This is Naomi Schottenstein. Today is June 17, 2004. We’re in the office of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society at 1175 College Avenue. We’re interviewing Skip Yassenoff.
Interviewer: Skip. Is that your real name?
Yassenoff: My real name is Solly Leo Yassenoff. According to my mother, I’ve been “Skip” since I was born and my Dad said that he named me after my two cousins from Dayton: Leo, who mostly lived in Columbus and his brother Solly, who was really Solomon but went by “Solly”. Of course, now I know that traditionally you wouldn’t name someone after living relatives so I’m not sure if my Dad didn’t know that, or of course, the names Solomon and Leo are family names and I was named after previously-deceased people.
Interviewer: Not everybody accepts that, especially if they’re not Orthodox or Conservative.
Yassenoff: I’m definitely reformed.
Interviewer: That probably had some influence on it. Is your family originally Yassenoff or were there other origins of that name?
Yassenoff: That’s pretty much the name. I have discovered relatives in Rhode Island, another family that immigrated after ours and they spelled their name Y-o-s-i-n-o-f-f, so Yassenoff may not be exactly the pronunciation. And I’ve discovered a relative in Ukraine and he spells his name essentially the same way, Y-a-s-i-n-o-v, so you can see the English spelling of the same name.
Interviewer: Can you tell us how your family came to the United States?
Yassenoff: What happened was, they all lived in a city called Kirovograd, Elisavetgrad. One of the earlier pogroms in Russia, I believe it was in 1880 during Passover and it was a very nasty pogrom, and supposedly Isaac Yassenoff, who was a young man, killed a Russian military person during the pogrom so he fled, I believe it was through Hamburg, and got to New York and for some reason HIAS (Hebrew Immigration Aid Society) sent him to Dayton, Ohio. Maybe there were some distant relatives there or maybe there was just a relative there or a family willing to take him in.
Interviewer: Do you know what year it may have been?
Yassenoff: I think he probably arrived in 1881, so he found his way to Dayton and apparently, he sent word back to the rest of the family and his four brothers came over one by one and then later his parents as well came over.
Interviewer: Where and when were you born?
Yassenoff: I was born in Columbus at Grant Hospital, December 17, 1949. I think it was part of the hospital that was just imploded.
Interviewer: Have you ever lived in any other city?
Yassenoff: I never lied anywhere else. I went to college here at Ohio State, as well.
Interviewer: What was your father’s family business?
Yassenoff: My father was Frank Yassenoff and after he changed jobs and maybe small businesses was able to build a drive-in theater in 1940 on Riverside Drive on the northwest side of Columbus and after the War he was able to expand that business and at the time of his death in 1970,1 believe he had six drive-in theaters.
Interviewer: Drive-in theaters were fairly new at that time, weren’t they?
Yassenoff: That was the first drive-in in Central Ohio, probably the first or second even in the State of Ohio.
Interviewer: I’m trying to understand the reason for starting a drive-in theater.
Yassenoff: That’s a good question. I’m trying to put myself in his position and think what his thinking was. I know he told me that jobs he had in early childhood, including working in a theater as a projectionist, but he had a lot of jobs as a young man. I know that he hauled ice to people’s ice boxes before refrigeration and I know that he was a newsboy and he had all these different jobs so -the first drive-in theater was built in New Jersey in the early ’30s – the first in the world, no doubt, what we’re defining as a drive-in theater. So I’m guessing that he heard about this and tried to figure out a way to get one developed and everything lined up and he was able to do this. He had a partner when he started off and he probably maybe got a loan from a concession operator for the rights to the concession stand.
Interviewer: Who was his partner?
Yassenoff: I believe his last name was Beck, if I remember correctly, but I don’t think they stayed partners very long. They had a pretty rough time getting started. Back then drive-in theaters didn’t have in-car speakers hanging on the posts as we have today. They just had these big blast speakers on top of the screen. Then, across the Scioto River from the drive-in there were these pretty nice homes at that time and these people had money, so the first thing that happened was they got an injunction against it and I have pictures as well as ads from the newspaper that a month later he was advertising that he had one speaker for every two cars and a couple of weeks after that, individual car speakers and I have these photos of these posts with little boxes on them because the individual drive-in movie speakers didn’t exist at the time and worse than that was that the ground up there had this limestone very close to the surface and what they did was they strung the wire overhead because they couldn’t trench and when you’d look at the screen you’d be looking through the occasional wire directly in your line or sight. So that was a problem.
Then there was World War II – there was gas rationing and Riverside Drive South of Rt. 161 may not seem like it’s out there today because it’s inside the Outerbelt but believe me, it was out there in 1940. Then Dad got drafted and he was pretty old. He was born in 1906 and I think he got drafted around 1944 as they kept calling in older and older people to fill the needs for the War, so he had to leave his attorney, Joe Eisenberg, in charge, so Joe took care of things. My Dad wasn’t in the service very long. He didn’t make it past Fort Hood, then he was returned.
So he had to deal with the sound problem, the gas rationing and being called into the service, but he kept going and then after the War a lot of drive-ins were built and he was certainly one of the builders in Central Ohio.
Interviewer: That was pretty gutsy. There was a lot of stuff going on in the world!
Yassenoff: Exactly. I’m sure it was all on a shoestring, as well. There are very few drive-in’s now. There are probably around 500 in the country. Ohio actually has the most drive-ins of any state. We probably have about 40 or 45 in Ohio. I’ve had a monopoly of three in Columbus for several years until the end of 2001 when I sold the property at my drive-in in Delaware and then last year I sold the one on East Main Street to the State of Ohio so now we have just one drive-in in Central Ohio.
Interviewer: It sounds like you stepped into your father’s business. Did you?
Yassenoff: Yes I did, in 1970 when he passed away. I’d been familiar with the business having grown up in it and was in college at the time so I had to take over his responsibilities.
Interviewer: Where do you remember living as a youngster?
Yassenoff: First we lived on North Roosevelt. Then we moved to Brentwood, actually it was the house the Yenkins live in now and then Leon Schottenstein lived right behind us and Tommy and I played as children. So then my parents were separated when I was in first grade so my Mom had her series of residences and my Father had his series of residences. My Mom had a twin single on Kellner Place. That’s where I went to James Road Elementary and my sister Peggy lived next door. That was part of the twin single. And she had a baby at the time, Bonnie, so when Peggy married Stanley Katz and moved out, so then my Mom sold the twin single and we moved to 394 S. Broadleigh. That’s when I started middle school at Johnson Park and then my Mom remarried. She married Paul Offenberg and they built a house out on Greenbrier on Farms Drive.
