This interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society is being recorded
on January 3, 2007, as part of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Oral
History Project. The interview is being recorded at the Columbus Jewish
Federation and my name is Helena Schlam and I am interviewing Richard W. Kohn,
also known as Dick. Now what is your full name?
Kohn: My name is Richard W., that W stands for Weiler, Kohn, K-O-H-N and let
me think, is that all you asked me, my name?
Interviewer: And you just indicated that you are how old?
Kohn: I’m 75 and will be 76 in 2007.
Interviewer: How long have you lived in Columbus?
Kohn: Well I was born in Columbus in 1931 and lived and went to school in
Columbus through graduation from Ohio State in 1953. And then I left Columbus in
1953 and I returned to Columbus in 1972 and have been back in Columbus since
Interviewer: Very nice. Now I will ask you which high school did you graduate
from and also what did you study at Ohio State?
Kohn: Well let’s see, I graduated from Bexley High although at the time we
weren’t residents of Bexley. At that time I lived in Columbus and I had gone
to Columbus Public Schools until the ninth grade. And when it was time to go
into the ninth grade I would have gone to East High School and my parents said,
“No you’re not going to East High School. You’re going to Bexley.”
And in those days you could pay tuition if you lived out of the city of Bexley
and you could go to school in Bexley. So much to my disappointment they insisted
that I go to Bexley High and I didn’t want to go there because, while I knew a
lot of the kids my age there because they were children of my parents friends,
I thought they had gone to school all these years together and here was
I coming in as a stranger. As it turned out it was a wonderful four years and I
was very active in the school and President of the Junior Class and
Vice-President of the Senior Class and as far as, I think you asked me, but of
course in those days Bexley High, you just took whatever courses were demanded
in those days. Now, I forget if you asked me about the university.
Interviewer: Well this is so informative and interesting before we go to Ohio
State, which is what I asked.
Kohn: Oh all right.
Interviewer: I want to hear more about your high school experience here in
Columbus. So how much of your class was probably Jewish or do you even have a
sense of that any more?
Kohn: I really, in my mind I probably, in my class which was a class of about
150, I’m going to guess that probably, maybe one third perhaps might have been
Jewish. I’m not really sure. I had very good friends in the school that were
Jewish. I also had very good friends in the, with the students who were not. And
so in those days in my group we mixed pretty well with all the students there.
Interviewer: When you were in the Columbus Public Schools before you went to
high school, did you have Jewish classmates there as well or no? Or do you even
Kohn: Very few. I only recall a few Jewish friends that went to for instance
junior high. I went to Franklin Junior High. I remember a couple. These’s
still a few in town. Actually only one I can remember. His name was Bob Feldman
and he is still around as far as I know and he and I were in Franklin Junior
High together. But there weren’t, seemingly there weren’t a lot of Jewish
kids in junior high school in Columbus at that time. There were many more in
Bexley. And so my friendships in junior high were with, just with kids that went
there. Or most of my social time was spent with children or kids who were from
families that my parents knew even though they didn’t go to junior high school
Interviewer: Did you go to Hebrew School?
Kohn: No I did not. As a matter of fact, that’s a whole other story which I
don’t know if my mother mentioned but…
Interviewer: No she did not mention.
Kohn: …because in Hebrew School, I went to, to what was then the Bryden Road
Temple and I lived on Franklin Avenue and Rabbi Gup lived on the corner two
houses away from me and he was at that time Rabbi at Bryden Road Temple. I was
confirmed at Bryden Road Temple and then I went on and I grad–, what they
called graduation then. I don’t know if they still have it but you took two
additional years and then you graduated. And it was very unusual for anybody to
be Bar Mitzvahed from Bryden Road Temple at that time. So I did
not go to Hebrew School and I don’t, I, even though you tend to, I tend to
start getting into this and I’m not sure how far you want me to go.
Interviewer: No this is fascinating.
Kohn: As a matter of fact, and I’m sure my mother didn’t mention this but
it is connected with Hebrew School or religious educational training. There was
a period of time where, believe it or not, my brother and I went to Christian
Science Sunday School.
Interviewer: Of course. I do believe it.
Kohn: And my mother and some of her friends were, while active in the Jewish
commu- nity and in the Jewish organizations and synagogues, they became
interested in the Christian Science religion because some of them apparently
found something in that religion that they were not getting from Judaism. And as
a consequence, my mother had my brother and myself, my brother is four years
older, now lives in Boston, but he and I both went to Christian Science Sunday
School for a couple years until my father put his foot down and said, “That’s
enough of that and we’re going to stop that.” So that’s just a little
side street I took.
