Interviewer: Hello, this is Bill Cohen for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society, and I’m at the home of Steve Stout in Columbus, and today is March 9th, 2020, and we’re going to interview Steve about his life and he has a rather unique, rather unique angle here on Columbus Jewish history and his role in it. Steve, why don’t we start at the beginning of your life. You were born, where were you born and?
Stout: I was born actually in Grandview but then we moved to Eastmoor when I was young. In fourth grade we, we moved to Bexley.
Interviewer: And you were brought up, were you brought up in a, in a religious tradition?
Stout: I wouldn’t call it a religious tradition. We were not unlike a lot of Protestants of the time. I think we started in one and then we went to the next, and then, till our dues came due, we probably switched to the next one, Presbyterian, Lutheran, et cetera, et cetera.
Interviewer: Hmm, so did you go to Sunday School, or anything like that?
Stout: I went to Sunday School intermittently, primarily I think at Eastminister Presbyterian Church on East Livingston in Columbus.
Interviewer: So you were raised in a, in somewhat Protestant traditions, you moved to Bexley. And Bexley at that point was not predominantly Jewish, but it was probably the area that had the most Jews in the Columbus area. Do you remember any interactions with, with fellow Jewish students and how, how that went? Did Jews and non-Jews get along?
Stout: Oh yeah, I, I, I never saw any real confrontation between Jews and non-Jews because of religion. Certainly, there were probably confrontations which were normal. Kids being normal kids. In fourth grade when we moved into south Bexley, we joined the Jewish, Columbus Jewish Center because they had a swimming pool and I liked to play baseball, et cetera. So it was a great fit. I got to meet a lot of Jewish folks at that time. The next probably milestone of my Judaism, if you will, was the proverbial seventh grade Bar Mitzvah, times when if you were somewhat popular you were invited to every damn Bar Mitzvah going on, which I happened to be, and my mom finally said, “Will you stop with this, we can’t afford all these gifts.” Cause the gifts at the time were typical ten dollar Cross pen set. So I remember buying them by the dozens, it seemed. And we, we were of modest means, so that got a little old for my parents. But they understood. And their entire purpose in moving to Bexley was to improve their kids’ educational opportunities. I ended up doing all, all right in my life and my brother became a lawyer, my sister was a school principal. But had we probably stayed in Eastmoor, no offense to Eastmoor, we probably wouldn’t have gotten the opportunities that we got because of our Bexley education.
Interviewer: So going to Bar Mitzvah parties and Bar Mitzvahs you, you were, you were conscious there were two or more different communities there. Uh, did you give that much thought, or probably.
Stout: No, I mean, I remember the first time I went to Winding Hollow Country Club, which was my social awakening to the fact that there was another world out there. I went with David Pariser, and his family belonged and we went to the swimming pool and we got hungry or something and he said, “We’ll get hot dogs and hamburgers,” which we did and I said, “Well, I’ve got two bucks” or whatever it might have been. And he said, “No, no, just sign for it,” which to me was unbelievable, I’d never heard of such a thing. That was even before credit cards, so signing for something of value was a, a real awakening. And it was an awakening to the fact that there was a, another class, if you will, economic class above where we were at. But yet, made me a little bit envious and helped motivate me to do hopefully, what I did in my life.
Interviewer: I remember in high school there was something called, there was a dance called the Cotillion or something like that, where, it was…
Stout: Where the girls pick the boys?
Interviewer: Well, I think…
Stout: That was Sadie Hawkins.
Interviewer: Oh yeah, well that’s true, yeah, but then there was something called the Cotillion, which I think was a, was, it must have been a non-Jewish thing. I don’t know. Do you have any memory?
Stout: I, I, yeah I think you’re getting possibly confused with, I think it was called the Potts Dance Club, if you will. It was out by what is now Old National Road, pretty far out east, but the sixth and seventh graders, the boys would, would, would dress up in a little sport coat and tie, and the girls would have their fancy dresses on and you would, you would dance, and supposedly supposed to learn some proper manners at the time as well. And, but that was, although I do remember a few Jews, but not many. It was primarily Mrs. Pott’s dancing class. It was primarily Gentiles, there, with a smadgering of Jews. What you had to do to be Jewish to get invited, I don’t even remember.
