The stern family history sixty years as a lawyer



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Robert L. Stern

December 1994

THE STERN FAMILY HISTORY - SIXTY YEARS AS A LAWYER
My oldest granddaughter, Danielle Stern, who is now well along in college, has impressed upon me that I am the oldest member of the family, and better able than the others to pass on family history which may be of interest to many of us. I will try. I am now 86 and can refer to five generations. I can, of course, go back only to people I have known about either directly or by what I have been told.
So far as I know, my ancestors--and I can really not go back any further than my grandparents--Stern, Lazarus, Hays and Garson--all were Jews coming to the United States from Germany at various times during the 1800's. I do not know exactly when.
Sterns and Lazarus - Strangely enough, the fewest I can identify--at least before our present generations--were the Sterns. A much broader Stern genealogy (going back a long time and including other countries), however, has to a large extent been preserved by Dr. Charles J. Friedlander, 1664 Thirty-Fourth N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007-2746 (telephone: 202-337-0055).
I have a vague recollection that shortly after my parents moved our part of the family from New York City to Rochester, New York in 1921 I met a great grandmother once or twice. She may well have been in her 90's and seemed very old. A genealogy prepared by my cousin Ellen Hays Witt (see p. 8, infra.), which of course includes the Hays family, indicates that this may have been Babette Hays, who may have been born before 1830.
The only grandparent I can remember was my father's mother, Matilda Lazarus, born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1856. All I know is that her family in prior years had come over from Germany and at some time gotten to Columbus, where they started a small store which eventually became F & R Lazarus Company. I remember her telling me of seeing the Confederate cavalry riding through Columbus to escape the Union cavalry which was not very far behind. She married Louis Stern in the early 1870's in New York City. I think he was supposed to go into partnership with Isaac Hays of the Hays-Levi men's clothing manufacturing company, which Hays moved from Rochester to New York City in 1893. All I know about him is that he came over from Germany in time to start a family, and eventually committed suicide by drowning in the Central Park reservoir I believe in 1894, possibly because of financial reasons or difficulties getting along with his wife, or both.1
She lived in Manhattan for the remainder of her life as Matilda Stern. She had some sisters, including Bertha whom I vaguely recall. For many years our family had Sunday dinner at her house. I was Matilda's first grandson, and knew her very well until she died in 1938, five years after I had moved to Washington. She may have been a strong minded woman, but she was very nice to me.
The Lazarus store in Columbus, run by my father's first cousins after their parents, became the largest store in that area and a foundation for Federated Department Stores, which also included stores in Cincinnati, New York, Brooklyn, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Richmond, Atlanta and Memphis. We occasionally saw, and liked, some of our Lazarus cousins, particularly Simon, Fred and Bob when we lived in Rochester, New York, in the 1920's and even up to my marriage in Washington in 1936. I knew Simon Jr. of my generation who graduated from Harvard Law School in 1937 and died in Cincinnati in 1976. Not too many years ago Federated Department Stores was taken over by a Canadian company which eventually went bankrupt. An independent Federated has been restored, but whether any of the Lazarus family has anything to do with it, I do not know. Some of them probably still live in Columbus and Cincinnati. I suspect that the Lazaruses may have provided financial support for my grandmother after her husband died, and even to my father after he was hit by the depression of the 1930's. I do not know, but it is possible. My father did not tell me about such things.
My father, Albert L. Stern, was born in New York City in August 1876, the oldest of five children of Matilda and Louis Stern. Like most men of that period who did not go to a professional school, Dad went directly to work when he was 18, for the Hays-Levi Company. This was the business which Isaac Hays had brought to New York from Rochester, which had apparently been the company for which Louis Stern had worked. I recall being taken to the company's office near 11th Street and Broadway, where Dad was then an officer. This must have been close to 1920. My father married Alma, the daughter of Isaac Hays, in 1907. I was born in 1908.
My father was a man of average size, and quite good looking with a blond mustache. On the whole he seemed to be regarded as an intelligent businessman and the leader of the family. I remember that in 1916 Dad had me join him in a parade of the New York business community down Fifth Avenue to support the establishment of a larger Army, about six months before the United States entered World War I. In 1918, when the United States fleet returned from England after the War had been won, we could watch from our apartment on Riverside Drive President Woodrow Wilson reviewing the Fleet on the Hudson River. A few days later Dad took Al and me--at the ages of 7 and 10--on board the then reasonably modern battleship Texas anchored in the river. The Texas next became well known as providing heavy artillery for the invasion of Normandy in June 1944. It is now visible--and I have seen it--anchored in the harbor of Houston, Texas.