Interviewer: And a very interesting one. And do you have positive memories of
doing that or do you have any memories at all?
Kohn: I have very vague memories of it. I remember going. I remember my
mother reading little booklets, things that were written by Mary Baker Eddy,
even certain parts of little prayers that I learned. But it was a very short
period of my life and I was very young so once I got away from it, it all went
by the wayside. But I can remember seeing the little books and pamphlets that
she had from the Christian Science church and at that time it was down on Broad
Street near Cleveland Avenue. And the building is probably still standing but I
don’t know what it is today.
Interviewer: And when you went to Ohio State, did you have some of your
classmates and friends from Bexley High School who attended Ohio State at the
Kohn: I did, both Jewish friends and non-Jewish friends. But when I went to
Ohio State after graduation from Bexley, I went into a fraternity, ZBT, Zeta
Beta Tau, where I had many friends both from Columbus, but mainly from out of
Columbus, and I was in fraternity for four years and I spent most of my college
years, I always say I didn’t study very much. I was in “activities”
because my brother before me had been very active in Ohio State organizations
and my determination at that point apparently was, “Well I’m going to
match his record.” So I spent most of my time in meetings and that sort of
thing and luckily I was in, my major was in Public Relations and Journalism and
it was a new major at that time in the School of Journalism and was very, very
open. You could pretty much create your own course and even the professors weren’t
sure what direction to go. So it didn’t really require a lot of my time and so
I could participate in these various organiza- tions. And my friendships
developed at Ohio State, primarily through fraternity and I still keep in touch
with a number of the fraternity brothers at that time. They’re spread all over
the country but we keep in touch, some of us.
Interviewer: You mentioned your brother. Are you very close to your brother?
Kohn: Yes I am. He is four years older than I am. His name is Harry Kohn, Jr.
because my dad was Harry Kohn, Sr. And he lived in Columbus until after he
graduated from Ohio State which was in probably, well I graduated in ’53 so he
must have graduated four years before that. And he spent a number of years after
that associated with Lazarus Department Store and then moved east to New York
and then finally to Boston. And we are close. He is going to be 80 years old in
Kohn: and so yes we stay in touch. We see each other quite often and of
course when my mother was living which was until 1984, he used to come quite
frequently to see her in the years when she was at Heritage House which she was
before she died. He would come quite often.
Interviewer: And you also mentioned your father. What can you tell me about
Kohn: Well I know a lot more about my mother’s side of the family than my
father’s. My father was very quiet. My father was born in Springfield,
Illinois, came to Columbus at an early age and his brother, well, let’s see,
how to start this? He came here with his family. I think there were something
like eight of them, mainly girls and two boys, my father being one of the two.
His, I believe younger brother was named Emil Kohn. I never knew Emil but Emil
was the first President of Tifereth Israel and was President twice. He was one
of the founders of Tifereth Israel. And I never, as I said, I never knew him
because he died before I was born. My father went to law school at Ohio State.
He graduated at age, I think from Ohio State at something like age 16 and got
his law degree when he was 18 or something like that. So…
Interviewer: Oh my.
Kohn: he was very bright, was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and his family,
interestingly to me, interestingly enough, I was told this by Bill Wasserstrom
when he came out of law school, went in the firm with my father. My father was
established as a lawyer and because the Kohns and the Wasserstroms had been very
close, my father took Bill Wasserstrom into his practice and they were
semi-partners for years. They each had their own part of the practice but they
shared an office. But the way the two families got so close was apparently, and
I was told by Bill Wasserstrom that my uncle Emil apparently had a group or a
number of bars or saloons as they called them in those days that he had in
Columbus and he closed them and one of the saloons that he closed, he had
fixtures left and he sold those fixtures to his friend, Mr. Wasserstrom, I don’t
know which one it was. And as a result, that’s apparently how the Wasserstrom
company began, according to Bill Wasserstrom. I didn’t know any of this but
this is what Bill, when he was living, told me. Anyway, you asked about my dad.
My dad came and practiced law…
Interviewer: And did he start the law firm on his own or did he join a law
firm or do you know?
