Oregon State University Libraries and Press

Selma Loney Oral History Interview, September 13, 1991

Oregon State University

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Judith Berlowitz: As a Jewish person who has lived here the longest, I think, having been born here, you know more about the years preceding Hadassah than anybody else. So let's start before you were born. Tell me about your parents. What were their names and where did they come from?

Selma Loney: My father was William Konick. He came to Corvallis in 1913. He opened up a small jewelry store. He had come from the east coast, Washington DC or Philadelphia, in that area. My mother grew up in Portland, although she was born in London, but came to the United States as a baby. They were married 1921, and I came along in 1922. Incidentally, my father was not the first Jewish 1:00person in Corvallis. The Reicharts were already here. I don't know how old their children were when they moved here. Now Bob Reichart, I believe, is still alive, and he might be living with his daughter, Muriel Wyatt, here. He might. I don't believe he kept his Jewish identity. He would never come to any of the doings. But they had four children, and I think that all four of their children at least started at Oregon State University, which was Oregon State College, I guess, at that time. They had a small dry cleaning establishment at about 15th and 2:00Jefferson. I think there was another family here, maybe a lawyer who might have come before my father, but I never knew him.

JB: Why did your father decide to settle here in Corvallis?

SL: I don't know. The story that we got, he had a brother in Seattle who was in the grocery business, and he wanted to come out West. Somebody recommended Philomath to him, but he liked the looks of Corvallis better, so he settled here. There were already four jewelry stores, and he made the fifth.

JB: The awning that I see on 3rd Street, that is the same location?

SL: No. I don't know where the first store is. My sister-in-law has all the 3:00pictures also, so you might be able to get something from her. She . . . I don't know where the first store was, it might have been across the street, because he owned a little building there. It might also have been on 2nd street, because at one time he owned a small building there, but sold it. It was right in that area.

JB: What are your recollections -- this is a very broad question -- of Corvallis during your early childhood, compared with the Corvallis of today?

SL: I don't think you can compare it, really. We lived on South 7th Street, right across from where the Gazette Times is now, and there was a sorority house across the street when I grew up. We moved into the large house, I understand, 4:00when I was six months old.

JB: Has that house sold since?

SL: Yes, and it was remodeled in 1940. And it was a nice neighborhood at that time. My father could walk to work. My mother, since she didn't drive, walked downtown to do her shopping, and it was a very comfortable life.

JB: Who were the members of your immediate family?

SL: There was my mother, Sarah, and my father, and my brother, Alvin, and myself. There were just the four of us. And my mother's parents lived in Portland, and my father's mother later came from Finland to Seattle.

JB: What was your parents' approach to Judaism? Were they very observant?

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SL: They always went to the synagogue for the high holy days.

JB: Where was that?

SL: First we used to go up to Portland with my mother's parents. My father usually didn't go, because he didn't close the store. Then later on, when there was a synagogue in Salem, they went there, and were members. In fact they were part of the group that helped start that synagogue. For Passover we would have a Passover Seder, and many times my mother would ask college students who couldn't go home, but we never had the Seder as such, it as always a dinner and acknowledging that it was Passover, never reading the service.

JB: So what kind of Jewish education did you and your brother have as young children?

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SL: Really none. I remember that one year, though, that my mother sent away for bible lessons, so we took bible lessons by correspondence. I liked it, my brother didn't, I remember. We were supposed to do them and send them in, and this went on for maybe a year. And that's about all we had. There was a contact with the family in Portland and Seattle, and I think that's what kept the flame alive. Incidentally, my mother came from a very orthodox family. So there was a lot of being at my grandparents' on Friday nights.

JB: Was there a Sunday school in the Salem congregation that was in the works 7:00back then?

SL: Not when I was growing up. No, there wasn't even a shul there, a building itself. But I do remember as a child, I must have been 10 or 12, when a B'nai B'rith chapter was started, including Salem, Albany, and Eugene, and they would meet at the different cities. And this is how I met Rose Yaillen the first time. Her family was an Albany family, and they were in the "ladies ready to wear" there.

JB: Yes, and if I recall, she is one of the 13 ladies, one of the 13 charter members.

SL: Yes. I was just going to say that the synagogue came later, and I can't 8:00remember if it was before the war or just after the war. I know that my husband and I started going there as soon as we moved to Corvallis, or as soon as it was available, if it was the case that it was not organized. But it must have been built right after the war, because the buildings right after the war didn't have the eaves, because they were conserving the timber and so on and so forth, it just wasn't available.

JB: You mentioned this one Jewish family that preceded the arrival of your family -- oh let's talk about . . .

