This interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society is being recorded on March 17, 1998, as part of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society’s Oral History Project. The interview is being recorded at Al’s home and my name is Hinda Riker and I am interviewing Al Meyer. Well, Al let’s start. First tell me whom you’re named after.

Meyer: The first name is named after Edgar Allan Poe because my mother loved his work and thought that would be a good name for my son.

Interviewer: Al where were you born?

Meyer: I was born in Columbus, Ohio in 1914.

Interviewer: Uh huh. At what point can you start tracing your family’s history like when your grandmom came to this country? Can you start?

Meyer: Yes. My grandmother came to this country from Germany many years ago in 1882. She landed in Baltimore, Maryland, and then with her entire family migrated to a small town called Cumberland, Maryland. She could speak English and write English and then she took over the management of the entire family because of her ability to read and write English.

Interviewer: What country did she come from?

Meyer: She came from Germany.

Interviewer: Germany? Okay.

Meyer: She told her brothers and helped her father and brothers how to get started in business in Maryland and Virginia like her father did in Germany and that was dealing in wool pulling and hides business. After a short period living in Cumberland, Maryland, my grandmother decided to go to New York City and take a job with one of their other relatives as the head bookkeeper and she always, even down to the janitor of a store that they maintained in New York. She met my grandfather being a salesman calling on the store management and they became married and then she had two children in a very short period of time in about three years and, which one of them was my mother. Unfortunately I never knew my grandfather and he died very suddenly when he was 29 years old and left my grandmother an early widow with no money. She decided to go back to Cumberland, Maryland with her two babies, borrowed $5,000, which in those days was quite a bit of money, and started a grocery store and lived above it with her two children. She, along with the rest of her family, lived in Cumberland, Maryland for quite a few years and one of her sisters married a man in Columbus, Ohio by the name of Frank Basch. My grandmother decided one day to go out and visit her and she thought the small city of Columbus looked very attractive to her compared to Cumberland, Maryland. She prevailed upon her mother and father and her brothers and sisters to move to Columbus and made plans and things were ready to go and her mother suddenly passed away. But the family moved anyway and came to Columbus and my grandmother’s brothers started the same business which they had started in Cumberland, Maryland, only in a larger scale in the wool pullery division instead of calling on farmers and small sources. They built quite a large, in those days, factory over in what’s now called Fly Town which was off of West Goodale Street in Columbus, Ohio and prospered very greatly and became eventually the largest wool pullery in the United States. They decided then to increase their operations in the marketing phase instead of the pullery and going to strictly marketing and brokerage. Part of the family moved to Boston which was then the head of wool brokerage buying and purchasing. One brother then got the idea to go to the international headquarters of London, England. They were very successful in their operation and my grandmother continued to live here, maintain a home for her father, and her two children. My mother graduated from high school here in Columbus at the Columbus School for Girls on the old Parsons Avenue location and then went to Washington, D.C. to a finishing school. Stayed there for a year or so and came back to Columbus. My grandmother and her father were members of the old Temple Israel and my mother met my father at one of the socials and about a year later married him and my father was a young business man here with his father and operated a company called the New Idea Millinery Company, manufacturing and retailing of ladies’ hats.

Interviewer: Oh wow.

Meyer: And we of course lived in the east end then of Columbus which was on Kendall Place and I was there until I was five years old and then it was at the end of World War I when they doubled the rent on my father and he said, “We don’t want to continue this. We’ll have to look around for another location.” And one of his friends who migrated to the small, little suburb of Bexley found a house right across the street that was up for rent and called him and my mother and father looked at the house and bought it and the three of us moved to Bexley.

Interviewer: Do you remember what year that was?

Meyer: 19, they say in the book 1920 but it was 1919. But I’ll settle for 1920.

Interviewer: Uh huh. Sounds good.