Kohn: He was on his own. It really wasn’t a firm. They called themselves as
I recall Kohn, Wasserstrom and Yaw, Y-A-W. Now Mr. Yaw, James Yaw, was not
Jewish and I just vaguely remember Mr. Yaw. Bill Wasserstrom of course was
fairly young then and I can recall their office was in the Leveque, what is now
the Leveque Tower. To me it’s the AIU Building but the Leveque Tower and I can
remember either riding, riding with my mother downtown on Broad Street to pick
up my dad and Bill Wasserstrom and take them home and quite often, Reid and his
brother used to be in the car so…we three kids, or four kids would go
down and pick up our fathers.
So it, it was a loose-knit firm. They each had
their own practice and my dad invested in some realty around town and so he
practiced law until, well actually I’m not sure when he became real inactive
but he died in 1974 and up till maybe ten years before that he still had his
office, went downtown every day and went to his office, ate his lunch. It was
usually a bowl of soup at Marzetti’s Restaurant, and took the bus home, had
his shot of liquor which he called “his medicine”. So that was my
father’s side of the family. I don’t know much about his back- ground. I
know where his parents were buried at the old cemetery on…
Interviewer: Alum Creek?
Kohn: Alum Creek. I found one, I think I found his mother’s grave. I haven’t
been able to find his father’s grave. But he didn’t talk too much about his
Interviewer: And do you know if they were born in America or if they came
Kohn: I suspect that they came from Europe.
Kohn: Since the group that formed Tifereth Israel were Hungarian Jews and I
would imagine that on that side that they came from Europe rather than being
born here. As on my mother’s side when my grandfather came over from I guess
Germany or whatever it was. But that’s the other side and I know much more
about that side of the family because my mother just talked about it more and we
had many more associations with my mother’s family then we did with my father’s.
Interviewer: That’s interesting. So did you celebrate holidays with your
Kohn: Well it depends which holidays we’re talking about because in those
days in my group in the kids I knew and the families that my parents were
friendly with, we celebrated Hanukkah as such with, well we celebrated it alone
really and in our house that was a very minor holiday for us. We didn’t
exchange gifts. We lit the menorah. It was our own family, my mother, my father,
my brother and myself. However, going back to the religious side we, in those
days because we were “ultra-Reform” we celebrated Christmas. Now we
didn’t celebrate it as a religious holiday.
Kohn: But we celebrated Christmas. We had a Christmas tree. We decorated the
tree Christmas Eve. And of course we didn’t buy the tree until Christmas Eve
’cause you got a much better price on Christmas Eve. And there was another
Jewish couple in town whose name I believe was Greenstein, Morrey Greenstein,
who had a jewelry store here in town and he and his wife used to come over every
Christmas Eve and have dinner with us and then we all trimmed the tree and of
course we got up in the morning and we got our presents and it was just
something that was not terribly unusual but a funny, a little funny side story
about that is that, as I mentioned previously, we lived on Franklin Avenue and
we lived three doors from Rabbi Gup.
And of course at Christmas, we had the
Christmas tree and it sat in behind French doors in the front of the house in
the living room. So every night however, as it happened, I would go up and I
would close the drapes in the front of the Christmas tree because I didn’t
want Rabbi Gup to see our Christmas tree sitting in the front window, although I’m
sure he knew it was there.
Interviewer: That’s a very sweet story.
Kohn: Likewise though we did some other things on Jewish holidays. I remember
on Passover we would, a couple of times when we put a sign on my teddy bear
called “Elijah” and we took him down in front of Rabbi Gup’s door
and we rang the bell and we ran. (laughter) So having the rabbi live two doors
away was an interesting part of my existence at that time.
Interviewer: Wonderful stories though. I enjoy hearing them.
Kohn: It’s kind of random and not very well organized in my mind but…
Interviewer: At what point did you get married?
Kohn: Well I left Ohio State University in ’53 and I went in the Navy on a
destroyer for a couple of years. I came back and worked in Dayton, Ohio, then
went to Akron, Ohio, and came back to Columbus in 1972 where I lived at
Wyandotte East which an awful lot of people did at that time and I was
introduced to a young lady, well she wasn’t a young lady. She was, compared to
me since she’s ten years younger, who had just been divorced. And her name was
Denise Snider Blank. And she, we were married in 1975. And Denise had been, well
Denise Snider, her father Donald Snider who is still living and who is in
assisted living at Sunrise for the last month had established the first Jewish
funeral home in Columbus, Snider Memorial Chapel, which he subsequently sold to
Henry Epstein and it became the Epstein Memorial Chapel. And Denise, my wife,
had been married to Harley Blank who was one of four brothers and she was
married to Harley for I’m going to say about nine years and had four children
with Harley. All of whom are living in Columbus today and most married and have
children of their own.