SL: Well they just adopted my father, this family. You know, he was single, and 9:00I think they helped him find a place to stay. We were very close, she was almost like a grandmother to me. They were older than my parents. I remember when my brother had scarlet fever I went up there and stayed for three weeks or a month so I wouldn't get it. The two families were very close.

JB: Are we talking about the Reicharts?

SL: Yes.

JB: I just wanted to be sure. So were there other Jewish families moving here during your early childhood years? I think we ought to put this into a time frame, a decade, that would be . .

SL: OK. Growing up, there were Jewish faculty here, and I don't know when they came. There was Neil Friedman and his wife, and the Ellisons . . .

JB: What decade are we in? Just give us a general time frame.

SL: Probably the 1930s, somewhere, because they were here when I started college in 1940, and I remember them having been here. Now every once in a while, they 10:00would get together for an evening, and I know that they would meet at our house or the Ellisons' or the Friedmans. Seems to me that there were a couple of other couples too. There was a Jewish lawyer here, but I don't remember him at all, and I don't know when he left.

JB: So did you have Jewish playmates?

SL: No, never.

JB: Did you feel that you were part of a very small minority? Did you have any feelings about that, with other children possibly going to their churches and so forth?

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SL: Well I definitely knew that I was different, you know. They all went to Sunday school and I didn't. But we never talked about religion. We just never talked about it.

JB: You didn't have any really negative feelings about this, or feeling a great lack because . . .

SL: I think a lack, yes, and I'd notice this lack when I'd go to Portland and be with my cousins, who, most of them were younger than I, but they were all going to [unclear] or some religious groups, and I had nothing.

JB: Did you ever experience, as a young child, any evidence of anti-Semitism?

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SL: Not as a child. It wasn't until I graduated high school, and all the other girls were invited for the rush weekend on campus, and my grades were just as good as theirs . . . I think I felt it for the first time.

JB: It wasn't an overt sort of thing?

SL: No.

JB: Well, we got you to college awfully fast there. I think we're going to have to backtrack a little bit. Let's -- tell me something about your school years, your elementary, your adolescence and so on.

SL: They were just like anybody's, growing up in a small town. I was part of a group. I never thought too much about my girlfriends being Jewish or not Jewish. I knew that our home was different and they were always welcome at our house and 13:00I was always welcome at theirs.

JB: Did you find that your contemporaries knew very much about Judaism?

SL: I don’t think that they knew anything. And in fact, I was speaking to a friend that I grew up with, I must have met her when I was five and she just moved into this complex about a year ago, so we've been doing things together. And we were talking about religion, and she said, "I always knew that you were Jewish but we just never discussed it. It was just . . . and we played together day in and day out with the paper dolls and our dolls, but we just never talked about it.

JB: Where did your husband grow up?

SL: He grew up in Minnesota, in a small town.

JB: How did you meet?

SL: The USO in Seattle.

JB: Was he always in the jewelry business?

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SL: No. When I met him he was a journeyman electrician, and after we were married and he had a job, and then -- I can't remember what happened -- we had our first child, and my father needed somebody else in the store so he asked Roy to come down and Roy accepted. He was one of these people that had such wonderful hands, he could just do anything, and he just fell right into it.

JB: Let's backtrack a little bit and go to the high school years and the college years. Tell me where you went to high school and major events there, and college.

SL: I went to high school, Corvallis High, I think we were the second class to 15:00graduate from that building. And after high school I went to Oregon State. Majored in business and industry, I think was what my degree was in, with a minor in art. While I was in college, the war broke out, and of course Camp Adair started, so there was all of a sudden this influx of Jewish fellows. So we went to dances and all this type of thing. And when I finished college, I went to Seattle to work, and there I met my husband.

JB: Back to Camp Adair for a moment. I understand that in 1943, the Corvallis 16:00Jewish families hosted a Seder for servicemen stationed at Camp Adair. Were you a part of that?

SL: Yes, I remember, very much against my will, because there was a dance on that night that I wanted to go to, but I had to go the Seder. I don't remember too much about it except that I remember my mother and Ruth Goldberg bending over the stove to check the chicken and ladling out the soup, and Rabbi, or Chaplain Kravitz, was there, who was the Jewish chaplain at Camp Adair.

JB: Was this held at Camp Adair?

SL: It was held at Camp Adair. And I don't remember anything about getting the supplies out there or where the matzos or anything came from. I was still in college and just not at all interested, you know.

JB: Can you remember approximately what size crowd this was as far as the servicemen?

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SL: I would say probably 50 to 75. There were quite a few that had signed up to come.

JB: I see. Well. Now let's get back to your career and meeting your husband and all of that.