Interviewer: (laughs) Hmm, so any particular memories at Bexley High School…that stand out to you?
Stout: As far as Judaism was concerned?
Interviewer: Or just the general culture?
Stout: Yeah, I mean obviously Bexley was a sheltered community in one respect, but yet in another respect it was a pretty metropolitan community in that we were surrounded by other folks of various economic means. So being an athlete, I always was intermingling and interacting with folks from the neighborhoods next to us to play sports: softball, basketball, baseball, whatever it was. So I knew there was another world and I was fortunate to be in the one I was at. So as far as Bexley High School itself, I remember there being, I was a member of the Gentile fraternity, which was called Phi Gamma, Phi Gamma Chi, and there was a Jewish fraternity for boys that was called Epsilon. And they would have their dances for instance, at the JCC. We were more of a rowdy group. I don’t think we ever did anything officially. I think we were barred from the school, but we had a good group of guys, and the initiation was a rather robust paddling of your tuchus by the older members.
Interviewer: So that was just the way things were. There were Jewish groups and then…
Stout: Gentile groups.
Interviewer: Gentile groups.
Interviewer: That’s just the way things were. It was, nobody particularly made a big deal out of questioning it.
Stout: I mean, again, speaking about Bexley, the thing I loved about Bexley was we always got double holidays. Yom Kippur or Christmas or whatever it might be, seemed like we got more holidays that the rest of the, the rest of the city got.
Interviewer: You remember school closing down because of Jewish holidays?
Stout: Oh yeah. You, and you, it was either closed down or the attendance was so low that you were given the option pretty much, of attending or not attending that particular day or series of days. So yeah, we loved the Jewish holidays, it got us out of school.
Interviewer: So what happened to you after, after high school?
Stout: Um. Excuse me. I was notoriously non-caring as a student. And I relish that fact that even to this day, I can remember what my class placement was. I was 198th out of 204. That’s not from the top, that’s from the bottom, so there were only six people below me. And quite honestly, I mean I always was told I had the innate intelligence. I just didn’t care. And actually, I think that my mother would go to the counselor and say, “He’s just got ants in his pants.” Which now it would be called ADD. And I couldn’t sit still, my concentrations, concentration levels were not great. I never took a book home intentionally, just to be obnoxious. And I always seemed to just do enough to stay eligible to play sports. So my college prospects, although weren’t great, I could’ve gotten into Ohio State in the fall because of their rule, state rule, that they basically had to take anybody if you’re a graduate at an accredited high school. And unfortunately my folks didn’t have the money to send me to school, and whatever, whatever money I earned in part-time jobs just wasn’t gonna cut it, so the opportunity of the Army presented itself, and this was summer of ’67, the anti-Viet Nam passion hadn’t really reached its peak yet, and I looked at the Army as, “Well, I’ll spend three years, get, maybe get to see some of the world, get some training, but more importantly, get the GI Bill,” which I knew would allow me to, to attend any school I wanted to, actually. So that was my purpose, I enlisted. And thinking also if I enlisted, maybe I wouldn’t have to go to this place called Viet Nam, which was probably an ill-fated piece of judgement on my part.
So as it turns out, I started in September of ’67 in training, and by January of 1968, I was already in Viet Nam. Went to Viet Nam on a boat, which was an interesting 21-day excursion. Nineteen days to the Philippines and two additional days on to Viet Nam. And quite honestly the conditions were barbaric, to say the least. The boat we were on was designed for 800 people, 800 troops. We had 1900 on it. We were absolutely packed worse than sardines, and I think I lost 18 pounds in 19 days and I didn’t have much to lose to begin with. So that was what it was and I got to Viet Nam during Tet of 1968 and basically stayed through Tet of ‘69 and then was able to come home. At the time Lindsaey and I, my current wife, then girlfriend, we started becoming more and more serious, so I thought, “Well, I probably should become a little bit more knowledgeable about this Jewish thing.” And my mother-in-law being a typical New Yorker having been transplanted to Columbus from New York was under the impression, under the guise that her daughters, of which there were four additional daughters, should not marry a non-Jew. So it became very clear to me that the only path to success if you will on this deal, was first of all, I was going to have to learn about Judaism and probably convert on down the line. I do remember getting books sent to me from the United States about Judaism which I read, and I was even so bold at one point in time. We had no other Jews in our outfit. We were all non-Jewish. There were no Jews. But during Chanukah, I had the, had the fortitude to ask my essential, my commanding officer, although we were in an area that was a little primitive, and not, nowhere near Saigon, the main city in Viet Nam, that I should be sent, had the ability to go visit with a rabbi and enjoy Chanukah in Saigon. Well he moxed, moxed me on that one. But, nevertheless that’s, that was my thought process at the time.