Mother was a wonderful person, civic minded, sometimes too generous, musical. She sometimes didn't adequately stand up to Dad. Both had a good sense of humor. She was short and somewhat plump, with beautiful long auburn hair. Both Mother and Dad played bridge and golf, and tennis while they were young. Mother was probably a better golfer. She was the only smoker in the family. That may have had something to do with her death from something relating to her heart at 65 in April 1951. The family on the whole lived close together in Manhattan, except for our ten years in Rochester in the 1920's, and until I went to Washington in 1933 and my parents moved with Midge to Baltimore in 1936. Al alone stayed in New York after that until 1956 when he discovered California. While we were young, Dad may have been closer to me than to Al, possibly because I was a better student, and Mother to Al, probably to compensate.
Dad and Mother were disturbed by lack of income after the depression hit Dad's companies from 1931 on. Mother tried to help by establishing a shop selling camp goods. They left New York when Dad was retained, unsuccessfully, to restore or terminate a large Baltimore clothing company in 1936 through 1938. Dad had a heart attack in 1942 after attempting to carry heavy luggage down stairs, but managed to work for the government later in the war from 1942 through 1945. They then continued to live in Baltimore. In the early years Mother and Dad may have received a little financial assistance from the Lazarus's and from Mother's brothers Harold and Arthur, as well as later from Al, Midge and me, particularly from me at the end when I had greater income.
My grandmother Matilda lived for a great many years at 88th Street and Broadway in Manhattan with her son, Simon, and daughter, Edith (or Edythe), who both were outlived by my father. Simon, who was a year younger than my father, became a lawyer who practiced by himself in New York. He was a somewhat ornery man, who did not seem to like my mother. Since I was the oldest grandchild, I was their favorite until we moved to Rochester in 1921. Simon willingly lent me the money I needed for taking the New York bar exam in 1932. Simon, as well as Edith, lived in the same apartment as their mother until she died in 1938. Simon, who had some ailments, only lived until 1942. Because Simon's mother was prejudiced against Jews from Russia, Simon was not publicly married until after his mother died. Some time before that he had been secretly married to his office secretary, Lillian, but did not tell his mother, or move out of her apartment. I knew his wife slightly; she was a homely, but pleasant lady.
After Simon died in 1942, the family remaining in New York (Edith, Florence and Herbert) refused to agree that Lillian's body could eventually be buried with Simon's in the Stern cemetery plot in Queens! As a result Simon's was moved by Lillian to her own cemetery. She lived on for a substantial time.
Edith, who was four years younger than Simon, was married for only a short time to an erotic or erratic doctor named Lee Shoninger, from whom she was rescued by her brother, Herbert. While she could, she lived with her mother and Simon for the rest of her life, dying about a year before my father died in 1958. For many years, using the name Shelby, she was a social secretary for a substantial part of the New York Jewish community.
Edith's younger and prettier sister, Florence, married Arthur Hyman, a prosperous lawyer who was the head of a small office. I believe she lived until 1958, and Arthur until 1975, both long after I left New York City in 1933. They had a son, John Arthur Hyman, who has been married several times. He lives in Williamsburg, Virginia with a newer, and younger wife, Betty Crowe, whom I have not met. She is a historian and a curator at colonial Williamsburg. John is 10 to 13 years younger than I am. After he grew up, we became and have remained friends, although we see each other very seldom. He even attended my 50th wedding anniversary with Terese in Winnetka in 1986. He has two grown sons by his first wife. He lived for many years in North Carolina working in the furniture business, and is now interested in 18th century English and colonial silver. He seems to have inherited enough money from his father to get along very well.
Dad's brother, Herbert, who was ten years younger than he was, was like my father and Florence, quite handsome. He was taller and a better athlete and worked in various businesses. He married a very unattractive but quite prosperous lady, Ciel Altmayer, whom we knew, but not very well. Their two daughters--Nancy and Jane--have been married and live near Norfolk, Virginia. I have not kept up with them since I left New York in 1933.