So I moved out there with them. My Dad was living in apartments and when I turned 161 chose to live with him. He’d been living for quite a while on Ferndale, which is off of Livingston Avenue right near College Avenue here and so they had purchased a house out in Walnut Ridge school district ’cause that’s where I was going to high school, off or Country Club Road, so I lived there with him my last two years of high school.
Interviewer: Did you have grandparents that you remember at all?
Yassenoff: On my Father’s side, no, they were both gone before I was born and on my Mother’s side, the Cherry family, yes I remember both her father and mother.
Interviewer: Tell me about your Mother, her maiden name and ….
Yassenoff: She was Dorothy Cherry, primarily from Cincinnati and my Dad met her because she worked for one of the film companies. All the movie companies had offices in Cincinnati. There was a street there called “Film Row”, that’s what everybody called it, and she worked for RKO. People today wouldn’t remember that RKO produced movies but they were very big at the time, so she was one of the bookers. My Dad would go to Cincinnati every week and then we would make the rounds of the film companies getting movies booked, as we would call it, for his theaters. They became friendly and they started dating and she was not Jewish. She was a Southern Baptist and so they married after the War and she moved to Columbus.
I always assumed that when they got married she converted or she converted before they got married but the last year that she was still alive I was spending some nice moments with her. Maybe I would take her to the doctor or help her with things around the apartment and we would sit and talk. And so somehow we got to talking about when she converted and she said, “Well, I didn’t convert right away. We just married.”
And she said, “But we’d run around with your Dad’s friends who were mostly Jewish and they were such nice people that I started educating myself in religion and I liked it. It gave me something that I was not getting previously that I needed.”
I was really surprised. I didn’t realize that’s how it had occurred. Like most converts, they have more enthusiasm than those that are born into it. She got involved in the Jewish community. She was President of Women’s B’nai B’rith two times and she worked at the Chronicle quite a bit and she worked also at the Federation and then ultimately she was asked to become the Administrator at Temple Israel and she was there I’m not sure how many years but quite a few …. most of my time in high school….
Interviewer: Your parents separated at what point in your life?
Yassenoff: Well I know I started second grade at different schools so it must have been some time during first grade.
Interviewer: Your Mother eventually remarried, did she?
Yassenoff: To Paul Offenberg. They were married for twenty years or so. They divorced later. Mother had two brothers. My Uncle Bob lived in Cincinnati. He just died two years ago and her youngest brother, Paul, he always lived in St. Louis and he worked for Monsanto. He’s retired from there, still living in St. Louis with his wife.
Interviewer: Have you kept in touch with your Mom’s family?
Yassenoff: Yes, in fact I visit my Uncle Bud at the nursing home in Cincinnati when we come down there. My wife is from Cincinnati as well so she has relatives there.
Interviewer: You do have a sister Peggy; we know that. Is she your only sibling?
Yassenoff: Yes and no. Peggy’s my half-sister from a previous marriage of my Mother’s and she had a full brother, Robert, who is deceased now. He was an attorney here in Columbus. He passed away roughly two or three years ago. Their last name was Hammersmith.
Interviewer: Tell us about your family.
Yassenoff: My wife is Karen Killian from Cincinnati and we met at Ohio State. It was the end of my sophomore year and the end of her freshman year. I had pledged a fraternity that was a business fraternity, Delta Sigma Pi. We said we were a business and social; we do have a house. I had not been interested in fraternities previously. My uncle Lee was a Sammie (Sigma Alpha Mu) and of course our cousin Leo was a ZBT and I wasn’t interested but I ran into a friend, Pete Sidney, who had just become active in this fraternity, Delta Sigma Pi, and he talked me into pledging and I had just gone through Hell Week and was celebrating with beers with the active members and the Senior Vice President suggested that we should double date the next Saturday night with his girlfriend and his girlfriend’s roommate in the dormitory.
I didn’t really want to do this because the next weekend was the weekend before Finals Week and of course I hadn’t really studied much that Spring Quarter because of the fraternity but I said, “Yes”, and, but I wanted the girl’s phone number. I decided I’d have a lunch date with her during the week and see if it was worth spending Saturday night.
So that was that. We had a great lunch, had a great time, went out Saturday night, Sunday night, Monday night, Tuesday night, Wednesday night, and Thursday night. We continued to date through college and married in 1973.
Interviewer: So you graduated from Ohio State?
Yassenoff: Yes, in ’72. I graduated in Winter of ’72 and she graduated Spring of ’72.
Interviewer: Did you have a big wedding?
Yassenoff: Not so big. The wedding was at the Seminary at Capital because she is Lutheran and a Lutheran minister officiated but he guided me through the parts that I could participate in and which parts I could not. There were probably 150 people there and then the reception was at Donka’s.
Interviewer: I remember Donka’s. That was a fond memory for all of us, a party house. The Seminary at Lutheran is beautiful.
Yassenoff: Yes, I like classic places and it’s a classic.
Interviewer: Tell us about your children.
Yassenoff: Our first-born is Erik. He was born in 1980. He graduated from, we live in Upper Arlington so he graduated from high school there. College – George Washington, he graduated in year 2003. Currently works in Governor Taft’s office as an Assistant to the Advisor of the Business and Industry.
Our other child in Julie; she was born in 1983 and graduated from Upper Arlington and she’s currently a rising senior at Parsons School of Design in New York City.
Interviewer: They’re both single? You have a lot to look forward to. Tell us about some of the memories you have with your children growing up. How did you operate as a family? What were some of their favorite things to do and your favorite things to do with them?
Yassenoff: We’ve done a lot of things. We’ve had a lot of great vacations together. Done things like scuba diving with Erik; tried to involve myself with whatever they were interested in. We played tennis until Erik could finally beat me and then he doesn’t want to play with me anymore. He usually would choke when he had a chance to beat me but he finally, but the last time, I choked. That’s how he won.
My wife likes to travel and she’s taken them on vacations in the summer when I don’t really want to go and they’ve been everywhere. My wife and Erik were in Russia when the coup occurred and with the fall of Communism they were with the University on a trip and we didn’t hear from them for a couple of days but they were fine. They’d already left Moscow by then.
My son got into Boy Scouting and rather than drop him off and come back in an hour and a half, I got involved. I wasn’t much of a camper prior to that or after that but I became an assistant Scoutmaster.
My daughter is definitely totally different from me since she’s interested in art but I’ve gotten myself knowledgeable about art and fashion and I think one of our best times together was when I took her to New York to pick out a prom dress and look at colleges.