So in marrying Denise…she had much more of a
religious background than I did because her dad, and that’s a whole other
story that Don Snider I’m sure had recorded ’cause I know I came there once
when he was giving a history. But they belonged to every Temple. He had to for
his business and so I, at that time, actually when I came back to Columbus or
while I was away from Columbus, I never belonged to a Temple. And when I came
back and Denise and I met, because we both lived at Wyandotte East. We were
neighbors but we were back-to-back and we actually didn’t meet until the
Summertime when we went outside actually, and somebody had mentioned her to me
and somebody had mentioned me to her and we started dating. And so we were
married and we decided when we were married, neither of us belonged to a
congregation at that time.
Denise had grown up pretty much with Tifereth Israel,
sometimes with Agudas Achim depending. And we decided, we had met Marc Raphael
because Marc Raphael had interviewed my mother and Marc Raphael had also
interviewed my wife-to-be Denise because she represented a segment of the
community that had been divorced in a certain period of time, and we both liked
Marc Raphael very much and so we decided that he was going to be our
“compromise rabbi.” So Marc agreed to marry us which he did at the
old, Beth Tikvah at that time used a house up on Indianola Avenue or someplace
up in that area.
Interviewer: No that’s, that’s…you got it.
Kohn: On Seventeenth. And it was a huge wedding of about 15 people. And my
mother was living at the time and my aunts and Denise’s children, who were
very young at the time, and my brother and his wife came in and their daughters
from New York. And Marc married us and Marc, and the way we got interested in
Beth Shalom, where we are now members and have been since almost the start. We
weren’t founding members but within maybe six months after it started, Marc
Raphael after he married us, we said to him, “Well if by any chance you
ever start another or associate with another congregation, let us know and we
might be interested, never dreaming at the time that he really would. And sure
enough, it wasn’t very long thereafter that he called and said, “Guess
what. We’re starting this new congregation and you know most of the people
there because they’re friends of yours or they’re break-aways from Temple
Israel.” So that’s how we got associated with Beth Shalom back in the
early days. So I kind of wandered from where you were and what you asked me…
Interviewer: That is a very valuable story about the founding of Beth Shalom
and also about Marc Raphael. So are you still in touch with him by chance?
Kohn: No, I’ve seen Marc a few times since then when he’s come to
Columbus for a few occasions, but we have not stayed in touch.
Interviewer: And it seems that you had a very fine marriage. How long have
you been married now and you have a very fine marriage?
Kohn: Yeah we do, we’ve been married now 30…in fact our anniversary is
this month. I’m glad you brought that up because I’d forgotten it. The
birthday and an anniversary of my wife – I have to remember both of those in
January. It will be I think 33 years, 32 or 33 years we’ve been married.
Interviewer: Mazel Tov.
Kohn: Thank you. And we’ve had a great relationship with her children that
are, as far as I’m concerned, are my children because the youngest was about
three years old when we were married. In fact I always kid with one of the boys
that it’s their fault that their mother and I got married because I used to, I
was a sailor and one day I came home from sailing and it was a rainy day and my
sails were wet and so I went out on the lawn in front of our apartment at
Wyandotte East and I spread out the sails to dry and over come these two little
tow-headed kids probably 5 and 7 or 7 and 9, something of that age, and said,
“What are you doing?” and I explained it to them and out came their
mother who was Denise. So actually that was the first time we had met
face-to-face and so I always tell the boys it’s their fault that their mother
and I got married. But we’ve had a very good marriage and we see all the kids
regularly and we have five grandchildren who, most of whom, well all of whom are
here except one is here part of the time. But that’s another story. That’s
another offshoot so…
Interviewer: I’m curious to really go back. How did you happen to choose to
go into the Navy? It sounds like if you love sailing that it was a natural.
Interviewer: Or did you not know when you were in the Navy?
Kohn: Well I had sailed previously but that was really not the reason. I
think what really happened is that, in attending Ohio State as we all were at
that time, all the men were in R.O.T.C. and it was Army R.O.T.C. and so I would
have gone on to be a lieutenant I guess in the Artillery, the Field Artillery.
