Well, first grade school and walked about a mile to school and I was the … Oh, first before then… No.. then I was the first harpist, the only harpist in Waukegan. I had started… I had been begging clear through
elementary school when I was playing piano and I got to play the eighth grade
graduation piano solo and the high school graduation harp solo. [Laughs]
Interviewer: So you played the harp for quite a while…
Gundersheimer: I started at Interlocken National Music Camp ’cause I was begging for it clear through elementary school and the folks said, well I.. if I could get in the National Music Camp, as a piano major I could take harp class and see if I really was interested
enough for them to invest in a harp and after that I went three more summers to
Interlocken as a harp major.
Interviewer: So you’ve played the harp since you were, how old?
Gundersheimer: Beginning of high school. And I still have that harp which I have since given to my daughter since I got a concert grand harp for … so then Allen wouldn’t have to carry it back and forth during symphony rehearsals.
Interviewer: How did you meet Allen?
Gundersheimer: He doesn’t want… you don’t want to hear the long story.
Interviewer: Well, I know he was stationed, when he was in the Navy…
Gundersheimer: Oh he was at Great Lakes but if I had met him them I am sure we wouldn’t have been married. We had all the Jewish sailors at our house. Mother had… we had a big house in Waukegan and mother always invited them for Shabbas and all the different holidays and I wasn’t about to get interested in any of them [laughs]. And
Allen was home on.. you wanted to know how I met him. He was home on leave from
the Navy and his cousins who lived here, Margie Levy, had married my uncle, who
was stationed here, and she came to Waukegan for my father’s funeral. He died
at age 50 and my brothers and sisters were very, very young. I was in high school and my older brother was away at college and the children, there’s eight years between me and the next… three broth – – two brothers and a sister, a younger sister. So she was just six when dad died. So, she was visiting… this is going to be long.
[she laughs] If you don’t mind, I don’t. She was visiting…well, she came for dad’s funeral, Allen’s cousin from Columbus. And mother was taking the three younger children to Florida after, soon after, to be with my grandfather, granddaddy Blumberg. Because he wasn’t well enough to come from Florida to the funeral and I said, “Well, I’ve missed so much school
at Northwestern, I can’t go to Florida” and Margie, Allen’s cousin said, “Well, I’m living with my folks while Uncle Al” my uncle Al, her husband, was overseas. And she said, “Come visit me for that week-end.” So I said, “Okay, but I don’t want any dates”. And she met me at the train and said, “Don’t hate me, don’t be mad at me” [laughs] Allen’s going to hate me for telling this whole story [laughs] “you said you didn’t’ want any dates but this isn’t really a
date. Dad is taking you and me and my cousin and his best friend, who are home
on leave from the Navy, out to lunch. Now, right from the train.” So that’s how we met. And he came over afterwards and … we just talked and got to know each other came over to her home where I was staying. and it went on from there. He had to go right back and we didn’t start corresponding until she came to visit again, quite some time later, and said, “Oh well, ” then she said, “Let’s write him a letter together” ’cause he had been thinking about me and wanting to write but just didn’t…. so that’s how we met. [Laughs]
Interviewer: And then he was in uniform at that time?
Gundersheimer: Oh, yeah. Even in a sailor suit, I fell in love with him. [Laughs]
Interviewer: OK. And you were a student at Northwestern at that time?
Gundersheimer: Yes. I..
Interviewer: A music major?
Gundersheimer: Yes. I did my first year at Eastman School of Music and then my wrist went very bad and we thought I wouldn’t play again. My teacher said, “You know, I’m so sorry but I think.” So I transferred to Northwestern, Oh, because also to be near Mom while Dad was very ill and to be there to help.
Interviewer: Let me take you back to Waukegan a minute. When you were living there as a youngster, what was the school system like and was there a Jewish community with a synagogue or did you have any kind of Sunday School or –
Gundersheimer: There was one temple. It was for everybody… Conservative, Orthodox..