Interviewer: That’s a fun thing to do! This is particularly interesting to me because I have a seventeen-year-old granddaughter who’s going to Parsons this summer for a high school program so we’re into talking about that a lot. Your daughter’s job now?
Yassenoff: She’s done some unpaid internships, Calvin Klein, trying to gain some experience. She worked at Calvin Klein. She’s had two internships there, one with DKNY and she’s spent some summers in New York. She’s home this summer. School at Parsons is very rigorous and she’s just relaxing.
Interviewer: You have to unwind every so often.
Yassenoff: Catch up on your sleep, relax. She’s hanging out with her close friends from high school.
Interviewer: Have you lived in many homes, different houses, since you’ve been married?
Yassenoff: Three houses. Originally we lived at 1677 Cardiff, behind Lane Avenue Shopping Center. And then when Karen was expecting Erik we decided the house wasn’t large enough so we located a house that was for sale on Sherwin Road north of Lane Avenue. As a matter of fact, Sharon Cohodes had the listing and I knew Sharon and so we worked with Sharon both purchasing that house and selling our previous house. We lived there, really, most of the time when our kids were growing up from 1980 until 2001 and with Julie ready to head off to college, we decided we needed to move and unlike some people moving into smaller houses, we moved into a bigger house at 5090 Squirrel Bend and that’s where we are now. So three houses, all in Upper Arlington.
Interviewer: How do you celebrate holidays? You have two different religions involved here?
Yassenoff: My wife brought both of the children up as Lutherans so the Christian holidays obviously were primary but we observe the primary Jewish holidays as well. Passover, frequently we went to Peggy’s house and particularly when she was married to Stanley, that was always a very well done affair and Stanley was excellent at conducting and Peggy’s kids were younger than I was and they were older than my kids and they were very interesting ages to enjoy Passover with. Subsequently we would still go to Peggy’s but frequently we’d put on our own Seder as well at our house. And my wife, she likes cooking Passover food and of course, we love the story.
Interviewer: So your children know a lot about, enough about the story, about both religions?
Yassenoff: Yes, they’ve come to Temple Israel with me on occasion, on Yahrzeits, and my wife, most of the time on Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur.
Interviewer: So you belong to Temple Israel?
Yassenoff: Yes, that’s where I grew up.
Interviewer: How do you maintain family relationships with relatives? Do you have reunions or get-togethers?
Yassenoff: It’s an on-and-off situation. On my wife’s side they used to have annual reunions in Wapokaneta because that’s where my Grandmother lived. She passed away so now our reunions are mostly funerals, major birthdays and weddings, of course. On my side, on my Dad’s side, there isn’t anybody and on my Mother’s side it’s been a while but with my uncle’s family in St. Louis, occasionally there’s a get-together there but it’s been a long time. So there’s cards and letters and E-mail.
Interviewer: As a child, you mentioned that you spent time with your Dad at the theaters. Did you have any other jobs as a youngster?
Yassenoff: I almost always worked for my father. When I was probably five years old, small enough to sit on his lap, I would help him sell tickets at the East Side Drive-In Theater on Main Street or Robinwood and my reward was a big Coke and a Hershey Bar. Both of those have gone in opposite directions. The Hershey Bar, I’m not sure you can buy one that big today. Now they’re all small, and the large Coke which was probably a 12-ounce, today a large Coke is at least 32 ounces. But that was my first job and that was my pay and as I got to be 13 or 14,1 could fix speakers at home and I spent all the Summers with him.
He would drop me off at one of the Drive-Ins, usually on the east side like the East Side, or the Airport Drive-In, and I could do painting or kill weeds or whack weeds and the worst job was gravelling. Like at the East Side he would have this dump truck dump an entire load of gravel and leave me there all day with a wheelbarrow and a shovel and I had to wheel the gravel to all the holes. Well I would do the holes closest to the gravel first, but eventually I had to do the ones that were in the twelfth row, which had to be 200 yards away. You know it was hot, you did have access to water and the East Side was a good location because across the street was a pharmacy that had a fountain so I could go over there. And the Airport had a bowling alley across the street and they had a lunch counter there.
Interviewer: So you had advantages somewhere along the line. It almost sounded like slave labor, but you got through it.
Yassenoff: It was 75 cents an hour. Then later when I could drive, I could go to all the drive-ins and carry tools and do a little more. He also became the operator of a speedway in Columbus. It was the Powell Motor Speedway and I’m thinking I was probably roughly 12 years old at the time, so he had the concessions leased out to a concessionaire but nevertheless, I was allowed to have a candy table by one of the entrances and he would take me to buy the candy wholesale. Then on Saturday night which was usually the night that we ran the races, I would sell candy and I would make what seemed like a lot of money selling candy. Then I graduated to Sno-cones and that was even better. Those were my jobs and I never really worked for anybody, only for my Dad.
Interviewer: Those sound like fun things that kids your age would have enjoyed. Tell us about the friends you had as a youngster. I mean being in this kind of business, you must have, and living in the neighborhoods as you did, you must remember some of your friends and what you did as youngsters.
Yassenoff: I think I’ll start at seventh grade when you’re old enough to really have some fun and we had just moved to South Broadleigh and I was just starting middle school at Johnson Park which actually was Eastmoor Junior at Johnson Park. Eastmoor Junior wasn’t finished but they kept us separated from the students that were supposed to be at Johnson Park, which were students that I went to elementary school with at James Road. So I actually knew virtually everybody at Johnson Park because I came from the traditional Johnson Park feeding area for students so the very first day of seventh grade, I was walking towards the bus stop with Richard Smith who lived like catty-corner behind us. As we got to the corner of Dale and Harding, there’s a boy walking down Harding towards Dale to get to the bus stop, that Richard knew and that was Larry Blazar and it wasn’t the first day but the first week of school, he asked me if I was interested in Go-carts.
As a matter of fact I definitely was and I’d had a Go-cart. We went out to this place behind Town and Country and went Go-cart riding. I think his mother probably took us out and we became really life-long friends, college roommates. So that’s, I remember him very well.
Interviewer: Are you still friendly with Larry Blazar?
Yassenoff: Yes. We live on opposite sides of Columbus but yeah, we were friendly and he came last night to the program.
Interviewer: I thought I saw him. That was my neighborhood, Harding Road and Dale. Any other kids you remember during those years?
Yassenoff: Well I was involved with AZA with the Capital Chapter. (AZA was the teen and young men’s offshoot of B’nai B’rith. – Editor)
Interviewer: Where was AZA held at that time?
