This interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society is being recorded on March 24, 2012 as part of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society’s Oral History Project. My name is Flo Gurwin and I am interviewing Ruth Thall Quinn at her home.
Interviewer: I know you said you were born in Columbus, Ohio. Tell me about your early life in Columbus.
Quinn: Okay. I was considered a tomboy when I was little. I don’t remember how old I was, but I discovered very early that I couldn’t play tennis and kickball and baseball with a skirt. I used to wear my brother’s pants/slacks. I couldn’t afford ____. In those days, it could have been a business. I liked sports.
Interviewer: Did you participate in sports?
Quinn: Yes, in school. We lived a block away from Livingston Avenue Park, where Children’s Hospital is now. I used to go over there and play tennis. Do you know Sarah Alexander?
Quinn: We used to play there. My cousin, Tibey Thall and her sister Leah, now in California, were world table tennis champions. She was just inducted into the World Table Tennis Association. So we used to go to Livingston Avenue Park. I went to school there. That was right close to my house, maybe a block away. I got interested in music. To go back to the tomboy stuff – it was too hot, so I talked my mother into letting me get my hair cut. Mr. ____ at Lazarus, very popular at that time. He cut my hair just like it is now. I wore my brother’s slacks/pants, which we would call slacks now. He was always much thinner than I was. Still is. He is two years older than I am. His name is Coleman. They call him Coke. He lives in Florida. He just moved into an assisted living place and likes it. He is very independent. Since the Army, he has only had one good eye. Now he can’t taste or smell, but you know you say “Thank God it’s not worse.”
Interviewer: How many children were in your family?
Quinn: There were four of us. I was the baby. My brother was Abe, but he called himself Bertram Thall. He was a dentist on Broad Street. Adeline was next. She was called Addy. And then was my brother Coke and then me. My cousin worked at the radio station was at Ft. Hayes Hotel on Spring and High. It is WBNS now. She worked in the office there and also ran a kiddie show on Sundays. She brought kids in with all kinds of talent, and they got a box of chocolates. There was a place at Broad and High that gave out these boxes of chocolates. I won a box of chocolates, so I sang on her program. She heard me singing and gave me her father’s old violin. That was the end of my singing career. That’s how I got started. I used to walk from my house at 18th near Livingston to Settlement House where _________ and I paid a quarter a violin lesson. Then I graduated and, I forgot his name, they had a delicatessen everyone went to on Sundays on Washington and Donaldson. It was before Hepp’s. It was near the old Agudas Achim. This guy played the violin and was good. His teacher was right near our house across the street from the school as a matter of fact. He was an old German guy who couldn’t move his violin, but he taught. I went to him. Later my cousin got me a teacher that worked or played on this radio station. He had a dance band. He taught me for awhile. Right about the time I was married, in 1941, there was no symphony or orchestra to play in. I like orchestra playing rather than solo. So I knew there were a lot of good players from South High School, and I got them together. One of them is still left and we are in touch. Her name is Yvonne Stockdale, formerly Osborne. She was at my 90th – big blowout that my nieces gave me. So that is how I started the miniature Columbus Symphony Orchestra, which is what we called it. We put ads in the paper, which I typed on the neighbor’s typewriter and sent it in to the papers and we had tryouts for the orchestra at the old Jewish Center on Rich St., right across the street from the Hebrew School. The only reason I got to go was because after my brother’s bar mitzvah, he refused to go and my dad had already paid tuition. So I got to go. From the miniature symphony, there was a friend from South High School who worked at the Columbus Citizen, Scripps Howard paper. There was a guy that worked there that played trombone. She wanted him to come, so she brought him to rehearsals. We became good friends. He was good, and in fact, he became very famous. He just died recently in Florida. His name was Norman Nadel. He was from Rochester, NY. He married a Columbus girl, Martha Smith, not Jewish. They had three kids. We kept in touch until he died. I had been in and out of the hospital and couldn’t return his call. He lived in Naples, not far from my brother.
Interviewer: Did you conduct that orchestra?
Quinn: I talked my teacher into doing it. He didn’t want to because there were too many factions fighting each other in Columbus – Capital, Ohio State, and individuals. But I talked him into it. I think Norman was with me one time.
Interviewer: Was this the miniature orchestra?
Quinn: No, this was the Columbus Philharmonic. I conducted the miniature one. But I had to audition, too, even though I was one of the founders. My teacher conducted it first, but then I didn’t have to audition for him. After the first year they had a testimonial concert at the old Hartman Theater building. He got a lot of backers from that. I.J. Stone was a big Jewish name in Columbus and he backed us. After the first year, Norm Nadel was the one who instigated it, but he felt that Ruvinsky was limited as a conductor. However, Ruvinsky had played under Toscanini. He was from Russia. He was the conductor of the first Columbus Philharmonic. His name was Abram Ruvinsky. So Norm brought in ______ Solomon from Chicago, who conducted the Women’ Symphony in Chicago, which was famous. I had to audition for him. So I played first violin in that orchestra for 6-7 years until my son was born. That was 1941 when we brought the Columbus Philharmonic.
Interviewer: What happened in 1941?