About seven years after Mother died in 1951, Dad started going with and finally married Helen Lippincott, a very nice Baltimore lady almost his age who had grown children of her own. They moved to a house owned by her on Cape Cod early in 1958. A few months after that Dad got generally sick in the heart and other areas. Midge and I went to see him, but he couldn't recognize us. He died several months later, in September 1958, at the age of 82. In the last year or so, after Dad's sister Edith had predeceased him, Dad finally inherited what may have been some Lazarus money from her. After Dad died, some of that became usable (through Al, Midge and me) for Al to start his Ben Franklin store.
Herbert, like my father and their mother, died of heart failure at the age of 82, about 1968. Edith was a little younger. I am so far four years older, and Al one year.
So much for the Sterns, except for my own family which will be discussed below.

Hays's and Garsons - The Hays's and Garsons were considerably more impressive than the Sterns.
The Garsons - Isaac Hays was the father of my mother, Alma, who was born in Rochester in 1885. He married Laura Garson in Rochester in 1880 when he was 23 and she 21. I do not know when the Hays family started living in Rochester. A number of Garsons continued to live there. I remember two who moved to New York City. First, my Mother's aunt Stella Garson became married to Joe Rice in New York. She was red-headed, attractive and not very much older than Mother, which made them very close friends. Her daughter, Virginia Rice, sold books to publishers.
Peggy Garson Lasker, a large, beautiful lady (who married Isaac Levy after Harry Lasker died around 1920) was my mother's first and favorite cousin. In the early 1930's, her eldest daughter, Louise, who was about two years younger and at least six inches taller than I was, married Erwin Schwarz. One of their sons is a professor at the University of Arizona. After Louise died about 20 years ago, Erwin married Judy of New York. They have lived for a long time in Erwin's large house in Tucson with lots of fruit, not very far from our house. They have now been good friends of ours in Tucson for a number of years. Erwin is a highly intellectual ex-businessman and cook, 4 or 5 years older than I am, who, after retirement from business, for some time was a high school teacher of classical subjects. Judy is a very nice person.
Louise's brother, Morris Lasker, born in 1917, after practicing law in New York became a federal district judge in New York City in 1968. He is now a senior judge who continues to work part-time, and has been very highly regarded. He has recently become a senior part-time judge in Boston, where more of his relatives now reside. We have been good friends but see each other only occasionally because we have lived so far apart. I also knew, mainly in Tucson during her last few years, Louise's and Morris' sister, Jane Lasker Samek, who smoked and died of cancer. Their brother, Harry Lasker, Jr., was killed flying a military plane to Russia during World War II.
Another cousin whose mother was a Garson is Luise Scheiner Davidson, who is a year older than I am. Even though we live substantial distances apart, we keep in touch and even have seen each other occasionally. Luise and her brothers Robert and Paul lived with their parents in Rochester when we moved there from New York City in 1921. Within a couple of years, they moved to New York, and we began to see them again only when we moved back to New York in 1930. By that time she was married to Bob Davidson, a lawyer friend of mine. Bob finally lost his health and died, as did her two brothers. Luise had done important work for, in part as a member of the Board of, Bellevue Hospital for many years. She has a son and daughter and several grandchildren. For the past few years she has lived in a pleasant resort at Kennett Square, Pennsylvania (69 Kendal-at-Longwood, 19348 (tel: 215-368-1433)).
The Hays's - My grandfather, Isaac Hays, moved the business which became the Hays-Levi Company and his family from Rochester to New York in 1893, when my mother was eight years old. I did not know Isaac because he died from an appendicitis operation in 1911 when I was only three years old. As indicated above Isaac and my father were capable businessmen. Although they were Jewish, they did not go to any temple in New York, although Dad did in Rochester. Arthur Hays' writings suggest that his father Isaac was a friend of a well-known agnostic or atheist, which may have been responsible for most of the family after that not being religious.
My grandmother, Laura Garson Hays, died in 1916 in the New York area. I remember little about her, except that she was described as very good looking.
Alma and my father were married in June 1907 when he was thirty-one years old and mother was twenty-two. She was a junior in Barnard College, the female branch of Columbia University. She and her brothers all went to college. As was customary in those days, she stopped shortly before I was born, in an apartment on Broadway two blocks below Columbia on September 18, 1908.
In 1921, when my father was an officer of the Hays-Levi Company in New York, a strike by the first clothing union forced the company out of business. My father was fortunate to become an officer of a new small clothing manufacturer in Rochester, where by coincidence my mother still had some cousins.