Interviewer: So there was a sizable Jewish community?
Gundersheimer: A big Jewish community. But during grade school I hardly had any Jewish friends because they were living.. well, there were a few. But…
Interviewer: So there was one synagogue?
Gundersheimer: Yes, and there was one little shul for the older men we said were Orthodox.. a lot older. [Laughs]
Interviewer: And. Okay. Did you know the Kubelsky family at all?
Gundersheimer: Oh yes, that’s right. Dad and Jack Benny were…We used to listen on the radio. I would ___________ to listen to him and every single night and Dad and he had grown up.. Jack Benny.. together.. went to high school together..
Interviewer: He was Benny Kubelsky then?
Gundersheimer: Benny Kubelsky. And he joined… they joined the Navy together. So, he would come over, he came over even when Dad was ill. He was in town.. with Rochester and the Maxwell ______ for some opening. And he came over to see us and he was… the nicest man, ever. Just so nice and friendly and saw him a couple other times, when I was little and then once when he played the Palace … when Allen and I were in New York. Allen was ______ that week in New York and we went to see him. And I said, “I want to go backstage and see him” and Allen said, “Oh, no. He won’t see you. Oh no.” So I
said, “Well, maybe. I want to anyway.” Course this many years afterwards and I went backstage and Allen stayed off to the side. And a guard said, “What do you want?” And I said, “Well, I want, I would like to see Jack Benny.” And he said, “Oh, he’s not seeing anybody; he went up the elevator and he’s changing clothes and he’s relaxing a little
bit and, so… “Well, just tell him that Lou Blumberg’s daughter is here and we enjoyed the show.” And he went up and he came back down and he said, “Oh, he said ‘have her come right up, Lou Blumberg’s daughter.” So he was always just as nice as could be.
Interviewer: So. When you … then you moved, you married and moved to Columbus to live with Allen and Allen is a historical figure in the Columbus Jewish Community, too, because the Gundersheimers, with the Nussbaums, were the earliest Jews to come to Columbus, in … like 1850.
Interviewer: And the Nussbaums and the Gundersheimers were the first Jewish families here. So Allen is well-known as a historical legacy in the Jewish community. When you moved here with him, then did you live on Park Place?
Gundersheimer: Oh, in his home, we… we had to for one month until our apartment was finished. Which we used to call “Robin Wood” it’s on…. because Robin______ was dead. Robin built those apartments so we all called it Robinwood. It’s on Broad Street now.
Interviewer: Oh, okay. Where is… what… that is not in Whitehall. We have a Robinwood.
Gundersheimer: 30 something
Interviewer: East Broad .
Interviewer: Oh, okay. So, that’s where your children grew up?
Gundersheimer: We moved… we built a home on Merkle… one of the first … it was like in the country and that’s where our youngest … so the others .. a couple were in the partment, I think. [laughs] I can’t remember.
Interviewer: Well, you were rather busy then bringing three children up and being married to a busy department store executive. You had stores on High Street which were The Fashion…Morehouse, Martins and Union was your…
Gundersheimer: He started …
Interviewer: ..in your family, too…
Gundersheimer: The Fashion which his dad and a partner had
opened…and then went to the Union which grandfather Levy had opened.
Interviewer: So, you had three children and they all went to the Bexley Schools?
Interviewer: How long were you in Columbus before you started to use your harp… became a member of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, which was probably just beginning…
Gundersheimer: Oh, yes. As a matter of fact Allen and I worked very hard along with Norm Nadel, who was a critic then, and a couple of others to get a symphony started again once the Philharmonic was lost. And it was …a little symphony with George Hardesty conducting it and then a few years later, I think it was ’53, that it grew. Henry Mazur came and then they needed two harps and Jean Herriman, who was wonderful… just, I think her husband still lives on.. in Bexley, said ” Muriel, we are going to need two harps, so please you’ve got to audition” and I said, “Well, if I can just be second harp, ’cause I don’t want the responsibility of being first. ” I was teaching little children harp and having my family [laughs]. And she said, “Okay, that’ll be great.” And so that was ’53 that I started playing with the symphony.