Meyer: I started school in the old Bexley School on East Main Street, right across from Capital University,…Hall and went all through Bexley School and graduated from Bexley High School which was then at Main and Montrose, in 1931. I then went to Ohio State University and studied Civil Engineering. Graduated from Ohio State in 1935. In 1936 I went into business for myself and formed the A. L. Meyer Construction Company, Inc. I then fortunately met my wife who came from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, through a visit of my mother being in Atlantic City and meeting her relative and struck up a friendship with my wife’s grandmother, the relative, and found out that my mother-in-law went to the same school in Washington that my mother did but only a year’s difference. My mother recognized the name and asked my wife’s grandmother if that was the same party and she said, “Yes, she’s coming down to visit me today”. But unfortunately or fortunately for me, she didn’t make the trip but my wife made it instead. My mother met my wife, wrote me a letter and said, “I met a very fine young lady who’s a school teacher and a graduate and going to the University of Pennsylvania and I think you ought to get to know her”. That of course was the kiss of death (laughter). But after making a trip over to Philadelphia, I changed my mind and the second trip over we were engaged to be married.

Interviewer: That’s wonderful. Let’s go back a little bit. Can we go back to some of your childhood which you went through for me. You went to Bexley High School. Were you active in any sports there or anything stand out in your mind specifically about school or things that happened . . . .

Meyer: Not too much. I was just a regular student. I was very mischievous.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Meyer: But always, and not bragging, managed to get my academic work very easily. I only went to school 11 years out of 12 because I skipped a year.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Meyer: So I graduated when I was 17 which is quite young to graduate from high school. But I was very preoccupied with sports, neighborhood sports, but I never participated in them in high school at all.

Interviewer: Uh huh. Uh huh.

Meyer: But . . . .

Interviewer: What about at Temple Israel? You said you were a member, your parents were.

Meyer: Yes I joined, my parents were members of Temple Israel. My grandmother and great-grandfather were members of Temple Israel and when I became 21 years of age, I became a member of Temple Israel.

Interviewer: While you were still going to school or had you graduated at the time?

Meyer: I graduated at 21.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Meyer: I went with my parents to the services and went to religious training and after becoming married, I became very interested in going to Temple and my wife became interested in the activities of the Temple. She became a member of the Sisterhood and I became very active at the Temple at an early age, starting as an usher.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Meyer: Became chief of the ushering and then went on and became a board member and between my wife and I, we served 20 years on the Board of Trustees. She was the first woman board member of Temple Israel.

Interviewer: Humm.

Meyer: Actually we saw to it that the children went to Sunday School and became participants in the knowledge of Judaism and of course . . . .

Interviewer: And your children’s names?

Meyer: My, our daughter was the oldest, is the oldest, Susan Byer, B-Y-E-R, has two grown children, Andrew Byer and Heather Byer. My son, our son I should say, is Jack Meyer and he graduated, by the way, both of them graduated from Bexley High School.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Meyer: Both of them were Editors of the Bexley High School paper. My son played basketball for Bexley High School. My daughter graduated from Ohio State University with two degrees in Education. My son graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Economics. Came back to Ohio State and got a job as teaching Economics and getting his Master’s and Ph.D. simultaneously.

Interviewer: That’s wonderful.

Meyer: And . . . .

Interviewer: You’re a proud grandpa.

Meyer: Yes.

Interviewer: Proud father and a proud grandpa. That’s wonderful.

Meyer: Then he went to Washington. Oh, I beg your pardon. He met his wife at Ohio State University who came from Buffalo, New York, Barbara Brody. And she graduated from Ohio State in Education and is a school teacher. And my son went to Washington immediately upon graduating from the University, Ohio State University, working for the United States Government in his field of Economics and worked for the Government for oh a few years, and then he went to work for the American Enterprise Institute as a Fellow to raise money for the Institute. After a short period of time, about five years or so, he decided to go into business for himself and formed his own think tank and specialized in economics of health care. My daughter became a school teacher and then got married to Howard Byer, raised two children. Unfortunately it ended up in a divorce but she then went back and became a guidance counselor in Worthington High School and is still there and . . . . very good.