Dad and Mother joined a Rochester Jewish community, and in particular a reformed temple and a nine-hole golf club. I was twelve or thirteen years old, which was the age for the oldest class in the temple's Sunday school. At that age it was too late to induce me to be religious, and I refused to go to the school. I did, however, want a dog. The compromise was for me to get the dog, but to go to the school only for the year which was necessary for graduation. That did not induce me to become religious, but the dog (an Airedale named Jeff, liked by the whole family) lived eleven or twelve years. Within a few years, I took up golf. My brother, Albert, Jr. (Al), had to go to the Sunday school much longer than I did. Probably not for that reason, he became a much better golfer, which he still is.
Before we moved from New York City to Rochester, Al and I had gone to Horace Mann School, a top ranking institution attached to Columbia University. (Strangely enough, my present wife, Helen, also attended Horace Mann several summers when her father found it necessary to leave Blytheville, Arkansas to be examined by doctors in New York). In Rochester, however, we went to the public schools. And Mother began to study the Christian Science religion, though not very strictly. Because Horace Mann had provided advanced education and I was first in my class, I started high school one-half year ahead and graduated in three and one-half years.
Harold - Mother's two older brothers, Harold M. and Arthur Garfield Hays, went to Columbia College and medical and law schools. Indeed, it seems to have been predicted well in advance that each would become a member of that profession, and each did became an outstanding member.
Harold was a medium sized and very attractive man. He specialized in ear, nose and throat work, and was a doctor-captain in the Army during World War I. He married a pretty but unintelligent lady (Ethel). They had a son, Harold, Jr., nearly my age, who closely resembled his mother. He was a close friend of mine until I left New York for Washington in 1933. He joined the Army near the beginning of World War II, and was killed in an Army tank in Germany in April 1945, a month before the end of the war. His father ultimately divorced Ethel and married Gertrude, an attractive and intelligent medical nurse. Harold Sr. and his family remained close to us in all respects, with Harold coming to Rochester to perform emergency operations. He paid for my taking a trip to France by boat and then by bus with his son Harold in the summer of 1924. I particularly remember Paris, Verdun and Mont. St. Michel. I believe Harold died around 1940 in his home near Scarsdale, New York, after Terese and I had visited him and Gertrude there. He had written several medical books and at one time managed a hospital of his own.
Arthur - His brother, Arthur Garfield Hays (they had been President in that order in reverse when Arthur was born), a year younger, and plump and short like my mother, became an able and prominent New York lawyer, who in addition to private practice was for many years chief counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. He was one of the lawyers who with Clarence Darrow defended the school teacher in the Tennessee evolution case in 1925, the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial, and worked on many other important cases. From 1928 to 1942 he published a number of books relating to his law practice and civil liberties work, entitled Let Freedom Ring, Democracy Works, City Lawyer and Trial by Prejudice. He had a house in downtown Manhattan and eventually also a house on Long Island, near the Sound. Arthur was married twice, first to Blanche Marks in 1908, who was quite attractive and who after the divorce lived a long time in Florida, and then beginning around 1923 to Aline Fleisher. He died in 1954 at 73. I remember going to his funeral soon after I moved to Chicago.
Lora (who is about two years younger than I am) was the daughter of Arthur and Blanche. She has been very active in literary and artistic work, including teaching film editing at NYU. She has been married to Jean Lenauer and Lou Spindell, and has a daughter Kate of her own. Jane, the daughter of Arthur and Aline, is about fifteen years younger than Lora, and married to William J. Butler, a prominent New York lawyer who like his father-in-law has engaged in civil rights work in addition to private practice. I was friendly with Lora, Jane and Bill, but have hardly seen them at all since I left New York in 1933. Jane and Bill inherited Arthur's old house in downtown New York (24 E. 10th Street) and also have lived in the New York suburbs. They have a daughter Patricia who works I believe for a bank in Philadelphia and, I think, a son Arthur Hays Butler who is or was a lawyer in Washington. Patricia probably in the 1970-1980's was married in Chicago to a Mexican student (Rodney Ramirez) at the University of Chicago Law School, who did not graduate or become a lawyer. Terese and I to some extent acted as advisers, and constituted the "family" at their wedding. Patricia now has a daughter.