Yassenoff: Well there was the original Jewish Center on College; we held meetings there and we did sports. We had a softball team and a football team. Most of the members of Capital were students from Eastmoor so we pretty much knew each other from Eastmoor, although by that time I was at Walnut Ridge. I knew all the Eastmoor kids, especially the Jewish ones. Larry Blazar and his older brother, Joey, were members. That’s how I got in and later his younger brother, Bill, and then there were the Haas Brothers, Daryl and Ronnie, the Bosters, Mark and Chuck. Chuck was my age. And Beryl Oser. A lot of good friends for about three years there in Capital.
In high school I had a few friends there at Walnut Ridge that I don’t really keep in contact with anymore. Bowling was my only activity. My Dad took his Drive-in profits and was one of the early investors in bowling alleys when the automatic pin-spotter revolutionized the business. He partnered with Nat Fast who had a seat-cover business on High Street with Lou Goldfarb and Nat was an excellent promoter but had limited money available and if I have the numbers right, I think Nat put in about $20 thousand, my Dad put in about $60 thousand and we then could build Graceland Lanes in Graceland Shopping Center on North High Street.
Don Casto owned the Center and it was Don Casto, Senior, and they were willing to build the building and AMF would provide the machines and the pin-spotters on lease and Berlo Vending, which was the concessionaire my dad had always done business with in the Drive-in theater, was willing to put in the snack bar and the lounge plus provide money. So on another shoestring Dad immersed himself into the bowling alley and it did tremendous.
Within a couple of years my Dad was building Northern Lights without Nat Fast and Nat went on to Piketon and Amos and some other lanes outside Columbus in other cities.
Interviewer: You’re talking about bowling lanes, not entire shopping centers?
Yassenoff: Doing well – my Dad always did bowl and I probably bowled some as a little person. I remember bowling at the Center when they had pin boys and I could only throw the ball down the gutter and some pin boy would take a pin an set it up in the gutter so I could knock a pin over!
Then being with my Dad all Summer and him spending a lot of time at the bowling alley, I started bowling a lot so he ultimately built two more locations, Western Lanes at Sullivant and Georgesville and his last one was Berwick Plaza, really just down College Avenue here and that was close to home so I had bowling leagues there and I had a lot of friends from bowling there with mostly east side and south side kids.
Interviewer: Did you have a BarMitzvahl Or did you go to Sunday School?
Yassenoff: I went to Sunday School at Temple Israel starting at the one on Bryden and then subsequently the one at 1-270 and Broad and I was confirmed there and my Mom asked if I was interested in Hebrew lessons and being Bar Mitzvahed and I was very shy and so I didn’t want to do that. Usually my Mom would just make me, and to this day I do not know why she did not press the issue. I guess I wish now that I’d been Bar Mitzvahed but at the time I was happy, you know.
Interviewer: You can still be Bar Mitzvahed, you know.
Yasenoff: Yes I know that. I’ve thought about it but Hebrew and I have a long ways to go. I was confirmed and I had a regular attendance record since Sunday School and Rabbi Folkman would hand out reports based on your attendance records. I didn’t have the best attendance records so I didn’t get the first pick but I probably had a pick in the top five. Again, I was shy and some of these parts were paragraphs, maybe a page!
Interviewer: Parts for….
Yassenoff: Parts of the Confirmation Service. I picked one of the Ten Commandments, you know which one’s about three words in Hebrew and I think I picked, “Thou shalt not murder”, so here again, just like with the BarMitzvah, I shunned being the center of attention.
Interviewer: Tell us about Peggy (Kaplan). She’s your other sibling, so tell us about her family.
Yassenoff: Peggy’s first child was Bonnie. Peggy was married to Tommy Burrows who I believe she met at the Center. I think he was a swimming instructor, a handsome man, so they had a child, Bonnie, Bonnie Sue, and she divorced Tommy and was single for quite some time. She was a dental assistant with Oscar Weston, who with his son, David, had been my lifelong dentist until David retired some years ago. I still go to the same practice.
Then Petty married Stanley Katz and she and Stanley had four children: Michelle, followed a year later by Ten, and Tobi and finally a son, Joshua. Michelle has two children, a boy and a girl and Teri has twin girls and a son and Tobi has four children, two boys and two girls, I believe.
Interviewer: Her family has grown.
Yassenoff: Yes. Once Tobi got started, she kept going,
Interviewer: I noticed last night at the installation.
Yassenoff: You know Teri and Michelle both live in Atlanta and Teri was passing
through Columbus on her way to Detroit for a friend of her mother’s recently passed away and they were having a memorial service so Teri was here with her three kids and that was a surprise. Peggy is now married to Harry Kaplan.
Interviewer: Tell us about your business life.
Yassenoff: I always liked the Drive-in theaters and I always looked forward to working with him in Drive-ins, which really didn’t happen, as far as doing it as a college graduate and as an adult. He passed away in March of 1970 and I started doing what he had been doing, operating the Drive-ins. I purchased an additional Drive-in a year after that from my cousin, Leo, the South Drive-in Theater, and I actually got to know Leo better during that transaction and then Drive-in business started going downhill so I started closing Drive-ins. I did purchase another one, the Kingman Drive-in in Delaware, and you know, a lot of people who operate Drive-in theaters also operate flea markets so that became my next business and from starting an outdoor flea market at the South Drive-in, I ended up with three Drive-in flea markets and then I started acquiring leases on old buildings and doing indoor flea markets which at one time I had three of those. Currently I have two indoor flea markets and I just have the one outdoor flea market remaining at the Drive-in.
Interviewer: It sounds like you’re semi-retired.
Yassenoff: No, not really. I also like real estate. My Dad liked real estate. I played a lot of Monopoly when I was growing up so I had a real estate mentality. The real estate he purchased was just vacant acreage which he would hold and speculate on and in time it would appreciate and he would sell the property for a nice profit. I tried that but did not have the patience and quickly switched to income-producing properties, primarily invested in small warehouse properties that I have either acquired or constructed. They’re not as interesting as the Drive-in movie theaters. At a cocktail party I tell people I’m in the movie business and that’s usually more colorful than warehouses.
Interviewer: It created these sparks – warehouses just don’t have it, do they? We’re going to turn this tape over to Side B.
You were telling us about your current business situation. Your time is pretty much your own, though, isn’t it? Can you still enjoy some of the sports activities and your own adventures?
Yassenoff: I guess I’m fortunate having my own business. I do what I want to do and I’m also fortunate to have good employees in the office and I try to make things run as much as possible by themselves.
Interviewer: Where is your office?