Interviewer: Very good. Let’s go back to you a little bit now.

Meyer: Okay.

Interviewer: Were you military at all?

Meyer: The only military I was in, I was in ROTC.

Interviewer: At Ohio State?

Meyer: At Ohio State?

Interviewer: Uh huh. What was your degree in at Ohio State?

Meyer: Civil Engineering.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Meyer: And I wanted to practice as a consulting engineer but I was in school during the Great Depression.

Interviewer: Now that’s another good question. Can you tell me about what do you remember about that?

Meyer: Yeah I remember it. I helped work my way through school working for construction companies in the summertime and one of them was Mr. Leo Yassenoff and two or three other firms and when I came out of school, I could not find a job. It was in the depths of the Depression and they were not looking for engineers, let alone Jewish engineers. And by the way . . . .

Interviewer: There was a stigma?

Meyer: Stigma. When you filled out your application and in those days you put down your religion. And when you had the word “Jewish,” it was put aside. So I made a couple of interviews on a job out of the city and it wasn’t very interesting and very low pay. I couldn’t even exist on it so I decided to come back to Columbus and decided to start on my own and open a construction company which I did at the age of 22 years old.

Interviewer: And in the business ever since?

Meyer: And I was in the business 57 1/2 years and I retired about six and a half years ago.

Interviewer: Hmmm.

Meyer: I had my business for 57 1/2 years under the name of A. L. Meyer Construction Company . . . .

Interviewer: Did you sell the business or . . . .

Meyer: No I liquidated it. My son didn’t follow my footsteps nor neither did my daughter so . . . .

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Meyer: there wasn’t anything else for me to do but to liquidate it so now I donate my time to an organization, a division of the Small Business Administration of the United States called SCORE. Have you ever heard of that?

Interviewer: Yeah, yeah.

Meyer: And my specialty is teaching young people who go into any form of construction and, or any of the bilateral segments of it, or engineering. And I’ve been with the organization for almost six years.

Interviewer: . . . . It’s a wonderful organization . . . .

Meyer: Yes it is, yeah, yeah.

Interviewer: In your business, did you . . . .

Meyer: Well I started, and as I told you, in my business in 1936. I had a partner for about eight months and it didn’t work out. He was a classmate of mine at Ohio State University and of course I started on my own in the same year in December of 1936. And things were not too rosy in those days but I struggled through it and then began to get known and grow and I built quite a few jobs in this city and we made about 4360 projects.

Interviewer: Wow, that’s a lot.

Meyer: Including two bridges.

Interviewer: Where were those?

Meyer: Well one was over on the west side of the county and the other was up in Westerville for the city of Westerville.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Meyer: I did all types of commercial, industrial and public works. I did not do any residential work. I . . . . built two houses for myself to live in with my family. I built all types of commercial stores, public institutions and a certain amount of shopping center work and oh, gasoline stations and rest homes and I built a rest home up in Worthington, or Westerville, Ohio, a hundred-bed home. And I built Delaware, Ohio State Park for the State of Ohio. I did just a tremendous amount of work for the Bell Telephone Company. I built buildings all over the State of Ohio for them.

Interviewer: How many people did you have under you? How big of an organization?

Meyer: Well it varied from time to time.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Meyer: But I, oh I had a Vice-President and I had two estimators, bookkeepers . . . .

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Meyer: and the field work of course fluctuated with the amount of volume of work that prevailed from time to time. I had people who were with me for quite a number of years. In fact, I guess I would still be working if it hadn’t of been that most of them passed away.

Interviewer: Okay.

Meyer: And I said to my wife and to myself, “Somebody’s telling me something upstairs,” so it’s about time to quit. And so I did. In 1992 I shut the doors.

Interviewer: Okay. Let’s go back and talk about the grandchildren a little bit. How many do you have, their names, and what they’re doing? I know you’re a proud grandpa.