Quinn: World War II for one. We got married in that year. We started the Philharmonic that year.
Interviewer: How long did that last?
Quinn: It was still going on when I left. I was going to leave when I got pregnant, but Solomon called me up and begged me to stay because he was losing all his players to the war. So I stayed on but I was nauseous the whole pregnancy. It always felt like I was going to vomit, but I didn’t. I’m sitting on the stage wondering what would happen. But I lived through it and nothing happened. It was a great year. We love it.
Interviewer: What happened after you left the symphony?
Quinn: Well, our kids were born and I started helping my husband in his business. I used to go to conventions with him. He had candy machines and candy. I used to work in the office and did whatever had to be done, whether it was a matter of separating parts, doing stock work, sweeping the garage. I did everything. The benefit was that I got to go on these trips with him. We always stayed after a convention a couple of days, wherever it happened to be – Jamaica, Hawaii, or wherever. So we squeezed in a couple of days after the convention. It was hard work at the convention because he wouldn’t miss one booth on the convention floor. We had to see everybody. As a matter of fact, one of the wholesalers took a picture of us and sent it to us. It said, “Are you still just looking?” He wore a sign that said that on it. I kept that for a long time. My husband was in wholesale and retail. It was called Confection Products Company on Livingston Avenue after being on Champion and Main. It was supposed to be wholesale, but he would sell to anybody who walked in and let them buy whatever they wanted in small lots. He was a good guy.
Interviewer: How did you meet your husband?
Quinn: A blind date. I was getting migraine headaches and my brother had his dental office. Dr. Abramson (Ruth’s husband) was a general practitioner and an ardent Zionist. My brother took good care of us, free dental work all our lives practically until his later years. Dr. Abramson said I needed to have more fun. He had a wife who was a concert pianist and still had time for fun. So I had a girlfriend who lived across the street that had been bothering me and wanted me to join her club. It was a poor girls’ sorority. One girl wanted to fix me up for a Valentine’s Day party. I didn’t like her because she didn’t have too good a reputation. I said that I would get my own date. My sister had a friend whose father was a tailor on Main Street. Leonard rented his storeroom at that time, in the basement. She said that she would fix me up. He called me up and I fell in love with his voice on the telephone. We broke up many many many times. We had long discussions about what is real love. Is this love? We should date other people and see. But we always came back. The last time, Lazarus had a special promotional sale that sold albums of symphonic music, 78 records. I still have some and have been converting a lot of them for $5.00. So he had a collection but didn’t have room because he roomed with somebody. Next to Roosevelt School but really on Lockbourne, a block away. So the last time we broke up, he had me keep his records because he didn’t have a phonograph player. We had one. The final time he took his records back with him. I don’t know what happened, but we got together again. We dated a year and a half before we got married.
Interviewer: And you had how many children?
Quinn: We had three children but many miscarriages, four before that and one after.
Interviewer: Do all your children live in Columbus?
Quinn: No. The only one I have left is the youngest, a psychiatrist in Israel. His name is Gary Quinn. Yesterday, with all the disturbing news of the bombing in Jerusalem, I called him on his cell phone. He was in the emergency room treating patients. He did call me back after he got home but didn’t talk too long. He was very tired. He felt satisfied because that’s the kind of work he really would have liked to do.
Interviewer: He is the only child you have left?
Quinn: Yes. The other two died – David and Susan. Leonard was still alive when they went through it. It was a lot easier and Gary was a big help. He got married and was living in New York. He went to Yeshiva University and married a girl from St. Louis. But they both wanted to make aliyah. They live north of Jerusalem a little bit.
Interviewer: And you have how many grandchildren?
Quinn: I have six and one great grandchild. Of the five, one lives here. He just called me today. His name is Jason Scott Quinn, and he is an actor and he teaches online. There is another Jason Quinn, so he goes by Jason Scott. His mother lives in NJ, so now they live ten minutes away from her, so she is a big help with the little girl, age 3. The oldest grandchild is in Hungary in medical school. This is her last year there. She worked last summer at Hadassah Hospital and will go back there splitting time between Hadassah and Shaare Tzedek to do her rotations. She was here one summer and went up to the university with only a white coat which she had from Israel. Everyone thought she was a doctor. She got into places where she could watch surgery. She wants to go into obstetrics. From Ahavas Sholom, there was a Dr. Portman who took her around. She got into things that were unbelievable. All of the other grandchildren are in Israel.
Interviewer: Have you been to Israel?
Quinn: Many times. I love it. It is amazing to me how every time I go back there, the improvements and everything.
Interviewer: Besides your music, what do you enjoy doing?
Quinn: Lots of things. I can’t play anymore, but I love to listen to it. The arthritis is bad. There is only one violin ________ left in the city. It is way up north. I don’t drive anymore. JD took my violin up there and got it in tiptop shape. I couldn’t even turn the page to tune it anymore. I like to sketch but haven’t done that for awhile. I’m not an artist. My daughter was an artist. She could do anything, whether sculpture or painting, etc. I’ve got pictures of some of her stuff. I watch my old time movies at night. I go to the movies every night.
Interviewer: What is your favorite movie?