SL: Roy and I met at the USO in Seattle. And we went together three months, announced our engagement, and got married a month and a half later! It was during the war, we were married seven days after V-J day, in August, and then he got out of the service the following May. And we had planned to move back to Minnesota, but changed our minds, and stayed in Seattle. And then as I said 18:00before, my father needed somebody in the store, and so asked Roy to join the business.

JB: Well of course the next chapters have to do with having children, which is usually the next development in this sort of arrangement. And I know that you had four children, but I don't know any more than that, so you can fill in all the details about when they arrived, and who they are.

SL: Lewis Allan, whom we call Butch, arrived in 1947, in March. He went through grade school and high school here -- is this what you want?

JB: Sure!

SL: Went to University of Oregon in Eugene. He is a CPA, and right now he is the head of the . . . do you want all this? OK, the second child was also a boy, he 19:00was born here in Corvallis, and he also graduated from the University of Oregon, and he is now living in Israel. He has three children, the older boy has two. Oh, and the second boy just adopted an Ethiopian baby, so another grandchild. The third daughter is in Seattle, and she has her own business, which is in Marine sales. And she isn't married. And the younger one lives presently in Enterprise, Oregon, and she has two children, and she is still going to school.

JB: As married adults, did you and your husband feel a strong need for some kind 20:00of formal congregation organization here?

SL: Yes, I think we did, but you also have to remember that we were members of the Salem synagogue, and that we took our children every Sunday to Sunday school for years. When my brother's children got old enough to go, we would alternate Sundays. So we would go with seven or eight kids in the car every Sunday, or every other Sunday. And we went there for all holidays, and so on.

JB: I realize that there were a lot of Jewish people here who did not particularly identify, so when I talk about the group, I'm talking about those people who did identify and who became a part of the Jewish community of Corvallis, and I wanted to ask, what activities were undertaken by this small 21:00group of Jewish families a as group -- social, or otherwise, -- since there was no . . .

SL: OK this is before Beit Am?

JB: Yes, Also, before Hadassah, before there was any really formal organization.

SL: OK. As I had mentioned before, every once in a while somebody would have an evening and have the Jewish group over. There was also an active UJA drive every year. You know, for the United Jewish Appeal.

JB: Was there some representative of UJA from elsewhere who came?

SL: Usually, yes, and then we would meet at somebody's home -- I remember sometimes we would meet at my parents', sometimes the Goldbergs', and all this was before. That was about as far as it went. Socially, right after the war, Ruth Goldberg, Annie Reichart and myself, Dolly Friedman and Gertrude Ellison 22:00started a sewing group, and you got that.

JB: 1947 I believe.

SL: And we would get together and sew clothing for babies and children, and we would take them, I believe, to the Portland Hadassah, and they would send them on to Israel. So we were very involved with Israel right from the first.

JB: When Israel became a state in 1948, was there any special celebration here to mark that?

SL: No, we were all, you know, very happy, and I think -- no Roy and I had moved down here by then.

JB: So your children went to Sunday school and all their religious education took place -- and I don't mean all of it, their formal education --

SL: Yes, until Hadassah started the Sunday school here.

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JB: Even though there were some efforts here . . .

SL: And as I remember I think I was the first chairman of that Sunday school here, when it was held in a little house on Taylor Street. I think that was the first one that we had. And then later we had it at another house on 14th, and then we went to Westminster.

JB: Are we talking at a time period after your children had been through the Sunday schools in Salem?

SL: My oldest son had already had his bar mitzvah. I don't know if Dan had.

JB: So did your children participate in this local . . .

SL: The girls did. And I remember when Ze'ev started the little class for a few 24:00children. Hebrew class. And both of our boys went. Now that must have been about three years before Butch had his bar mitzvah. He was born in 47, so I'd say about 57 or thereabouts, once a week at his house, Ze'ev had Hebrew classes, and this was sort of the beginning of our boys studying for their bar mitzvah.

JB: Let's talk more about the bar mitzvahs of both of your sons. You've just talked about Butch. And that bar mitzvah was held . . .

SL: In Salem. And two of our friends from Salem led the services, and Ed Kogan 25:00from Albany instructed both of the boys to get them ready for their bar mitzvahs. And in both cases we had a luncheon afterwards, and that was it. It was just very much like the ones they are having in Corvallis now, except that they had bimah and everything else. But very much, a very homey type thing.

JB: Records show that -- this is another subject -- 10 Jewish families got together for a Hanukah party in 1957. Does that ring a bell for you at all?

SL: Can you tell me where it was?

JB: No.

SL: Well I remember one at the Goheens'. I can't tell you if it was in 1957 or 26:00not. We had several of them in different years. And I remember once we had them at Orzechs, I remember once we had it at our place, and I remember we had it at the Gordon's one year. So there were several years we had Hanukkah parties for the children. And it was always fun and the kids did enjoy it. It seems to me we started before 1957, but I'm not sure.

