Monday, August 9, 2010

Amanuensis Monday: Interview with Melvin Lester Newmark - Conclusion

Amanuensis: A person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another.

I continue my project to transcribe family letters, journals, audiotapes, and other historical artifacts. Not only do the documents contain genealogical information, the words breathe life into kin - some I never met - others I see a time in their life before I knew them. If you choose to join me in Amanuensis Monday and post your transcriptions, feel free to add a link to your post in the comments.

This week I conclude transcribing an interview of my paternal grandfather, Melvin Lester Newmark, conducted on December 23, 1987, by a personal historian.  A good portion of the final fifteen minutes has been edited out below either because I was unable to understand what was on the tape, or it directly mentions a living person.  These portions have been indicated by: [...]


Interviewer: All right, what was your practice developing after the war?
Melvin: A number of businesses. Not big, nothing flashy, but listen, I made a living,
Interviewer: Normal business.
Melvin: Normal business, yeah. Not big businesses. I’m trying to think of the biggest client I had. I didn’t have any really big companies [...] But decent sized companies.
Interviewer: And meanwhile, some years later, your next child was born?
Melvin: Yes [...]
Interviewer: So now you have a complete family. A post-war child.
Melvin: That’s right [...] That was an interesting story. My wife, Sissie, wanted desperately to have another child. I wouldn’t hear of it [...] At that time I wanted to become President of Missouri Lodge. And she made a deal with me, that I could become President of Missouri Lodge, if she could have another child.
Interviewer: Marvelous, here we are.
Melvin: Best deal I ever made.
Interviewer: All right, so where are you living [...]
Melvin: We had a home in Oak Estates.
Interviewer: Where?
Melvin: Oak Estates.
Interviewer: Where is that?
Melvin: In Olivette.
Interviewer: You bought a house?
Melvin: We bought a house. We were getting by, and were beginning to grow and prosper.
Interviewer: All right, so you’re involved with the B’nai B’rith Lodge, you say?
Melvin: Yeah, and with United Hebrew Temple, then I became real involved in all kinds of things.
Interviewer: What kinds of things?
Melvin: I was very active [...]
Interviewer:  What were your interests?
Melvin: [paper ruffling]
Interviewer: What comes to mind?
Melvin: I was active at the Temple. The Temple became a good part of my life.
Interviewer: United Hebrew?
Melvin: I was President there for three years. I became very close to [Rabbi] Jerry Grollman. Our friendship didn’t last. Jerry and I had a hard time getting along in the end. But I was very much involved with United Hebrew Temple life there for a long time. I was very active with B’nai B’rith.
Interviewer: What about Bar Association stuff?
Melvin: I was only active, but never as an officer.
Interviewer: You just participated.


Melvin: That’s right. Not very much involved. And then I became a municipal judge. I was a judge in Olivette.
Interviewer: Did you enjoy that?
Melvin: I loved it for awhile [...]  I was a judge I guess for six or seven years.
Interviewer: Was that an elected thing, or an appointed?
Melvin: Appointed.
Interviewer: So that was another opportunity you had.
Melvin: To establish my name in the area. So I had some standing in the community.
Interviewer: I think it’s excellent. Did you travel with your children?
Melvin: Yes, we did travel some. We didn’t do a lot of traveling in those days. Not like today.
Interviewer: No, but I mean did you go to weekends in Chicago?
Melvin: Sometimes, but not a lot.
Interviewer: Summer vacations?
Melvin: Some, but they weren’t fancy. I don’t really recall them.
Interviewer: So you became active in your community in Olivette?
Melvin: Very active in Olivette. Active in the Jewish community. The Jewish Federation, I guess, you name the organization, I belonged.
Interviewer: But you were involved with the Federation?
Melvin: Yes, I think everything Jewish I was involved in.
Interviewer: That was important?
Melvin: Yes. Isn’t it crazy? Because, you have to realize that I am a very irreligious person.
Interviewer: But that’s two different things. One is the community activities, and one is, you know, ritual.
Melvin: Yeah, I have no – I don’t go to Temple now. But that doesn’t mean I’m not Jewish. I still maintain my interest and membership in the Temple.
Interviewer: And you’re still at United Hebrew?
Melvin: Yes.
Interviewer: Is it still on Skinker?
Melvin: Well, it is – we think – They’re going to meet tonight, I think, as to whether they’re selling the building.
Interviewer: But the new one’s built?
Melvin: The new one’s under study right now. We have one building – a school building.
Interviewer: But the sanctuary isn’t there yet?
Melvin: Not yet. The Gudder Building, named after my client, Ullus Gudder…
Interviewer: But, I mean, it’s in the works? The building?
Melvin: Yes. It will be the largest, newest –
Interviewer: But I mean, they haven’t started to dig yet?
Melvin: No, I think they’ll break ground by the time the year ends.
Interviewer: That’s interesting.