Quinn: I’ve got a lot of them. The last one Judy Garland did – “I Must Go On Singing” or something like that. Cary Grant is one of my favorites, as is Fred Astaire. I like light things. These are comedies really. I have plenty that I watch. So I have lots to do. I’ve been wanting to get back to my sketching but I’ve been too busy.
Interviewer: Where did you learn how to sketch?
Quinn: My mom used to help my father, and we lived next door to an old German lady who took in laundry to make her living. She had a daughter and a son. The daughter was a secretary at the old Roosevelt Junior High. At night when her daughter would go out on a date, she would work crossword puzzles. She would give me a pencil and scrap paper, and I used to copy from the comics. She would critique. That’s how I got started. I really love it. There was a sketch club in either junior high or high school as an extra course. I joined the sketch club but dropped out because they had a form. You had to draw a circle and divide it here and there. Here’s where they eyes went, here’s where the nose went. I didn’t like that. I just drew what I saw. I have a collection of my sketches and a collection of my daughter’s work that she did. That was my thing to do. It was years until we got a radio. We didn’t have television in those days. We kept ourselves busy, you know? I didn’t know how to sew or thread a needle. My next door neighbor taught me how to thread a needle. I didn’t care for that.
Interviewer: What kind of business were your parents in?
Quinn: Produce business. Thall. He had an outdoor market on Fourth Street. He had one on North Market, which is still in existence. He was a member of the first association they formed there. I remember that place, an old barn of a place when they first had it, but then they fixed it up. I worked for a florist that had a stall there – Alwood Florist. It is still up there on N. High St. One grandson is out in Reynoldsburg. I used to work for her. In fact, she had greenhouses right across from the stadium. She owned land that the river goes on. She built a walkway across to the greenhouses in the fall. She couldn’t have outdoor plants, so she used that and charged people a quarter to walk across, and then she would sell them these big mums for a quarter. She had a good business going there. I helped her in my teens. Once she had me for Easter time working at a stall that was empty. I was in charge. I got my girlfriend to help me, and before the day was over, we sold every plant in that place. Plants were good and people wanted them, you know? I didn’t have to be a sales person. Anything to make a buck.
Interviewer: It sounds like you enjoyed doing it. Do you still love flowers?
Quinn: Yes. They are starting to come up in the back, my narcissus. There are some hyacinths on the side of the house that always come up this time of the year, but I can’t see out of the window because the TV is in front of it.
Interviewer: It sounds like you have had an interesting life.
Quinn: Oh, yeah, very much, with lots of different things going on.
Interviewer: What would you say was the highlight of your life?
Quinn: Marrying Leonard. Before that was the Philharmonic under Solomon, which was great. I took a few private lessons with him for awhile. There was one time when the Philharmonic was on a nationwide hookup. There was some kind of a program, and I remember the oboe player at the time was Bob Buxbaum, and he had a recording studio on Broad Street. He recorded the program. I had a recorder that wasn’t a good recorder. It was just before FM came in. It was scratchy, but the orchestra was good. I had a lot of highlights.
Interviewer: What do you like to do best now?
Quinn: I don’t do too much. I like the physical therapy I was getting, but I’m finished with most of that now. At one time we took dancing lessons. I loved that. My girlfriend’s sister taught at the old Jewish Center. Our whole gang used to go for lessons there. We learned ballroom dancing, tango, rumba, things like that. There are only four of us left now. I loved that. In fact, at one time before we turned my basement into an office, we used to clear everything out and would practice down there. They had fun. But, of course, I can’t do any of that anymore. Time marches on.
Interviewer: What else would you like people to know about you?
Quinn: I don’t know. I like people.
Interviewer: That’s a good thing, and I have a feeling they like you as well.
Quinn: Some do. I don’t know about the others.
Interviewer: So you’ve lived in Columbus all your life.
Quinn: Yes. We lived in the one house on Livingston right across from the fire station. I have always been prone to things happening to me. My mom had the neighbor boy take me to the park. While we were there, a couple of guys were having a fight and argument. They picked up a broken bottle and threw it. We were standing behind and I got hit in the eye. I had so much blood that they walked me down to the gutter. There was a very nice black doctor living next to us. He stitched it up and did a good job. All the kids went to Children’s Hospital for anything we needed, shots, etc., and they never charged. To this day I make donations there because that is one of my favorite organizations. One time I was standing on the porch watching kids from a couple doors away, and they were swinging a steel ball on a string. The string broke, flew and hit me in the hip. There’s a story there.
Interviewer: You were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Quinn: That’s life.
Interviewer: I see that you also belonged to B’nai B’rith Women and Hadassah. Were you active in those two organizations?
Quinn: Not really active. I donated to them but didn’t have time for any organization work. My sister-in-law and I used to make pancakes for up on campus at Chanukah time. I did things like that that I could do.
Interviewer: It sounds like you have had an interesting life.
Quinn: Oh, yeah. No complaints whatsoever.
Interviewer: That’s good.
Quinn: Music was my highlight, favorite, passion. Sketching was second.
Interviewer: Thank you for interviewing with me today. I appreciate it.
Quinn: I liked talking to you.
Transcribed 13 July, 2013