Yassenoff: It’s at 865 King Avenue, two blocks west of Olentangy on the edge of
Grandview. I like to golf and I’m not very good at it but I like to play golf once or twice a week. My wife and I like to travel and I’ll take a golf trip in the Winter and maybe a ski trip in a typical Winter, somewhere we haven’t been or somewhere where it’s warm, so we’re able to do that.
Interviewer: Where do you like to ski?
Yassenoff: Definitely out West – Colorado is good, Utah. What I like best about skiing other than just the true skiing, is some of the interesting towns that are basically home to the ski resorts. These are places you’d never go to, just for the sake of going there, but once you get there you find that there’s a good history to he town and tremendous ambiance so we enjoy going again to different places. At this point we’ve been to most of the well-known ones and we’re recycling and going back again, some of which have changed a lot since our previous visit.
Interviewer: I hear you’ve done a lot of research on your family and I’m going to let you guide us through some of the genealogy that you’ve worked on. For instance, I know that you took a trip, maybe more than one trip, to visit family ties in the Ukraine.
Yassenoff: Well I started out just organizing information about the family on the
computer. I guess I just wanted an excuse to play with the computer so I had some software, Family Tree Maker, and I started filling in blanks and also was interested in my Father’s family and that was the Felsenthal family on the German side and that actually is already well documented. I was able to tap into that information so I didn’t have to do all that much although I did find some very interesting information at Hebrew Union College archives that really helped a lot, that finally tie us to that tree because it is said that all Felsenthals are related and the reason is that our great-great ancestor was a member of the Sanhedrin when Napoleon said that all the Jews have to have last names and he chose the name Felsenthal and no one else could have that name.
Interviewer: Can you spell that for us?
Yassenoff: Felsenthal, F-e-1-s-e-n-t-h-a-l. The rough translation is “over hill, over dale” which, when he stood up in the Sanhedrin, identified himself, said, “I came from over hill and over dale”, and that ended up being the name that he chose.
Interviewer: It’s interesting how names came about, isn’t it?
Yassenoff: Yes it is.
Interviewer: There are Felsenthals in town. Are you related to them?
Yassenoff: We’re all related. There’s Rabbi David Felsenthal. I had lunch with him one day. I visited with his grandfather in Fort Lauderdale one year. I think that Bette Young was a Felsenthal but we’ve never talked about it, but there was some Felsenthal in her family tree. But there are a lot of them so when you say you’re related, believe me you’d be hard pressed to find out which part of the tree you’re related to. I was tackling the Yaseenoff Family and as I knew it, my Father’s father, my grandfather, was Isadore Yassenoff and he had a brother, Isaac, who lived in Dayton and I thought that was the only brother he had, so I pretty much had documented all relationships involved in the Isaac Yassenoff Family and, of course, the Isadore Yassenoff Family.
Interviewer: Can you just run down who some others have children?
Yassenoff: Isaac Yassenoff had two sons, Leo Yassenoff of Columbus fame, Solly
Yassenoff, who was the older of the two and then they had a sister, Rebecca.
Interviewer: Give us some background on each one of them.
Yassenoff: Okay. Solly Yassenoff never married, took over the family grocery business that Isaac had established which at that time was the Jewish section of Dayton, and the store was closed because of 1-75 going though that part of Dayton. I think Solly retired after that. No children.
Leo Yassenoffcame to Columbus, went to Ohio State, as did Solly. He played football and was an All Big Ten End. Leo was called a Big Man on Campus here and was a football player. He was a tackle and I believe he edited The Makio. the yearbook of Ohio State, was involved in numerous activities, was a ZBT (Zeta Beta Tau), a predominantly Jewish social fraternity. I believe he was president of ZBT.
When Leo graduated he started a construction business around 1919 or 1920. He struggles through the Depression and then, of course after the Depression, his area of expertise seemed to be large buildings and building theaters for theater owners and that permitted him to move on to buildings similar to synagogues in Columbus as well as the Hillel Foundation Building, as well as the original Jewish Center here on College Avenue.
He married a non-Jewish lady, Betty Lupton, and she was not Jewish but she was in charge of the Jewish orphanage here in Columbus and I’m not sure whether it was after they were married or before they were married, they picked out an orphan boy that they wanted to adopt and that was Milton and at the same time there was another boy there. His name was Abner. So he became Abner Yassenoff, so Leo had the two adopted sons, Abner and Milton.
Interviewer: There was a Jewish orphanage? Is that what you’re saying?
Yassenoff: Yes. It was called the Jewish Infants’ Home and Milton was actually born in Toledo and was named Milton Rice and he was of Russian descent. Apparently his mother was still alive but was really poor and had given Milton up. The lady at the bureau persuaded Milton’s mother that Leo and Betty could raise Milton better than she could.
Interviewer: So they actually raised him and he took their name. And the second son?
Yassenoff: Yes, yes. Abner. They both went to Bexley High School and Abner
apparently was an A type of personality, an honor student and athlete and so forth and Milton was the laid-back person who everybody liked. Abner subsequently committed suicide and details of that seem to be vague.
Interviewer: Milton became part of the Jewish Community?
Yassenoff: Yes. He was a wonderful man and he married Charlotte Haugh. She was not Jewish but they raised their three children Jewish and you know, believed in it and he worked for Leo, primarily in the theater business side of Leo’s enterprises.
Interviewer: Leo’s name is so well-known in Columbus and he certainly left quite a heritage.
Yassenoff: Leo was definitely a very active person. He did a lot with the University, the football team in particular. He traveled with the team during many of the Woody Hayes years. He was involved in the community in general as well as the Jewish Community. He taught Sunday School at Temple Israel for many years. He was a very active person.
Interviewer: And gave a lot of money to the Community, didn’t he?
Yassenoff: Yes. When he passed away in 1971, his estate was supposedly valued at
thirteen million dollars. Probably when they got done selling off some of his properties like Lane Avenue Shopping Center and Northwest Garden Apartments, even his farm, which was strictly recreational, ended up being across Dublin Road from Muirfield, I’m sure they had more than $13,000,-000! He left all of the money to a Foundation, the Leo Yassenoff Foundation. And back in ’71 you could probably earn 10% on your money so they easily had more than a million dollars a year to give to the Community. Now, they’re winding it down and I understand all they give to now is whatever was specifically mentioned in Leo’s will, the University being primarily on that.