Meyer: Well I have, along with my wife, five grandchildren. And we’re quite proud of them naturally. I have three granddaughters and two grandsons. The oldest granddaughter is Heather Byer who now lives in New York City. Her brother is Andrew Byer. He lives here in Columbus. He is in the banking industry with Huntington Bank. Naturally they’re the two oldest. Then I have three grandchildren in Oakton, Virginia, which is a suburb of Washington. The oldest, Jennifer Meyer is getting her Master’s Degree in Social Work in a new branch on how to handle cancer patients as they go through life.

Interviewer: Wonderful . . . .

Meyer: And she will be getting her degree in another month and a half. Her brother is in high school, Matthew Meyer, a junior in high school. Her younger sister is a freshman in high school who will kind of follow, I think, her father’s footsteps. She’s an outstanding student, not that the others aren’t, but she made the National Junior High Scholarship, not the National High School yet. She’s just starting that. And she is quite a writer and they all have gone through, all but one, were Bat Mitzvahed or Bar Mitzvahed. The youngest grandchild was Bar Mitzvahed in Israel. Her mother and father and brother and sister took here over there and they spent I think three or four weeks there and went through a ritual there and she . . . .

Interviewer: Did you go over with them?

Meyer: No I didn’t.

Interviewer: Couldn’t go over? Uh huh. Uh huh.

Meyer: But they said it was a marvelous experience.

Interviewer: Ah.

Meyer: I’m sure this granddaughter will never forget it and neither will my son and daughter-in-law and the other two grandchildren.

Interviewer: Well that’s wonderful . . . .

Meyer: Yeah.

Interviewer: to have that done there.

Meyer: And they all practice Judaism, fortunately as what goes on today. You know what I’m talking about.

Interviewer: Yes, very definitely.

Meyer: And I hope and pray they will continue to do so and so does my wife.

Interviewer: Uh huh. Synagogue was very important to you all . . . .

Meyer: Well it was to me, yes. I was brought up as a Jew and I’ll die as a Jew.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Meyer: Likewise.

Interviewer: You saw a lot of changes in Temple Israel?

Meyer: I certainly have. Maybe some that I don’t want to talk about.

Interviewer: Okay.

Meyer: But Judaism as I’ve been analytically inclined to watch it, has changed a little. Both from the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform movement, they’ve all come closer together. And I do think, and this is my own personal opinion, that we better start concentrating more on the family life of our young people because we move away pretty fast. As you know, 50% of our young people are marrying out of the faith and if you’ve read some books on it as I have, it’s scary.

Interviewer: That’s very much so, very much so.

Meyer: Did you ever read the book that Alan Dershowitz wrote, The Vanishing American Jew? It’s good reading . . . . what happened to him and to his son and what’s happening all over the United States. But I do think that, well I don’t care what branch of Judaism it is, they better concentrate more on trying to hold the family together. It’s spreading out too much. And family life is breaking down. That’s only my personal observation.

Interviewer: Very, very wise.

Meyer: But . . . . going on now in our country scares me.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Meyer: Because you and I were raised I think a little differently than what goes on today.

Interviewer: Yes, very much so. Al, that was a very neat way to verbalize. Tell me now about your retirement, what you’ve been doing with SCORE and about SCORE. You’ve been retired six years, correct?

Meyer: Right.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Meyer: Well I can only say I was very scared of retirement because I had worked the greater part of my life in my field on construction and engineering and was very conscious or my responsibilities as a father and son and take care of my entire family. I don’t say that braggadociously either. But my fear of retirement because I was so active a person in my work and in my play. My play consisted mostly of golf on weekends with friends. But I missed the ability to drive and get things done. But my daughter who is an educator decided that I would fit in very well at SCORE and unbeknownst to her father, she got an application and brought it over to me one day and said, “Dad, it’s about time for you to retire and join this organization”. I said, “They don’t need me”. She said, “You don’t know what they need. Ask them.” So I went down and to my surprise and chagrin a Jewish man was then Chairman by the name of Allen Gundersheimer and he looked at me and he said, “When are you going to close the doors?” And I said, “Give me 30 days. Why?” And he said, “We can use you. We have a lot of calls for your type of education and background.” I said, “Are you kidding me?” and he said, “No I’m not kidding you”. And I filled out the forms and you go through a process of being trained and scrutinized by the government as to your ability and in 30 days I was working. And I must say I never thought I would be a teacher but now I am and I enjoy it because I try to help young people who have no idea what life is all about let alone to make a good living.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Meyer: And I . . . .