And I went on a trip with some friends from Columbus out to the West Coast and
it was at that time that I believe the Korean War began and my parents called me
and I had been in, no, I’ve got my time periods mixed up. Life’s very short.
I joined the Naval Reserve in Columbus down on the river where it used to be
there. There’s a restaurant now there, whatever it is…
Interviewer: The Confluence?
Kohn: Yes where the Confluence is. That’s where the U.S. Naval Reserve
Center was. And I went to train one day a week down there because I didn’t
want to be in the Army. I didn’t want to be in the Field Artillery and so I
went to train there and then when I graduated from Ohio State I went to further
train in the Navy and I served just two years which were very pleasant as far as
I was concerned ’cause I didn’t have any bullets flying overhead. But I was
on a ship for two years as an officer in the Navy. And then after I got out of
the Navy I taught at a Naval Reserve Center in Dayton, Ohio, one day a week to
people entering the Naval Reserve over there because I was working for National
Cash Register Company in Dayton at that time.
Interviewer: And so when you returned to Columbus was that when you began to
work in real estate or what, how did that happen?
Kohn: Well let’s see. I worked as I mentioned previously, when I came out
of the Navy I went to work for National Cash Register Company in Dayton, Ohio,
and I got that through the Placement Office at Ohio State University.
Kohn: And at that time having been around the world, I didn’t want to work
for anybody I knew in Columbus, Ohio, even though a couple people approached me.
And I went to work for National Cash Register Company. I always thought I was
their “token Jew” because I never met another Jewish person at
National Cash Register Company. The subject of religion never came up over
there. I believe if you go back into the history of NCR as they called it, still
do I guess, there were very few Jews associated with the organization. And so I
was offered a job over there in their Overseas Advertising Department and in
that department we wrote copy for their house organs overseas. We wrote ads for
overseas and everything we wrote was interpreted and written into various
And I’m leading up to how I got into real estate. At any
rate I worked for them in a very low position. I was what they called a Class D
employee. In those days they had A, B, C, D and you had certain privileges in
each class and it was a very paternalistic type of company. But it was very
interesting for me because I worked with people from different companies. At any
rate I had gone to Ohio State for a couple of years with a fellow whose name was
Tom Nobil, N-O-B-I-L, from Akron, Ohio, who used to say his parents owned a
couple of shoe stores. Well as it turned out they owned at that time about 50
shoe stores and at his wedding, sitting and talking to his father and his uncle,
I was offered a job with them as Advertising Director in Akron, Ohio.
So I moved to Akron, Ohio. I spent 15 years with the Nobil Shoe Company in Akron, Ohio
where I was in charge of a lot of different things and the company grew to 250
stores during that period and I got involved in real estate there because I
worked on store construction and advertising and in those fields I got
associated with Norman Nobil who handled the real estate so I used to go with
Norman Nobil to negotiate deals for shopping centers for the stores in, with
people like De Bartoe when that was a big name in real estate, etc. So I got
into real estate and it was from Nobil Shoe Company then that I got offered the
job at Shoe Corp of America.
And I came back in ’72 as Vice President of Real
Estate and Store Planning and Advertising at Shoe Corp of America and spent 15
years there and then was offered a job as VP of Real Estate at the Kobacker
Company where I went and was there for five years as Director of Real Estate.
Interviewer: Very interesting. Now I have a question. I don’t recognize the
Nobil name as being Jewish. Were they Jewish?
Kohn: The Nobil family was Jewish. They were leaders in the Akron community.
They were in the Reform Temple in Akron. It was a very well known Akron family.
There may be a few Nobils still left but the Nobil Shoe Company which was a very
well known company in those days in the Midwest, was sold out to a company
called Endicott-Johnson Corporation which was another shoe company and
eventually the name disappeared. But the Nobil family, yes,was Jewish.
Interviewer: So your story strikes me as so interesting in terms of very good
Interviewer: …which is why I asked the question and a very valuable thing I
think in the Jewish community.
Kohn: Uh huh. Well I’ve always been associated, even though I’ve told you
the stories of Reform Judaism and how different it was from some of my friends
that were shocked that I would have a Christmas tree or that we would even
celebrate Christmas or we’re not as active in Jewish organizations as they
were. But I remember as a kid going with my mother to the old Schonthal Center
down on Rich Street and going to the 571 Shop and going out and delivering
cookies and delivering, oh they used to have a fund-raising event where they
sold tulip bulbs and as a kid I would go with my mother and all these women
would be there and it was, I once remember walking in and saying, “Do you
people, you’re so disorganized. Let me organize this for you.” You
know, the bulbs were not set the way they should be and so I remember those
kinds of, doing those kinds of things as a child.