Robert Hays and Ellen - Mother's younger brother, Robert Hays, for whom I was named, was born in 1891. He was a very attractive man who went to Williams College and was graduated in 1912. Eventually he went to work with a relative managing a store in Rochester. He married Edna Hess, a very pretty young lady and a very impressive baseball player (to an eight year old boy), around 1916. Their daughter Ellen was born in 1917. In 1918 all three of them were afflicted with influenza during the epidemic of that year, and Bob died. Miraculously, Edna and Ellen survived, and a few years later Edna married one of Bob's close friends, Irving Goldsmith. They eventually moved to Los Angeles where Edna lived the rest of her life, until 1981 when she died at 88. Ellen married Bert Witt in Los Angeles and they have four sons. They have done a good deal of world traveling, collecting Indian and Eskimo artifacts which have often been loaned to museums. They also are much involved in furthering the education of Indian children. Ellen has prepared a genealogy from which some of this has been taken. My brother, Al, who also lives near Los Angeles, sees them occasionally, but I have not for a number of years.
My brother Al and his family - My brother Al was born in New York City on November 28, 1911, a little over three years after I was. He was a handsome edition of the Hays's, but has lived substantially longer, as I have. We have been close friends since I was sensible enough at a young age to realize that he was substantially bigger and stronger, even though I was a better student. He was a much better athlete, particularly at golf and tennis, and at getting along with people. He graduated from high school in 1929, when the depression had forced Dad out of work as a clothing executive. A result was that the family could not afford to send Al to college, particularly when his high school grades, at least in subjects in which he was not much interested, were not very good. I was already in law school. He was able to start as a clerk in a New York department store with which the Lazarus family may have had some connection. He gradually moved up to a buyer's position in Bloomingdale's in Manhattan for many years, then transferred to Namm & Loeser in Brooklyn for about three years, and then to Fedway, a branch of Federated which was buying for other stores.
In 1942 Al married Betty Jones, the daughter of Professor Frederick and Elizabeth Jones of Colgate University located in Hamilton, New York in the middle of upstate New York, where Fred was a French professor and Chairman of Romance Languages. After Fred died in 1962, Elizabeth lived into her 90's, marrying in 1967 and outliving a lawyer named Robert A. Jones. She died in 1987. They lived for a number of years near Al and Betty in California. Betty, a bright, strong-minded graduate of Skidmore College, in eastern upstate New York, had worked at various jobs in different cities. These included secretary to Walt Disney and to Leopold Stokowski, former conductor of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, for which her brother, Mason Jones, for many years was the leading French horn player.
Their wedding in Hamilton in July, 1942 came shortly after Al became a private in the Supply Department of the U.S. Army Air Force. He eventually became an officer in that Department, at first near Baltimore, Maryland, where our parents then lived, and then near Washington, D.C. where I lived. After the War he returned to work in New York.
In 1956 when Fedway was opening stores in a number of small cities in the West, he was selected to be a store manager. Since he had not had experience as an executive, he was required to start work as an assistant manager, and was sent to a new store in Bakersfield, California. After several years, Fedway discovered that its new stores were not doing well because of locations at the center of cities without adequate parking spaces, and the stores were gradually closed. Al was given a few months notice of discharge, and then suddenly was advised that his old job in New York City would be open. By that time, 1961, he preferred California, and decided to open a new Ben Franklin 5+10 store of his own near Pomona, about thirty miles east of Los Angeles. That store did quite well for a while, but was handicapped by the failure of the owner of the shopping center to obtain enough other tenants. The result was that eventually Al moved to other Ben Franklin stores in the general area.
Since 1961 they have lived in and bought a house in Diamond Bar, a suburb of Pomona, both of which are now substantial cities. Since he has been fourteen years old he has been an excellent golfer, playing with scores around 80 until recently when he began to approach that age. He still plays, usually not too far above his age.
I learned many years later that he had told other members of the family that he would have liked to become a lawyer (which he could not do without going to college). Surprisingly, in 1979 when he was about 68 years old he began a paralegal program at LaVerne College in LaVerne, near Pomona, graduating in 1981, when he was 70 years old. By that time he was old enough to qualify for his Social Security pension. He was also able to obtain work, at the beginning without pay, in the branch of the Legal Services Program in Pomona, which principally gives advice to poor women threatened by relatives or others. Within a short time he became and still is the leading non-lawyer in that office, and is now an expert in that line of work, for which he is well paid for three days a week. I am sure that he knows much more about the law of battered women than all the 570 lawyers in my law office put together. He has also been for many years the leading local representative of the American Civil Liberties Union. He now works three days a week, plays golf two days, and is home two days, and except for one bad eye, is quite healthy. Betty, who is six years younger than Al, has also had some ailments, but is now doing very well.
Al and Betty have four children. The oldest,
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