Interviewer: Norman Nadel was very instrumental in the formation of that orchestra…
Gundersheimer: Oh, yes.
Interviewer: I think they performed first at Capital University and as they grew and
became what is now the Columbus Symphony Orchestra.
Gundersheimer: Hm-hm. Hm-hm.
Interviewer: And you were teaching at the same time.
Interviewer: Okay. Allen, in his interview with the Jewish Historical Society, which is in
our library here, he had an interview like this, maybe five or six years ago, and he mentioned how his whole family became activists in the community. They were concerned about the Columbus community and they took the responsibility very seriously, so Allen was active in the Jewish community and your children all had that endowment, too –
Gundersheimer: Very much so.
Interviewer: Yes. Because your daughter is a social worker and your son, I believe is in
… Tell us about Lee.
Gundersheimer: He was a social worker. His first job was in Chicago
as adviser to [laughs] the Hillel at a Catholic school. He said, “There are
only eleven Jewish students.” And he … very shortly then became social
worker with foster children and one other… . And yes, each of the children, I
am very proud of them. They have all gone into helping professions,
Interviewer: And the one daughter is Lynn..
Gundersheimer: Lynn was a social worker. They… she and Lee both graduated from the University of Cincinnati and then she was a drug counselor in the worst part of Cincinnati and it was…we were worried about her. It was kind of scary, she had some… but anyway, then they both came to Ohio State to get Masters. Or maybe this was before and then she was a social worker…
Interviewer: And you have a daughter Kay.
Gundersheimer: And Kay plays the harp, too. But, just for enjoyment. She is quite hard of hearing and knew she would never – couldn’t be in an orchestra. But she loves the harp. But she also… she took a course in occupational therapy and she is absolutely the best occupational therapist…[laughs] and she right now still …ever…now…She was attached to the Springfield Hospital and now she is doing home care and she said, “Oh, I love my
job.” And that was just so wonderful to hear.
Interviewer: Well, you were quite active in your own .. in your own…your own commitments to the social service organizations here. I suppose we ought to start with
Temple Israel and its Sisterhood.
Gundersheimer: Oh. Yes. I started a post-confirmation class there never had…because I figured they needed something and I said “Would you like to be… just for fun, have a theater class?” And we did and one of the things that I just was so thrilled. One Thanksgiving I said to the class, I think this was just … lasted a year anyway. I said on
Thanksgiving, “I have met a girl…” it was in the newspaper, who I
had been visiting. She was very poor and in the newspaper article and I was
visiting her in AlumCrest Tuberculosis Hospital, it was then and found out that she had a tremendous family living in a bus. And I said to the class, I mean lots of children the whole family was living in a bus and she was in the hospital and I said to the children in my class,
“Would you…” you bring back memories that [laughs].. I’ve hardly thought about it…. “Would you like to take the whole family a Thanksgiving dinner?” And they did and it was a wonderful experience for them, too…
Interviewer: Oh, that’s a very good, a very nice story. So you… that was your project
with the –
Gundersheimer: with the class
Interviewer: With the sisterhood –
Gundersheimer: that I had started at Temple. Also, since then I was the, I say and someone else thinks that, I forget, you probably have her in the… I was either the first or one of the first women on the board… on the Temple board and also to hold the Torah on High Holidays. It was such a wonderful thrill.
Interviewer: Then you… you were active also in the National Council of Jewish Women.
Gundersheimer: Oh, yes. I joined them because they were so community centered, service oriented.. and … after a little while, I was on the board and I said.. oh, no.
I came on the board because of this. I said, “You know, one thing we don’t
serve is entertainment in hospitals and nursing homes.” And they said,
“Why, you’re right. And if you’ll start it, we’ll do it.” [She laughs] And that was
Interviewer: They started something…
Gundersheimer: that was the beginning. And..