JB: That's just an event that I happened to see on a printed brochure.

SL: Because I know that we had several of them. And I also remember one year when our children were going to Sunday school in Salem, that there was a prize for the best decorated house for Hanukah. So we made mobiles, and we made a 27:00great big start and put real tiny little red ornaments on every toothpick that stood out, there must have been a couple hundred of them. Anyway we won the prize.

JB: Well was this contest -- who participated in this contest? People in Corvallis as well as . . .

SL: Yes, anybody who sent their children to Sunday school in Salem.

JB: I see. And then there must have been judges who went around . . .

SL: Yes, I think it was probably the head of the Sunday school or something like this. But the kids enjoyed making the decorations, and we used them for years afterwards.

JB: What kind of congregation existed in Salem at that time when your children were in Sunday school and so on?

SL: It seems to me there must have been about a hundred families, but I'm really 28:00not sure on this. And most of them were businessmen. It was very different from the group in Corvallis.

JB: Yes, Corvallis is strange in that it never did have a group of Jewish businessmen. Well speaking of the Jewish people in Corvallis, it seems that the number of Jewish people here stayed about the same for a long period of time, and then suddenly there was a substantial increase. When did those numbers increase, approximately?

SL: Well I would say about 1952-1954. When did the Orzechs come? Do you remember, did they tell you?

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JB: Not exactly.

SL: There was a family that moved here by the name of Katz, Doris and I can't remember her husband's name right now. They also had three children, and we were expecting our fourth, just a few weeks apart. And I met them through the Orzechs. Or I met the Orzechs, I guess, through them. So they must have come before the Orzechs. And they since have moved up to Seattle. They were here just a short time, just a few years, and their last child, Peter, was born here. And that was kind of the beginning.

JB: Of the influx?

SL: Yeah.

JB: What brought this about, this increase in the numbers?

SL: Well the war was over and the young men had gone back to school, got their 30:00teaching credentials, and got jobs in Corvallis. Cause the influx was definitely faculty, it wasn't businessmen. It was definitely faculty. And then even for a while it kind of stayed the same. And then again, it began to sort of mushroom, and I am sometimes just amazed at the progress that has been made.

JB: So we have covered a good deal about some of those early years. By the early 60s, though, there seems to have been a strong need . . .

JB: . . . with some national Jewish organization. Why do you think this was?

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SL: Well most of us knew each other just through the Hanukah party and things like this. And Mimi was really the instigator, and invited somebody down from Hadassah, and we became a Hadassah organization. We needed 25 people, I remember, we only had 13, but they let us become part of their group anyway. And that was really the beginning of an organized Jewish community. And it wasn't until several years later that we felt the men needed to be included too, that Beit Am was started.

JB: Yes. Well Hadassah became established here in 1964. My understanding is that 32:00it wasn't a typical Hadassah chapter.

SL: No it wasn't.

JB: Would you like to talk about that?

SL: Well it wasn't typical in the sense that we couldn't donate large sums of money, because we were most of us salaried. I remember the first year we had to raise, I believe it was $350, and that seemed like that an awesome amount to us. So we were going to have this latke lunch, and the potatoes came to us cooked and grated. And I suppose you've heard all about that. And then a couple years later we changed it to the blintz brunch, which has been going right up until the end. But we did pretty much what we wanted no matter what National said. We 33:00were sort of a maverick group, I think. But we almost had to be this way in order to survive. In most Hadassah groups, each member is apportioned a certain amount that they are responsible for the fundraising, because after all, Hadassah is a fundraising organization. But in our group we did it all together, and everybody was expected to turn out on these couple of work days a year. And I think it became a very strong group because of that. Because we all had a chance to work together and to know each other. And I know that it was a very important part of my life, because after having no Jewish friends at all, all of a sudden, in my forties, I had Jewish friends. And it was a revelation! I got in on all the holidays, the jokes, and a bit of Yiddish. It was wonderful. My 34:00parents did speak Yiddish at home, but only when they didn't want us to know what they were talking about, so I didn't learn any of it.

Let's go back a minute to the war years. As I understand it, the USO had to have somebody on their board from the Catholic charities, from the Jewish and also from the Protestant. And my mother was selected to represent the Jewish community. So she was on the board of the USO during the war. And there was this huge influx of Jewish men from all over United States. This was a very busy time for her, besides helping my father in the store, because with 90-some thousand men stationed just outside the town, business was booming. But they offered 35:00classes at the USO in dancing, and also some artwork, which I helped to teach occasionally. Mostly I just showed up and was another student. But with my schoolwork, and I was in college at the time, it was a very busy but very happy time for me.