Interviewer: That is very interesting and there are many different ways to be
involved in the Jewish community.
Kohn: Well my cousins are much more involved than I am, my cousins the
Weilers. And the Weiler family as my mother’s history reveals I am sure. I don’t
know if Alan Weiler or Bobby, Bob Weiler have done interviews but I think that
they have been much more involved. And I’ve always said that probably had I
stayed in Columbus all those years, I probably would have been more involved
myself but having left here after Ohio State and not coming back until ’72,
through all those years when I was not in Columbus and therefore did not get
associated or involved with Jewish organizations and the truth of the matter is
that I think I was so busy with organizations in college that I really didn’t
want to get terribly involved once I got out of the Navy. I said, “I’ve
had enough of the organizational life.” So I really have not been very
active in Jewish organizations in Columbus.
Interviewer: And so as members of Beth Shalom then, you are not particularly
active or you feel a very strong…
Kohn: We feel a very strong bond because we were there very early on. I, we
knew Howard Apothaker when he first came to Columbus as an unmarried man and
Howard, we used to have Howard over, he used to come to our house for
Thanksgiving and a few other holidays. And so we got to know Howard very well.
And in the early days since there was such a limited membership, everybody had
to participate to some degree. And so we were much more active then. I was once
asked to serve as President but I turned that down because I really didn’t
feel it’s where my interests were nor did I want to be involved. I was too
involved with my work at that time to take on the responsibility. But we are
active today to the degree my wife is on the, I don’t know what they call it,
the Decorating Committee or whatever and she’s over there all the time for
meetings. I’ve served on a couple of committees on and off and so we’re very
much, feel very close to the Beth Shalom people.
Interviewer: And is there any other part of the Jewish institutional life in
Columbus that you are involved with?
Kohn: There really is not.
Interviewer: That’s fine.
Kohn: There really is not. I just have not been associated with any other
Jewish organizations in Columbus. I know of them and I’m familiar with the
people in them and between Denise and myself we know an awful lot of the
community. Of course our kids used to say, “There’s no place in Columbus
we can walk in, where you know, you must, between the two of you, you must know
everybody.” And I said, “Well at one time in Columbus that might have
been true. It’s not true any longer.” But our families of course didn’t
know each other because we just grew up in different, different segments and
different areas. But many of our friends today are people who have moved to
Columbus. While I still see the “gang I grew up with” quite often,
many, many of our friends are people who have moved here, migrated here.
Eleanore Yenkin, I was thinking of Eleanore Yenkin as I think of the Columbus
Historical Society because I was a member and I stopped being a member for some
reason years ago and it wasn’t that long ago, maybe two years ago, Bernie
Yenkin called me when they were having a membership drive…
Kohn: And I happened to be best man for Bernie Yenkin when he was married.
Bernie and I were very good friends in school and so when he and Miriam were
married I was their best man and so Bernie called me and said, “Hey you’re
not a member of the Historical Society.” You know, how could I say
“No” to Bernie Yenkin, you know? So that is, we really affiliated with
Interviewer: Well we are very happy to have you as a member again and if you
would like to get involved in other ways, we would be delighted.
Kohn: Thank you for the invitation.
Interviewer: And I wanted to ask about your kids then. How do they feel about
their Jewish identity.
Kohn: Well first of all, they all went to Torah Academy.
Interviewer: Oh my.
Kohn: That was prior to, or not prior to but it started prior to the time
that Denise and I were married and continued through some of the years we were
married. They all graduated from Torah Academy and then they went on, they only
went to the undergraduate, if you call it, or through whatever grade it was…
Interviewer: I think in those days…
Kohn: eighth grade…
Kohn: or whatever it was. And then they all went on to Columbus Public
Schools. They are not active in the Jewish community. Most of them, “most
of them” sounds like I have hundreds but you know there are only four…
Interviewer: Four is a good number.
Kohn: Four is a good number. They married, most of them intermarried. I
always kid and say at the Jewish holidays when we have everybody over, we have
more Catholics sitting around our table than we do Jews. They are not active in
Jewish organizations. One of my daughters whose name is Jennifer Lee now, her
husband is not Jewish but he wants the children to be brought up in the Jewish
religion and they have joined Beth Shalom.