Interviewer: Do you and your wife travel?
Melvin: A lot.
Interviewer: Tell me about that.
Melvin: We love to travel. That’s why she became a travel agent. And as a result, we take advantage of it. Since my work enables me to get away. Basically all I do now is labor arbitration. I don’t accept any law work. As I think I mentioned, my memory is not good. And I don’t feel able to carry on the law practice in the tradition that I think the name Newmark represents in this community. But I do labor arbitration. But I don’t have to accept an assignment.
Interviewer: If you’re going to be out of town?
Melvin: Right.
Interviewer: So how many months of the year do you travel?
Melvin: I would say we must be away three or four months out of the year.
Interviewer: And you’ve come back from a cruise.
Melvin: We generally take short trips. This will be the first year we will get away for three months.
Interviewer: You’re going to Florida?
Melvin: We’re going to Palm Springs for the winter.
Interviewer: Oh, Palm Springs. West.
Melvin: We’ll be there for the winter. But otherwise, we usually just get away for three weeks, two weeks, something like that.  [...]
Interviewer: All right, tell me about some of your glamorous trips.
Melvin: Well, you know you’ve got me on one of my favorite subjects. This year we’ve had a fantastic year. We started out doing Australia, New Zealand, and the Southern Pacific Islands. We were going to go to New Guinea,
Interviewer: I was going to say that
Melvin: This was the thing I was looking forward to, a celebration of our 50th
Interviewer: Wedding?
Melvin: Wedding, but we couldn’t get into New Guinea. There was trouble in Port Moresby. But we went to a lot of the other islands around there.
Interviewer: Oh, you were so close.
Melvin: So close, but we couldn’t get in. But we did all of Northern Australia, which brought back memories [...] That was a great trip. We had earlier done the Indonesian islands. That was two years ago. We spent three weeks cruising in the Indonesian islands on a great little ship. We’ve been to Asia I guess three times now. We’ve done everything on the East coast of Asia, I guess.
Interviewer: China?
Melvin: China. We did three very difficult weeks in China. It’s a hard trip.
Interviewer: Well, I want to thank you so much. You’ve had a great life. And it’s been a privilege for me to interview you, and hear the story of your family. Thank you very much.
Melvin: Thank you.


1) The "Missouri Lodge" my grandfather mentions at the beginning of this section references the local chapter of B'nai B'rith International, a humanitarian, human rights, and advocacy organization.

2) The synagogue on Skinker Blvd was ultimately sold to the Missouri History Museum, and has been preserved as their Library and Research Center.  I believe the current synagogue opened in 1989. However, as my grandfather mentions, the religious school had already moved further west several years before.  The United Hebrew website says 1977.  That feels early to me, as I believe I was older when the change was made.  Possibly both campuses were used for a few years.

3)  My grandfather made it to Palm Springs five winters in a row, before passing away in January of 1992.  My grandmother lived for an additional ten years after that.

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