Interviewer: How long ago was that?
Interviewer: Where was your first gig?
Gundersheimer: I can’t even remember much less ..
Interviewer: Okay. I know it’s been more than … it’s about fifty years since you’ve
Interviewer: Sixty years
Gundersheimer: [She laughs]..Yeah… it was right after I married Allen.
Interviewer: Hm-hm. Who were some of your … you recruited the talent that went out to these places and performed –
Gundersheimer: Oh, yes.
Interviewer: in assisted living…
Gundersheimer: That’s what we say now, assisted living and yes, I had a puppeteer, Bob Frichter, and accompanist Betty Casey, who was Ted Pritchard’s mother-in-law. I don’t know if you remember Ted Pritchard who became a famous actor… died young… very…. but we were friendly and, several others –
Interviewer: And Annabelle?
Gundersheimer: Annabelle ______
Interviewer: Was she an earlier performer with you?
Gundersheimer: Not early.
Interviewer: Okay, she liked to sing.
Gundersheimer: – ______ to sing but she sang with us for quite
a long time and.. and for longer than that.. Marvin, you have been entertaining
with us -.
Interviewer: Who was Abe Green’s wife?
Gundersheimer: Ah, accompanying the singers. Oh.
Interviewer: Because she was in a dance group that performed with you.
Gundersheimer: Yes and I can’t remember her name.
Interviewer: Okay. We’ll find out. And, who else have been performers with you
because you don’t just go out and do your
Gundersheimer: …. I …somewhere
Interviewer: Okay. They’re right here. What you do… you don’t do… you don’t take
your harp you –
Gundersheimer: Oh, well. The reason that started was they opened …this way before that, when I was in Waukegan. They started a USO because Waukegan was right near Great Lakes Naval Base and Fort Sheridan Army Base and they called and said. “We know you like to ‘ when they were starting the USO, “we know you like to volunteer” ’cause
mother had already been taking me dancing to years back.. to the veterans’
hospital and things like that. And, “We know you like to volunteer. Would you play the harp for them?” And I said, “Of course I want to volunteer.” And then I started thinking, “Those sailors don’t want to hear a harp” and I had seen three men do this pantomime .. lip-synching…very funny. And I thought, ” Well, I could do that. And it would be a lot easier than to carry a … in those days it was a phonograph and records, but still a lot easier than carrying a hard around” and … besides the USO was [laughs] upstairs in some little building. So that’s when I started doing the comedy lip-synching. [Laughs]
Interviewer: Ah-ha. And some of the… well, let me ask you . Who does your cost – … who made your costumes?
Gundersheimer: Well, that flapper costume was made by …oh, she danced
with us… her husband was an outstanding clarinetist … Oh ______
Interviewer: Okay. Here’s a… you used this costume when you sang… Well, you don’t
actually sing… the songs come from your recordings of Betty Hutton and
Beatrice Kay and
Gundersheimer: Was that when I… oh, [sings] “Put your arms me honey…
hold me tight…”
Interviewer: Who –
Gundersheimer: but they’re singing.
Interviewer: Ah-ha. So you stopped… you didn’t bring your harp anymore. You did your own act and actually several acts and interspersed them with other performers. And right now you have Tiberia Green with you and Frances Kehr is our 81-year-old tap dancer and I have been…
Gundersheimer: and I have her beat, you know…
Interviewer: When did I join your group? Do you know?
Interviewer: I’ve been at it… performing with your group
Gundersheimer: a long time, do you remember when you started..
Interviewer: It must be about twenty years ago or so. So, I play.. I’m a piano
accompanist and … I’ve been known to do a song or two here and there.