Interviewer: So, so you were wrestling with this question of converting to Judaism in the middle of a full blown war and a war, and you were right in the middle of a war zone.
Stout: Well, yeah, ya know, it’s, when people think of wars, fortunately or unfortunately they think that it’s a constant thing, and the ans-, quite frankly, the answer’s not always a constant state of battle, if you will. It comes and goes. People have often described it as moments of, or periods of sheer boredom penetrated by fear beyond belief. So, and that, and I was kind of in that situation. I had the opportunity to actually read some books when I was not in the field which, just to pass time. I certainly enjoyed that.
So after Viet Nam, I came home and was quickly assigned to Fort Knox, Kentucky and drove home every weekend from Louisville, basically, back to Columbus to see my wife and family at the time, my girlfriend at the time and my family. Then, at the last, I was trying to get reassigned to Ohio State University as a faculty member in the ROTC program, because I did have qualifying scores to pretty much do whatever I wanted to do. And in applying for that position, you had to apply for two other possibilities in case that one didn’t come through. So I applied for Ohio State and I think my next two possibilities turned out to be University of Kentucky and Murray State University, which I knew nothing about, but it was in southern Kentucky. So as the world turns, I was not granted the Ohio State wish, which would have been wonderful, but given the Murray State University position.
One of the interesting things about my time at Murray State, I thought, and is, when the Kent State University tragedy occurred, that Murray State was quite honestly, a very, very conservative, Bible belt area in the world at the time and I’ve gotten to know some people at the university, some faculty members, I’d taken some courses, and one of my English professors at the time said, “Hey, Steve, we’re gonna, we’re gonna march on the quad to protest Kent State and what has happened there.” and I said, “Fine, I’m with ya, I’m all in.” I just knew that I couldn’t wear my uniform to, while protesting, because that would make me liable to be arrested by the military police and/or whatever, so I purposely wore civilian clothes and did the little march and chanted the little chants, to voice my displeasure. So at that point in time, my commanding officer, colonel, saw me out in the quad, gave me a look that said, “I’m gonna get you.” And basically, he did. Shortly thereafter I got orders to go back to Viet Nam, which was not gonna be in the cards for me. I was so upset, I went up to Fort Knox, Kentucky which was kind of the headquarters for the area and bolted into a, a major’s office with those orders and said, “I’m not going back to Viet Nam. I’ve already been there, I’ve done my thing, done my share. If you want, if you think you’re gonna make me do this, I’m not going. You’ll follow me to Canada, cause that’s where I’m going from here. I will get out of the Army. I will write letters to every newspaper in the Midwest to tell them about this dilemma and how unfair it was.” They agreed to temporarily cancel those orders and actually I ended up getting out 90 days early for seasonal employment at the time, so I was a bit of a rebel in an institution that didn’t really enjoy rebels.
Once I started Ohio State as a student, got married and started at Ohio State, I quickly joined the Viet Nam Veterans Against the War, which was headed up by a guy by the name of John Kerry, and was a dues-paying member, if you will. Unfortunately, didn’t have the bus fare Qui Nhon to go to D.C. for the moratorium demonstration, but nevertheless, in my heart, I knew that the war was terribly wrong, and that any further participation was just incorrect.
Interviewer: Could you trace just a little bit about how you went from being a military guy in Viet Nam to becoming basically an anti-war protestor. What was your thinking? How, how, did it happen quickly or it took a year or two or?