Interviewer: Tell us what SCORE stands for.

Meyer: Service Corps of Retired Executives. All of us have been executives or owners of businesses and naturally, not bragging, successful, have to be. And we go through a training of one month on interviewing clients, teaching them how to go about getting started in business and the fine points. And you meet, and I have met, a cross-section of America from the lower echelon of educated personnel to the higher. I mean the minorities that want to get ahead and the majorities that want to change. For example, I had one man who was a research engineer for Battelle for 20 years and decided he’d retire and he couldn’t stand retirement so he came in and I had the privilege of telling him to get back to work and be a consulting engineer. But I get a kick out of seeing a certain one of my clients succeed and I know others that I interview will never succeed because you have to learn to analyze what’s good and what’s bad in the universe and believe me, there’s a lot of people that come in that don’t understand what business is all about and they will never make it. And especially today with some of the younger people who think it’s just a bag of roses to get in business for themselves but you and I know that you better learn to sacrifice and put in long hours. But it has been a godsend to me because . . . .

Interviewer: Do you go in every day?

Meyer: No I go in twice a week.

Interviewer: Twice a week, uh huh.

Meyer: Yeah, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Meyer: But I used to help with some of the seminars at the University and then I got tired of getting up at 5:30 in the morning to be there at 8:00.

Interviewer: That’s understandable.

Meyer: I’ve had 83 years of it and I didn’t appreciate that.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Meyer: But I do go down early, but not that early.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Meyer: But I don’t put in long days any more because . . . .

Interviewer: You don’t need to.

Meyer: No I get very tiresome just talking, talking for hours at a time.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Meyer: Bring out the fine points of a person or the bad points or to tell them yes or no that you’re going to make a success or a failure in business.

Interviewer: And you’re pretty much able to see that?

Meyer: Yes I can.

Interviewer: Uh huh.

Meyer: Because having been in business for 57 1/2 years, I know what it takes to run a business and how to handle people ’cause I handled some of the roughest human beings in the world in the construction industry, people that threatened to kill me, people that threatened to disobey me. But I was very forceful in telling them what they were going to do. But I’ve had some experiences in the SCORE organization where people come in who are ex-prisoners. I’ve had three of them so far. It’s pretty hard to tell a person how to run, mend their life and straighten out. But you got to be careful what you say and how you say it. But it’s very interesting because like I said before you see the high points and the low points of people and you better learn how to analyze quickly.

Interviewer: It’s a rewarding thing to see that you’re helping other people.

Meyer: That’s right, it is. We, of course, are a national organization and have chapters in all the leading cities in America and by the way, Columbus is one of the outstanding organizations. We have 67 people. We have women as well as men. They’re looking constantly for more women to join our organization because believe it or not, and I don’t want to lecture on this too long, more young women are going into business today than young men.

Interviewer: Starting their own businesses?

Meyer: Starting their own businesses. Because of broken families.

Interviewer: Oh yeah, yes, that will all happen.

Meyer: And economic necessities to be a secondary income for their husbands.

Interviewer: Uh huh. Yeah.

Meyer: That’s something today that has to be taken, reckoned with. Well I would like to say as a closing statement that I think being reared as a Jewish person and having a Jewish family, that the younger generation better think in terms of keeping the perpetual family life going and take care of their parents as they get older because they took care of them when they were younger.

Interviewer: Thank you very much. On behalf of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society, I want to thank you for this interview today. And this will conclude our interview then.