Interviewer: That’s nice.
Kohn: The other children, I’m trying to think, the other children really do
not belong to any congregation and some of them do attend services. My daughter
Allison, her name is Allison Forchet now, she goes to, usually to services at
Tifereth Israel because that’s where she went to Sunday School when she was
younger so, so it’s a whole mixed bag as they say, as a lot of families are
Interviewer: Yes. Well I think you have a really fascinating story that Marc
Ralpael would have used, would like to use if he were to update his history of
the Columbus Jewish community.
Kohn: Yes probably, probably to carry on what was in there to begin with.
Interviewer: And I’m wondering if you reflect upon it, how do you think the
Jewish community has changed in the years that you’ve lived here which are now
quite a number of years?
Kohn: Well obviously it’s grown tremendously since when I, since the days
when I grew up. And I’m constantly amazed at the number of people in the
Jewish community that that I meet that I never knew, some of whom even grew up
in Columbus that I never knew. Because at one time I thought I must know pretty
much the Jewish community. It’s been, it’s been a real educational
experience to me after my marriage to Denise because Denise was much more
involved because of her father and her mother through the, through his having
started the first Jewish funeral home here. And it’s interesting to me now
that he, Denise’s mother died this past August and she was 90 years old. And
we just put Denise’s father into, as I mentioned earlier, into Sunrise of
But I spend a a lot of time with him and I hear stories of the early
days in the community and his business and how things were then and that’s a
whole part of the community I didn’t know when I was growing up. And I just, I’m
amazed by the size, by the number of things going on, by the number of
organizations and by, I’m very interested in the fact that so many people I
know are so active in organizations and I look at it and I say, “They’re
so active and I’m so inactive.” And why is that? And I think about that
every once in a while and I just think there’s just an awful lot going on in
the Jewish community today that didn’t exist when I was growing up.
Interviewer: Well now, and you are retired, yes?
Kohn: Yeah I’m not sure. Right now I’m in between deciding whether I’m
retired or not. I actually have stayed active in the retail real estate area up
until, up until the end of November. In fact for the past five years, even
though I was an independent contractor and carried my real estate license in
Ohio, I was doing site selection and lease negotiation for an outfit called
Petland Incorporated which is a chain store with headquarters strangely enough
in Chillicothe, Ohio, and was hired as an independent contractor to do that work
for them, where I worked with a fellow who had worked for me at the Kobacker
Company in real estate.
And I spent five years and I traveled around the country
and when we got a franchisee for a store, they would send me out to Boise or Los
Angeles or to wherever it was, to find a location for the store. So I was very
active and working pretty much full time until the end of November. Right now I,
since the end of November because of many family situations I didn’t want to
get too much involved again. But I’ll never really stop doing something in
that field. So I’m, I’m not fully retired. I’m not quite ready for that. I
can’t convince myself that at 75 you’re entitled to retire and I think it’s
good to keep active even if it’s only on a part-time basis.
Interviewer: I completely agree with that. Do you still sail?
Kohn: I stopped sailing within approximately three years after Denise and I
were married. And it wasn’t because she asked me to give it up. She thought I
should keep the boat. I sailed up at Hoover Dam for many years and I was pretty,
I’m not too conceited about most things but I am about my sailing. I was a
good sailor. Bernie Yenkin and I used to sail together some and my brother is a
sailor, was a sailor. But I was getting to the point where it was very hard to
find crew and there was another fellow who was in the same situation at Hoover
Yacht Club and so I decided, well I’ll sell my boat and I’ll crew with him
and part of the time I can crew and part of the time he can be skipper. And of
course as it often happens in those situations, within two years after I did
that he sold his boat. So that was the end of my official sailing.
So I do not sail any more although I still, it’s like riding a bicycle. You don’t forget
once you’ve done it. And every once in a while when we’re someplace where
you can rent a sailboat, I do that. And I have taken several cruises with some
friends and we sailed either off the coast of Maine or down in the Caribbean or
down on the Chesapeake Bay or that type of thing. But I miss it every once in a
while, but I’ve got enough in my life to keep me busy otherwise.
Interviewer: Well this has been really fascinating to me and I wonder if you
have any questions you would like to ask me?
Interviewer: On behalf of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society, I want to
thank you for contributing to the Oral History Project. This concludes the tape.
* * *
Transcribed by Honey Abramson
Edited by Toby Brief and Peggy Kaplan