Interviewer: So, for this work… this project… had a lot of attention from the Columbus
public. You had… you’ve been honored by the Columbus City Council… as a truly selfless individual generous and single-handed and they have some of the…some of your plaques and your awards here at the Columbus Senior Musicians’ Hall of Fame and who else do we have here .. the international Who’s Who in music for Distinguished Services to Music and you’ve been here a long time such a long time that various newspapers ______and your program ______ How do you find the venues? Have you called the…do… Is it generally known that you bring this treasure (they laugh) to the various homes and entertain on an
Gundersheimer: When I read of a new one that’s opened or from they’ll call
and say would you like to volunteer entertainment and they say, “Oh, would
we ever!” And I get calls from some places that we have been and others
say, “Oh, could you come back, please?” And I tell them we go to so
many… that once a month we go to a different one, but that I’ll call them
when… about when a year comes up and then I usually….once in a while they
call me… but usually I call them.
Interviewer: So you can get a program together because you know everybody and everybody knows you. So that’s been your…
Gundersheimer: Well, no my entertainers you and Fran and Tiberia. Do I have a picture here with Tiberia? Oh, I thought that… I thought .. oh, that’s too
Interviewer: Anyway. You also volunteer at the School for the Hearing Impaired. That –
Gundersheimer: Well, yes. I thought… I called them about… back in… about sixteen years
ago and said, “Do you need a volunteer?” because I knew I would be
good with hard of hearing children because of our daughter Kay. They… we had
worked together and besides I have taken her to the speech and hearing center
for about three years and we had worked together. I took a correspondence course
and worked together and they said, “Oh, would we ever like a volunteer!
Nobody’s ever asked to volunteer before.” And when I went there the first
time, I happened to have my harp with me because I had been giving a recital at
Graves up north.. and ..
Interviewer: Graves piano store..
Gundersheimer: yes, and they’re up north.
Interviewer: They had concerts, they have a concert hall in their store…
Gundersheimer: Right. Right. And so I… I had the harp with me and I said, “Do you think they’d like to hear.. like a harp?” and the teacher said, “Oh, yes!” So they helped me take the harp in and there was an elevator to the upstairs where their LEL – language early learning – program is. So I went and she said they could sit around on the floor and listen and walk, but mustn’t touch. And they did and they were just ______ and when I finished I went and sat next to one of the little girls and she looked at me and she looked at the harp and she said, “Mustn’t touch!” (laughs] I said –
Interviewer: That’s quite an accomplishment –
Gundersheimer: I just loved it. But I said to her when the class was over, I said, “These children are hard of hearing, aren’t they?” and she said, “No, they all have communication difficulties for many different reasons. They… You know, some might also happen to be hard of hearing, but ADD, occasionally, autistic…I’ve been, well, I think I might have told you my 16th year volunteering at the speech and hearing center..
Interviewer: You’re not performing there?
Interviewer: You’re doing one on one contact with…
Interviewer: The children…
Gundersheimer: right. When it’s circle time we all sit in a circle …
Interviewer: You do that every week, on a weekly basis?
Gundersheimer: Every Tuesday. I’m there and it’s just so heart-warming to see improvement in these children.
Interviewer: What else are you busy with now, Muriel?
Gundersheimer: Well, that’s weekly and monthly, as you know is the –
Interviewer: Muriel and her friends.
Gundersheimer: right, that’s right. You’re one of them. Those are my two steady things. Oh, I do, come to think of it, I guess, I was interested in pre-school because when we were first married I was visiting a friend who lived out on some project out West and I saw all these children running around , just doing nothing. I said, “Why are these children running around? She said, “Well, their mothers have to work and there is nothing… nothing.. for
them to do.” So that’s when I started a preschool for them. I almost forgot about that. And I had one friend help me. There were about 20 children, I think, which is against the law, [laughs] but… there was no such thing then. And we did that until I needed to be home with my own children…Babies.[Laughs]
Interviewer: Well, in some of those places you mentioned are, we used to call them Red
Feather agencies but….
