Monday, February 08, 2016

Chariton's amazing Rabbi Gendler & Hy-Vee, too

Ok, so it's a little presumptuous to claim Rabbi Everett Gendler as Chariton's own, although like all true Lucas Countyans of certain ages (like me), he was born at Yocom Hospital --- on August 8, 1928. And he lived here with his parents, Max and Sara Gendler, and sister, Annette, until he turned 11. Then the family moved to Des Moines. But I'm going to stake the claim anyway.

Rabbi Gendler, now approaching 90, and his wife, Mary, are alive and well and living in Massachusetts, by the way. The link to Hy-Vee will become obvious farther along.

That's a youthful (at age 40) Rabbi Gendler --- both civil rights and peace activist --- at far right in the photo here, taken at Arlington National Cemetery during February of 1968 when 2,000-2,500 clergy and lay people, opponents of the war in Vietnam, gathered to pray for peace at the Tomb of the Unknowns. The others are (from left) Rabbi Abraham Heschel, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rev. Ralph Abernathy and Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath (carrying a Torah). Dr. King was assassinated a month later, on April 4, 1968.

Rabbi Gendler also sometimes is referred to as the father of Jewish environmentalism, an interest that he traces in part to his boyhood in Chariton.

"I was born in Chariton, Iowa, and lived there eleven years: a small town surrounded by open country. Nature was omnipresent," he wrote in an essay for Volume II of "Torah of the Earth: Exploring 4,000 years of Ecology in Jewish Thought," published in 2000.

In another essay, contributed to Ellen Bernstein's "Ecology and the Jewish Spirit," published in 1998, he recalled the family Passover Seder in Chariton: "From as early as I can remember, each year our Passover plate had on it charoset, horseradish, an egg, a shankbone, a potato, and a bowl of salt water. Thus was the mandate from Sinai, rabbinically interpreted, played out at the Gendlers' table in Chariton, Iowa, the farming town of 5,000 where I spent my first eleven years. The familiarity of that plate was reassuring, and the potato dipped in salt water, eaten so soon after the sweet Kiddush wine, was just the carbohydrate fix that a small child needed to sit through those seemingly endless pages of prayers."


Everett Gendler's grandfather, Chaim Harry Gendler, came from Russia to the United States in the late 1880s, if census records are to be believed, when he was about 19. He then returned to Russia to marry Rosa Goldner and their two sons, Max and Morris, were born there. Harry seems to have returned to the United States after Morris's birth, earned enough to bring Rosa and Morris over in 1902; and finally, Max, who was the eldest, arrived alone.

The family had been reunited in Oskaloosa by 1910, where three daughters were born --- Ruth Charlotte, Dorothy and Frances "Fanny." Soon after 1910, the Gendlers moved to Albia, where Harry opened a grocery store.

It was Harry Gendler's younger brother, Phillip Meyer Gendler, who was the first family member to settle in Chariton. Phillip had been in the grocery business on Chicago's north side, but in part to be nearer family purchased G.H. Fletcher's grocery store on the south side of the Chariton square effective Feb. 15, 1921. A World War I veteran, he made a good impression by joining immediately both the Chariton Commercial Club and the American Legion post.

On New Year's Day, 1922, Phillip was back in Chicago to wed Natalle Haber at her parents' home and they returned to Chariton to live. 

Soon thereafter, Phillip's nephew, Max, moved to Chariton from Albia and went to work for his uncle. The Phillip Gendlers decided to return to Chicago after a year or two and about 1924 Max and his father purchased the Gendler grocery store in Chariton from him. By this time, Max had married Sara Whiteman, some six years his junior and the daughter of an Oskaloosa grocer.

Gendler Grocery flourished under Max's management and effective Feb. 24, 1926, he moved the business into larger quarters --- the Dewey Block, located at the intersection of Grand Street and Court Avenue at the southeast corner of the square (now, in 2016, the home of Chariton Floral).

Son Everett was born in 1928 and daughter, Annette, four years later.

The Gendler family was observant, affiliated with Tifereth Israel Synagogue in Des Moines, and when there was a conflict between holy days and business hours, Gendler Grocery closed.

Max was an entrepreneur, always on the lookout for opportunity; and during June of 1931 he purchased the former Dave Clark farm south of Chariton along Highway 34 near the Wayne County line and built a big new barn and shed capable of housing up to 80 cattle.

This, he developed into the Gendler Dairy operation. During June of 1935, he purchased pasteurization equipment so that he could process the milk and cream the dairy produced himself and moved the processing operation into a room at the rear of the grocery store.

During August of 1936 Max received an offer that apparently was too good to refuse. Two men from Lamoni who had developed a fledgling chain of 12 small grocery stores in southern Iowa were looking for a way to enter the Chariton market.

They made Max an offer, and he accepted. The sale of Gendler Grocery was announced on Tuesday, Aug. 18 --- very close to press time for The Chariton Leader. As a result the brief story about the transaction was buried on Page 8, where late-breaking news that did not seem to have earth-shifting significance tended to end up.

Had the editor of The Leader known the significance this sale would have for the future of Chariton, I'm guessing that more of an effort would have been made to find a place for the story on  Page 1.

The purchasers were Charles Hyde and David Vredenburg, Mr. Hyde and Mr. Vredenburg, Hy-Vee.

To be continued ...

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