Interviewer: Was there anything on the campus named after Leo? I know there’s the Leo
Yassenoff Jewish Center which is here in this part of town but
Yassenoff: If you look closely at the new recruiting center that’s a part of the stadium, if you look up through the windows, or if you can get in there, there is a “Leo Yassenoff Room” there and I believe that he endowed a Chair there. I’m not sure what the designation of the Chair is. Then the Woody Hayes Practice Facility for football, I went in there a couple of years ago with a cousin that was visiting in Columbus and he wanted to see everything that had “Leo Yassenoff and “Yassenoff’ on it and I’d heard about this but I’d never seen it so I went in there and it was during the Summer and they were having high school football camping there and Bill Conley recruited me and said, “Sure”, and he walked me in there and across the length of one wall it says, “The Leo Yassenoff Indoor Football Practice Facility”.
Interviewer: He certainly left his mark there, then.
Yassenoff: Yes, I’m sure that’s one thing he’d be proud of. Otherwise in town, some money went to the Boy Scouts, to Camp Lazarus, the handicapped camper area; Leo had broken his hip several years before he passed away and was with a walker and crutches probably the last ten years of his life. So he had a good appreciation for handicaps. Mel Schottenstein was the primary trustee of the Foundation during its glory years and something I was so proud of, something his Board of Trustees made, the old Center of Science and Industry had an “old town area” and in the “old town” was a theater and The Foundation had given the money for that and his name was on that. At the Art Museum, the Theater Auditorium there is through the courtesy of the Yassenoff Foundation.
Interviewer: What about Milton? How did his father’s enterprise fit into him?
Yassenoff: They were probably exact opposite personalities. Everybody that hears my name asks me how I’m related to Leo and most people think I’m a grandson or a nephew but as I said, he’s my cousin, first-cousin-once removed, but all these people know Leo and from all those stories, what I’ve discovered is, if you did business with Leo, you did not like him because he was a very tough business person.
If you didn’t do business with him, you knew him as a member of the community. You probably liked him and certainly had great respect for him. One thing he had a secretary do was scan the newspaper for people, particularly young people that had accomplished something and who won some kind of award for their test scores, or done something charitable, and he would send them a check. He would have his secretary process these checks. These were people he didn’t even know!
Interviewer: So he certainly had a warm heart somewhere.
Yassenoff: He did but you didn’t want to do business with them. In fact, he was tough on me when I bought the drive-in theater from him. I learned a lot about negotiating and doing deals just from that one encounter with him. So I think a lot of times he asked Milton to do things that Milton probably considered harsh and in the end they had a big fight and then Milton left. Very unfortunately not long after that Milton was not feeling well and the doctor had him admitted to the hospital and they opened him up on the operating table. He had cancer and they decided they couldn’t operate so he died not long after.
So the combination of the two created a lot of bitterness between Leo and his, Milton’s, survivors. Milton and Charlotte had two daughters, Diane and Susan and a son, Philip.
Interviewer: You mentioned some other cousins.
Yassenoff: I need to go back to Dayton. In that family we did Leo, we did Solomon
(Solly), we had his sister Rebecca and she was married to a doctor in Dayton, Benedict Olch. They had three children: Joann Olch, Daniel and David Olch. To continue on with the family, I thought there was just Isaac Yassenoff and my grandfather, Isador Yassenoff, as two brothers. Seven or eight years ago my sister, Peggy, called and she was involved with the Columbus Jewish Historical Society and she was talking to a woman named Pat Hassell who happened to be at the Jewish Center, the Leo Yassenoff Jewish Center, and Pat Hassel remarks that she’s related to the Yassenoffs.
My sister’s name was Peggy Kaplan and Pat had no way of knowing that Peggy’s brother was a Yassenoff so Pat and I connected and she said that her grandfather was Peter Yassenoff from Dayton. There’s not a lot of Yassenoffs as far as I know, so I suddenly got moved back to my research. I did quite a bit of researching at the Ohio Historical Society where they have a lot of information on microfiche and found out that there was Peter Yassenoffs Pat said.
Interviewer: And who were Peter’s children?
Yassenoff: Peter died in a train wreck while he was on his horse-drawn cart and apparently fell asleep on the crossing. He was stopped and the train hit him and at that time he had one daughter, Rebecca, and his poor wife was pregnant at the time with Bessie and Rebecca was Pat’s mother. The research turned up two other brothers as well, David and Solomon. So now I have this research that has more than doubled and I pursued this over a couple of years and bit by bit I collected pieces of information and obituaries writing to a relative out in Texas that actually remembered all these people.
Interviewer: Tell us about David now. What’s his family situation?
Yassenoff: I have this organized by brothers. Peter was the oldest, then Solomon was
next oldest. Solomon was married several times and had a lot of children and believe it or not, they were almost all females. This caused me a lot of problems because how in the world am I gonna’ find females? There was a bunch of them and bit by bit I broke that down.
Interviewer: It’s kind of interesting that you found all these people within just the last few years and you found that your family has grown tremendously.
Yassenoff: It’s true and then there was another brother, David. He did have all
daughters, no sons. Could find a cousin that was still alive or a cousin’s husband. There was one case and he wasn’t even my relative. His wife had just passed on. I had just missed her and she, there was one case of the David Yassenoff girls. She was the one who liked to party and everything and she had the pictures and everything and he had those and he could remember and he helped a lot so I put all this together. And he then put me on to a relative who lived in Cincinnati and she’s a retired nurse and her mother had lived in Detroit for a while. Well, my grandfather, Isadore, divorced my grandmother Lena and moved to Detroit and I was always interested in finding his grave. So I was able to find out eventually where he was buried and there was no marker and he had remarried up there. But this woman in Cincinnati, since she had lived in Detroit with her mother, remembered by grandfather. She said, “Yeah, Uncle Izzie” is what she called him and she was able to give me a better handle on how long he had lived there before he passed on. So that was Hassel. She had a lot of pictures and she could identify everybody.
Interviewer: How old was she when she gave you all the information? Sounds like she was a great source for you. It’s great that you’ve got it on paper, though.
Yassenoff: It’s been five years since I’ve really worked on this. She’s got this one wedding picture and she can identify everybody in there.
Interviewer: That picture has to be dated.
Yassenoff: Georgianne Duffy is her name. I have a picture of her.
Interviewer: You communicated with her five years ago?
Yassenoff: Probably six years ago. I published this (family document) right before I took my trip to the Ukraine.
Interviewer: Did you go back to the Ukraine after that visit with Pat and your wife?
Yassenoff: No, but my children have been interested in going and we’re thinking about going in March of ’05. Georgianne was born in 1935 so I guess she was in her early 60s when I communicated with her.
Interviewer: Are you still working on your family genealogy?