Stout: Oh no, no, it happened very, very quickly. When we got, got off the boat in Qui Nhon Harbor, we were put into buses to go out to our compound which was five or ten miles away and I, I noticed very quickly on, on the buses there were screens on all the windows. And granted, it was probably a hundred degrees and ninety percent humidity and the screens covered up the windows and I asked the bus driver, “Why, why do we have, what, what are these screens for?” and quite honestly, he said, and this is probably not politically correct, but he said, “To keep the gooks from throwing grenades in the bus.” And I thought, “Hold on, we’re here to supposedly help these people and yet there’s such a threat of, quote unquote, civilian people throwing grenades into our bus to hurt us, something must be wrong, this picture must not be right.” And of course, being only eighteen I wasn’t necessarily world-mature, but I was, I think savvy enough to understand in our, my contemporary buddies and soldiers all said the same thing. “Why are we here? This is stupid. All we’re doing is killing people and they don’t want us here to begin with. So, why are we here?” So that was a common theme through all of us. It wasn’t like we were all gung ho. We did what we had to do to stay alive, and did what we had to do to complete our mission. But we did not do it with a, a smile on our face or anything like that. We were just trying to get home.
Interviewer: Tell us about your marriage, uh, your decision to get married and convert to Judaism.
Stout: As I mentioned, we uh, we’d been talking about getting married once I got out of the Service. And actually in the summer of ’70, before we got married I started attending classes with Rabbi Jerome Folkman at Temple Israel and he was wonderful, great guy. And absolutely was welcoming to me, to the Temple. So obviously, I learned additional things about Judaism which I hadn’t maybe known before, and completed the course, which allowed us to get married, which allowed my mother-in-law to take off the pressure, so her girl would marry a Jewish guy.
Interviewer: Tell us about “her girl.”
Stout: “Her girl,” my wife, girlfriend in high school, we stayed, we stayed in communication the whole time basically I was in the Service. And I got home when I could get home, which was always, obviously, during Viet Nam it was impossible. We did have one phone call, which we both kind of joke about now. I called from my R and R in Bangkok, Thailand. It was a two-minute call and at the time, cost me twelve dollars, which is about, which is over ten percent of my monthly income. And it was the middle of the night here in the States, in Columbus, when I called. It was the middle of the daytime in Bangkok. So it was nice to hear her voice, but that was our only communication, unlike a lot of the soldiers today, God love ‘em, they can, they can Skype and communicate with their loved ones literally daily, and more power to ‘em, I think that’s great. The loneliness is a tough thing when you’re that far away from home in a war zone.
Interviewer: Lindsey Alexander.
Stout: Lindsey Alexander. Her, her mother was Harriet, father Spencer, transplants from Manhattan ended up with five girls; Wendy the oldest, Laurie next down, Lindsey my wife, middle child, Jaimie next one down, and then Heidi the youngest. So unique situation in that you had five, five girls and no boys and Spencer always took a little guff for that, but he could start a basketball team, but not a male basketball team.
Interviewer: And you and Lindsey, you were sweethearts in high school?
Stout: Yes, pretty much so. I, I think actually the first time we kinda thought we might have something together was the first football game in seventh grade. If uh, if people are from Bexley, they’ll know what the, what the drill was then. And the drill was behind the stadium, all the young seventh graders mingled between the concessions and the stadium itself, because we were all, there were three grade schools that combined into one junior high school. Those being Montrose, where I came from, Cassingham, which was the on-site elementary school, if you will, and then Maryland, which was in the north side of Bexley. So basically, a lot of people were just getting to know each other and introduce themselves, and quite honestly, the Bar Mitzvah list started from there.
Interviewer: So you were a uh, you were an inter-religious couple from, from very early on.
Stout: Yes and it wasn’t that uncommon at the time, as I, as I remember. It, there wasn’t, it wasn’t nowhere near closed situation for anyone. You dated who you wanted to date. But the general rule of thumb was, that was fine, until you got, quote unquote, serious, and then things began to take a different light. Religion came into play, be it one side or the other, if you will. Or how we gonna plan for it, how we gonna raise your children. And to me, I always say, having grown up in Bexley during that time period, I became Jewish by osmosis very quickly, because of all the interaction. So I mean, I got to know about temple and attended temple and, spent a lot of time at the JCC, as I mentioned earlier, so it wasn’t that big a jump. And fortunately, because my parents were not that religious, it was a, they love Lindsey, so it was an acceptable change for them. They had no problems, didn’t, didn’t question my decision at all, were happy in fact, obviously, that I had found my wife. And which is now fifty years later.