Gundersheimer: Oh, this was before there was Head Start. I said why aren’t they in Head start? And my friend who lived out there, said, “Ohio doesn’t have a Head Start yet. Or doesn’t have Head Start.” And then they did start it.
Interviewer: I am reminded at this point that your father-in-law, I believe, was active
in beginning what was called the Community Chest, I think because …
Gundersheimer: Oh, that’s right.
Interviewer: The Community Chest of Columbus.
Gundersheimer: And it became United Way.
Interviewer: Now United Way. And that was Mr. Gundersheimer, who was instrumental and….in forming an institution that is…
Gundersheimer: That’s right
Interviewer: doing such much good...
Gundersheimer: that’s right
Interviewer: In organizing the community to be helpful.
Gundersheimer: And one of the preschools that I had started out there for and…Oh, I had asked the manager of the building, could we have his basement as a preschool room and he said, “Sure”. And one.. the first Christmas I told them we were going to have a Christmas
party and Allen’s dad got presents for each child.
Interviewer: Ah.. Well, that reminds me of the last show that we did which was at
Gundersheimer: Oh, yes
Interviewer: Because we walked into a very well organized afternoon for the people… the
children who lived there and there were so many Santa Clauses and other dancers in their costumes and gifts all over…
Gundersheimer: [she laughs] Wasn’t that an…
Interviewer: Yes that was an experience…
Interviewer: Right. So that’s something that you can be proud of and we all enjoy that.
Gundersheimer: Thank you.
Interviewer: Well Muriel, I’ve enjoyed talking to you and …
Skip Yassenoff: We’re going to ask her about the famous people that she has encountered.
Gundersheimer: So, well of course I told you the first one was Jack Benny when I
was a little girl and then older. And, well…
[TAPE INTERRUPTED about 16-20 seconds -possibly referring to Red Skelton based on last comment in interview]
Gundersheimer: …you’d be better off with a number. Well, the band laughed and so he used that in each of his shows and just before the last show, I said to the band, “I’m going to play a trick on him.” They said, “You wouldn’t dare. ” I said, “Yep, I’m going to do it. I don’t
care what he says. [laughs] I think it will be fun.” So he does this and ______ oh, to the audience, these two wonderful harpists he’s saying “foggy-foggy dew” to just the two harps, not the band. And then, he’d say, “These wonderful harpists are your own Columbus people. Please, what’s your name? I want to introduce them.” She said, “Jean Herriman.”
“What’s your name?” And I’d say, “Muriel Gundersheimer.” It was a week’s show, then. The last show I said, “I’m going to play a trick on him and he said, the same thing: You know… These wonderful harpists are your own people. What’s your name? “Jean Herriman.” “What’s your name?” and I said, “Muriel Smith. ” He said, “What?” [They laugh.] That was funny. But he was very, very nice. Afterwards our daughter Kay said, “May I take a picture of you with my mom?” and he said, “Sure.” So. That’s the… the more famous people are so nice. [Laughs] Most of them are really very, very nice.
I’ve been very lucky. They all are. Yo-Yo Ma, sweet as can be when he was with us for rehearsal before a concert…a symphony concert, during intermission of the break of the rehearsal, most people you know, walk off and relax, he’d sit there and talked with everybody and some of the cellist asked how he did certain things. I’ve had very, very happy experiences with several… so. I’m a very happy person.
Interviewer: Muriel, we are very happy that you were able to come and make this… give us
a history of.. a little bit of history of Waukegan, of meeting Allen Gundersheimer, Jr.,being a mother of a concerned family, and taking your own place among the caregivers of the community and in your own way and you are highly honored and we are happy to share that with you. And thank you for doing this interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society on January 2nd, 2008.
Gundersheimer: Thank you very much.
Interviewer: Well, Muriel, you are a treasure. On behalf of the Columbus Jewish
Historical Society, thank you for contributing to the Oral History Project. This
concludes the interview.