Yassenoff: I’ve already put it aside. You know, if somebody, some new family member comes into the family, or somebody passes on, you know, I try to write that down so I have that available without having to research it later. You know, the problem with Jewish names, you know, not having last names going back makes it difficult to research and it seems that our family did not live in Kirovograd that many years before they fled to the United States and I haven’t really been able to find any information about where they had lived previously. So at this point I’m at a dead end but I believe that more information is becoming available all the time and probably most likely on line, so I think I’m just going to wait and some day it’ll be easy and rather than spend a lot of money ….
(Editor’s note: A genealogy of the Yassenoff family was recorded by Skip Yassenoff and can be found
in the library of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society, titled “The Family of Abraham Yassenoff with
locator number GY2.)
Interviewer: Having been installed just last night as our new President of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society, what are your goals for the next few years? Do you have a lot of possible goals or thoughts about the near future?
Yassenoff: Oral history is one of my favorite areas of the Historical Society. I think there is a lot of public interest in it. It really is not a very expensive operation with most of the work being done by volunteers like yourself, Naomi. I’m definitely going to make sure that oral history continues to be able to put our histories on tape and have these transcribed.
I really want to carry on what Lee Skilken started and keep the archives growing and maybe try to develop volunteers in other areas that have not been developed so far. Financially, we want to grow our membership and our base of support and I think it will be a good goal to try to get more people to more fully appreciate the value of what we do. Whether they give us more money or not at least they should be aware that we’re performing a good function.
I definitely want to speak about my Dad’s brother, Lee. He was a very important person in my life. He saved my life in the Atlantic Ocean on Miami Beach.
I believe it was 1957. We drove down in the station wagon, my Dad, my Uncle Lee, my Uncle Lee’s, we called her “housekeeper”. They didn’t have a romantic relationship. They were friends. Nettie Smith was her name and he’d been a friend of Nettie and her husband, Stanley, who stayed in her house and who’d passed away. I think in those days they cohabitated for financial reasons a lot of times.
Anyway, we drove down to Florida. I was about 8 years old and I didn’t swim. But I was tall and I liked to wade in the ocean. It was my first time in the ocean. My Dad was sitting on the stone wall probably reading a newspaper because he didn’t go into the water because he had a bad knee. Uncle Lee and I were out in the water and we were throwing around this block of wood, just tossing it around. I kept tossing it over his head and making him swim for it. These steel walls in the water, I think it was to stop the migration of sand, and we were kind of working toward the corner of this which was open. So I went to retrieve this block of wood. Keep in mind I was just wading in the water. It was probably up to my neck and all of a sudden it just dropped off and Uncle Lee swam over to me and pushed me out of the water and I guess I’m probably screaming and flailing and the life guard came out and pulled us in.
Interviewer: That was a pretty close call. In the ocean, the current can carry you away.
Yassenoff: If he hadn’t held me up, the lifeguard never could have saved me unless they could have brought me back to life, if they could find me.
But also my Uncle Lee, he was a bachelor and of course, there were no children. I spent a lot of time with him. When I was with my Dad, sometimes by uncle would take me out to go to a game. He was a sports fanatic. He’d take me to a Columbus Jets game. Now they’re the Clippers. And that’s it. He kept me busy and he would bowl with me.
Interviewer: You had a fun time with him. Sounds like he enjoyed you a lot.
Yassenoff: I was learning some things from him that were different from what I was learning from my Dad. He had a somewhat unfortunate life. He did go to Ohio State, was a Sammy (Sigma Alpha Mu Fraternity) and he had a degree from Ohio State. He initially had a sporting goods business but initially he was a haberdasher. He had a clothing business and then he kind of migrated into sporting goods. He and a fellow named Bob Shea had a haberdashery and then he went to work for Ben Ratner in a sporting goods store. He was downtown and Columbus was a town and not a city, so all the athletes that came to town, which were baseball players, you know, we had Dizzy Dean playing here in Columbus and so they would all come down to the sporting goods store and hang out.
My uncle was definitely a hero-worshipper so he liked all these sports people. He worked for Ratner for quite a while and I don’t know whether he retired from there or left there. He then decided to open a drive-in restaurant on West Fifth Avenue in front of this drive-in theater that my Dad had built and he named the drive-in restaurant “Skippy’s Drive-in Restaurant” after me.
Well, he did miserably. He also invested in the Dworkin Cheesecake Company and that went into bankruptcy. He lost money there and he lost money in the drive-in restaurant and then he had a nervous breakdown.
At the same time that he had a nervous breakdown, he was diagnosed with sugar diabetes and that was all of his problems. But after that he suffered from depression quite a bit and then later he lost one-by-one, both of his legs, one above the knee, and of course that was a difficult situation.
He wasn’t in the business. My Dad mostly took care of that. He did help my Dad a little bit with some publicity when he could. He did like people and back when everything was closed on Sunday and people would visit on Sunday, he always had friends coming by and when he got cleared of his depression and got inspired to do something, he started a club for athletes called “The Jacques Club”.
Interviewer: Who took care of him then when he became ill?
Yassenoff: After Mrs. Smith passed away, he probably went through a couple of housekeepers but he ended up with Miss Agnes Early. She was a beautiful, petite black woman. She was probably 40 years older than she looked because she had this beautiful skin. She took great care of him and of course, after my Dad passed, I had to help with him too and I would take him to Jacques Club meetings and take him to the doctor and help him with anything else that he needed in the house.
Interviewer: Sounds like you had a terrific relationship with him.
Yassenoff: Do you want to do the trip to the Ukraine? I had another breakthrough in my research. I wanted to verify some documents in Kirovograd and I started out to hire Miriam Weiner. I spoke to her on the telephone and she said yes, next May she would be going, and she would be doing this for me and so I gave her a call in the spring. I called her and she had a book coming out. Kirovograd was a lot farther east than the typical archives that she researched and she was explaining to me about how she had to take her own photocopy machine and so forth with her and so she of course had to take a translator. She had to drive and the roads were bad and basically she begged off. So I’m trying to figure out how to find a researcher, I recalled ….
Interviewer: She was a researcher?
Yassenoff: Oh she’s the one who wrote all of the books about Eastern Europe. She’s famous, Miriam Weiner.
I recalled that when I worked with the Historical Society on a field trip to the archives at Hebrew Union College, that I had gone next door to the library and I just had typed into the computer “Kirovograd” and there was a book and it was a recently-written book by this fellow named Harry Boonin from Philly whose family had come from there and he had done all this research!
Ultimately I got ahold of Harry on the telephone and he gave me the name of his researcher, so I had E-mail and I was able to contact the researcher and he said he would find me the documents, mail me the documents, and he sent an E-mail and said, “By the way, there’s a family here with your name. Do you want me to contact them?”
Interviewer: That was a lucky break.