Interviewer: Tell us about your early years being married and after Viet Nam.
Stout: Early years married. When we got married, Lindsey was going into her senior year in elementary education and of course, I was just out of the Army, so I was just starting and but fortunately was able, was gonna go and did go to college on the GI Bill, but knew I had financial responsibilities that I had to take care of, so I took heavy loads and got done pretty quickly, two and a half years. Lindsey finished her senior year and taught elementary school in London, Ohio, so basically shortly after that I worked for a year and a half with Continental Office owned by Frankie Kass and Ernie Stern and then got into the medical business and basically have been in the medical business up until my retirement three years ago, so I was in the medical business forty-two years, and just found, found my niche, I guess.
Interviewer: Tell us about that niche. The medical business, what is, what is it?
Stout: Well, my medical business, if you will, and I was a non-science guy. I mean I didn’t even, I had trouble with high school biology. But as it turns out, you know, if you concentrate and you want to do it enough and it’s that important, you can learn about anything. So long story short, I just enveloped myself into the medical business, for me which started with medical supplies going to hospitals. I covered hospitals in Dayton, Middletown, Springfield, but commuted out of Columbus the entire time. I sold everything from the operating room to intensive care, emergency room, floor units, so I got a great experience with all the products that were involved. And quite honestly, just studied my tuchus off to learn to be an expert on those. And I, with all honesty, I’ve been called a “Legend from the Industry” from old folks who’ve known about my history. And it was a wonderful business. I honestly made, made good money, but had a good, great environment, learned a lot, hopefully was helping patients, as well as physicians and nurses.
Interviewer: And meanwhile, your wife Lindsey, she was a teacher?
Stout: Yeah, well she taught until our first child was born, which is Jillian. And she was born at Community Hospital in Springfield, Ohio, which is now defunct. But then of course, we started seemingly the nightly commute back and forth from Springfield to Bexley to visit family, to show ‘em the newborn, et cetera, et cetera. So at that point pretty quickly I realized we were going to have to move back to Bexley, so I went to my boss at the time and said, “I know I’m supposed to be living in my territory, but I‘ve just gotta get back to Columbus.” He said, “Hey, you’ve got the numbers, you do what you want. It’s all about you driving, so I could care less, as long as you bring the numbers in,” which was gracious of him, but yet he kept me happy which kept everyone happy.
Interviewer: So, so you were in Bexley for many years, your own home.
Stout: Our first home after we left our rental double in Springfield was 84 N. Ardmore. We bought the house, I bought the house, we bought the house on the VI, VA Loan, which was nothing down at the time, and basically you make your payments, which I had no problem doing and a year and a half later we had an opportunity to buy a fixer-upper house on South Columbia, which I took my earnings off of the first house and used that as a down payment for our second house, of which we lived there twen-, over twenty years, raised our children, two daughters, Griffin and Jillian, and recent, twenty years after we moved in, we moved to German Village, because we no longer, if you will, needed the Bexley Schools.
Interviewer: In recent decades, have you felt a part of the Jewish community or has that not been so important?
Stout: I would, we ended up dropping out of Temple Israel at one point, and I’m trying to remember the timetable, I’m gonna, I’m thinking seven, eight years ago, when they were having a lot of issues with how their money was being spent and some of the directions they were going into. Rabbi Folkman had long left. So we, and once the kids were confirmed, then we felt no intense obligation to stay involved with Temple Israel. And our oldest daughter joined Temple Israel even though she married a Catholic. And they had a, they had a nice relationship as far as, their children were both taken to temple as well as St. Catharine’s Church on the East side. So, if you will, the legacy kind of continued and knock wood, that’s all turned out pretty well.
Interviewer: So some would say you, you’ve, you’ve done a good job of symbolizing how religion, different religions can get along and can meld together in some cases, and make it work.
Stout: Well, I thank you for that, but I’m not so sure I set out to do that. It just happened to be the environment that we were, that we lived in. But I, we’ve tried to teach our children to be tolerant of everyone, the proverbial race, ethnicity, religion, because, you know, it’s only one world and we’re all here together. And there’s no reason to carry hate towards anyone. Because we’re all human beings. We’re just trying to get through our life and be productive and raise good children.
Interviewer: As you look back on your life, what strikes you?
Stout: Well, I think it’s sometimes hard to, you don’t wanna, as my mother-in-law would say, “Knock on wood, do this, do that, do that.” She had every little saying known to man, that you shouldn’t count your chickens too early, whatever, whatever. But, had a good life, certainly in a great family. So I mean, if I could’ve scripted it, I suppose I wouldn’t have scripted it a whole lot different. There have always been trials and tribulations. And the war experience was not one I’d wish on anyone. But the fact when you’re growing up in a liberal-minded community which allows people to think for themselves and have their own opinions, I think it’s important that we as a nation, as a world direct ourselves a little bit more in that direction.
Interviewer: Do you, do you ever look back on your Viet Nam experience, and think what a miracle it is that you are here today, pretty much sound in body and in spirit?
Stout: Well, in some ways yes, and in some ways no. I mean I had typical post-traumatic stress syndrome conditions once I got back. Probably more so, not during school, but after school, because during school, I was totally thinking about the end game. The end game being graduating and having a job, a good, well-paying job. There, ya know, ya gotta remember, there were 500,000 guys in Viet Nam when I was there. So yeah, there’s some issues and I feel bad for the guys who had trouble readjusting. And I’ve been of the opinion that if you’re kinda screwed up going in, you’re gonna be screwed up going out. The actual war experience only intensified wherever you’re at at the time. And other than being anti-war and being a member of the Viet Nam Veterans Against the War, I no longer wanted to think about the war. I always thought it was a waste, but yet, I suffered from the nightmares and there were recurrences of things that were not pretty that I had to do, but it was the proverbial, “either he or me”, and I wanted to get back to Bexley, Ohio to see that wife of mine, or soon-to-be-wife of mine. So I think I was just typical. I don’t think I was extraordinary one way or the other.
Interviewer: Everyone says that we have to learn from history, but everybody takes a different lesson about particular events. Is there, is there some lesson you would impart to others that you think the Viet Nam War should have taught us?
Stout: Yeah (laughs), quite frankly and this is my politics, and my politics only, but I’m, I’m, I feel free to support it. We should not be involved in wars, unless it’s absolutely necessary for our own self-protection, and I actually mean, serious self-protection. We can have interest around the world: oil, economy. But that doesn’t mean we should be willing to sacrifice our young men and women for that end. The other overbearing thing I think that’s important to learn from the Viet Nam War is, which we didn’t necessarily do well then, but I think we’re doing a better job now, is we need to separate the warriors from the war and take care of the warriors who come back with issues, be them physical or mental, that we have the capacity to help them and not shun them, and give them every opportunity to readjust in a normal, in a normal way.
Interviewer: Is there anything else that you haven’t talked about that you want to make sure people understand about your life?
Stout: (laughs) Life, I remember the TV shows “This is Your Life.” I can’t, I think I’ve pretty much said it. I don’t want to be a bore and repetitive. But, you know, I’ve had a good life, and yes, a portion of it’s got to do with Judaism. I think Judaism as an overall, is a forgiving religion and it is a caring religion. And that’s always been important to me. And I could say one other thing, and I’m gonna show you this book later, but I took, I think it was four years ago, I took both daughters back to Viet Nam. Their first times, obviously, but I’ve been doing a medical mission there probably for ten, twelve years now, so I’ve been going back prior even to taking them back, to quote unquote, utilize whatever medical expertise I might have, and as it turns out, I could not convince people in the hospital that I wasn’t a “bac si”, which is “physician” in Vietnamese, so they had me involved with a lot of surgical cases, et cetera, et cetera, which I could do. I had no problem with that. And I didn’t have any malpractice insurance, so I didn’t have to work. But anyway, I was able to take our two daughters back, and our youngest daughter, Griffin, by the way, is a physician herself now. So she particularly enjoyed going back and visiting the hospital where I’ve been volunteering and bringing equipment and supplies to, to there in Qui Nhon. And I think they both got a true realization of how we are in one world, and it is a world that we must be able to cooperate with and live with, and quite honestly, how fortunate we are to live in the United States.
Interviewer: Well, with those words, let’s end our interview here with Steve Stout. I’m Bill Cohen for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society.