Yassenoff: I hesitated but I said, “Okay”. He said, “I’m pretty sure, I’ve checked them out and I’m pretty sure that they are your relatives.” So I made contact with them and of course, corresponded through a translator via E-mail for a couple of years and they kept saying that we should come visit and we didn’t take them too seriously but I knew Pat Hassel and I had become good friends and Pat said this was something she really wanted to do.
So if you want other details of the trip, we went to Kiev and he picked us up there after we’d been there a couple of days seeing all the sights of Kiev and they took us to Kirovograd and kept us real busy for three days and showing us everything and talking and I was just lucky.
Interviewer: Were you able to fill in the slots in your family history that you were curious about?
Yassenoff: Pretty much. The researcher did all there was to do. In fact, my cousin
wanted to do research for other people and I coordinated that. The funniest thing that happened, we’d been there for three days. We were having our last meal and we started pulling out all these pictures: “This is my cousin when he was younger and this is their wedding picture.” So this one picture comes out and I said, “Who’s that?” And he says, “That’s my cousin. He lives just across the river.”
I said, “Well he’s just as close a relative to me as you are, Shava,” so we got them on the telephone. They were too busy to come over right then but we arranged to meet him. I knew of this person’s mother but I didn’t know this person still lived there. The mother had immigrated to Israel with one of her other children and so I met him in the morning and he was excited to see me as well and meanwhile I didn’t have a translator with me at that point, so we drove across the river to his apartment and I met his wife. She’s racing around in her bathrobe trying to make me toast and coffee. His one daughter had passed away in a car accident so I met his other daughter and she was just recently married, met her husband. So that was just kind of funny that my cousin Slava was just trying to keep me to himself. Apparently he wasn’t too close with this male cousin.
Interviewer: Were you able to communicate with that branch of the family?
Yassenoff: Oh yeah. We have E-mails probably on the average of once a week. He writes at great length.
Interviewer: I mean in this country.
Yassenoff: I tried to bring him over and this is before 9/11 and still the policy of the
embassy in Kiev is that they turn down 90% of the visa requests because most of them don’t return. Well here’s a man that has a wife, he has a son who’s a surgeon living there in Kirovograd, and he actually owns property there. He has a repair shop and he owns that building and they didn’t think he would go back!
Well we cooked up a scheme that maybe we could get him here if he was gonna lecture, so I got my friend, Harry Boonin, in Philadelphia, who has an association with universities there and they have like a Jewish Historical Group, so we got him to agree that Slava could speak there through an interpreter, and spoke to Joe Cohen here at our Society and Joe said it’s not genealogy but it would be a worthwhile meeting to have my cousin speak here.
We had that part all put together and he was all set to the Visa request and then it’s 9/11. They’re not gonna let anybody go! So he’s asked about trying again and I said, “No, I think you’re wasting your time going to Kiev and you have to give application money and I think it’s a waste of time at this point.”
Interviewer: Pretty exciting though, to find all this happening and he able to visit that part of the world.
Yassenoff: It was. It was an eye-opener to be in Kiev and even worse, though, to be in Kirovograd which was a city that has really been hurt since the fall of Communism because the Communists would make sure that jobs were spread out. Where there were people there were jobs, and they had an electronics factory there and when Ukraine became independent, the factory closed. The roads are not that good to Kirovograd. There’s a major airport there. It just doesn’t make sense to make anything there.
Interviewer: I want to make sure that we covered in this interview everything that we were talking about.
Yassenoff: I think we did a pretty good job. On my Dad, I want to say that he didn’t finish high school and he was kind of a self-made person and he had successes in the business world with the drive-ins and the bowling alleys and land speculation. He had some failures. I know he always talked about the concrete block plant. The machinery would never work and he lost a lot in that, but he just kept moving along and he was a very low-key person.
I know he only spanked me once in my entire life and for not going to Sunday School and he was afraid he would lose his vitiation because he knew that my Mom would be upset if I didn’t make it to Sunday School so I think he lost his temper but he always, other than that (I think I needed to be spanked then), he had a way of keeping himself calm and collected, explaining, you know, his reason for why I should or shouldn’t do something and I don’t think I’m too much like him, but I do remember that.
Interviewer: It sounds like he taught you well, though, and you were pretty much guided by him your whole life.
Yassenoff: I’d like to mention some of my other activities. I mentioned that I was an
Assistant Scoutmaster. We have an Association of Theater Owners for Ohio and I’ve been on that Board since I was twenty or twenty-one and have been President the last six years and I was Treasurer before that. Like I was avoiding the presidential track in the Historical Society, I was avoiding it there as well. It was fortunate to have a president that served for thirteen years and he was younger than I was so I was hoping that he’d serve forever but when he decided to resign, I was forced into becoming Vice-President and go into the presidential track.
I have also been in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters for about 25 years off and on, and had four Little Brothers over the years.
Interviewer: Tell me a little bit about how that works. What does it mean to be a Big Brother?
Yassenoff: Basically you’re assigned a boy, the ages can range from probably about 8 to 15 or 16 although usually at that age it’s a little too late for them to be in the program. Big Brothers has about 800 boys and girls, mostly boys, on the waiting list looking for Big Brothers. My current Little Brother is now 15 going on 16 and I’ve had him I think it’s 3 or 4 years now.
Interviewer: Do you have weekly visits with them or….
Yassenoff: Usually every two weeks is what they suggest. We used to go weekly with him. His mother was having a lot of problems and he has three siblings all a year apart, all enrolled in Big Sisters. We try to take him away from his mother. She needs as much of a break as she can get but then he started living with his grandparents and we decided every-other-week would work out the best for both sides. I spend about half a day with him, try to do activities that we both like. I try to bring some things into his life that he wouldn’t otherwise be doing. He actually likes going to COSI and likes the Art Museum which might be a surprise and he’s a wonderful boy but we worry about him growing up on the west side – he goes to Briggs – he’ll be a sophomore next fall and you know it’s sex and drugs out there.
Interviewer: Hopefully you’ve given him directive that might help.
Yassenoff: I’m his Big Brother, not his parent. I can just try to be a friend and not anything else.
Interviewer: We’re just about at the end of Tape 1, Side B. You didn’t think we would get through Side A and I think it’s been very interesting. It’s been a very enjoyable experience for me and I hope that it has for you as well.
On behalf of the Jewish Historical Society, I’m going to thank you for your time and hope that you have a very successful realm as President of our Society.
Yassenoff: Well thank you, Naomi, for taking an interest in my family.
Transcribed by Marvin Bonowitz
Edited and retyped by Honey Abramson, August, 2013