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Interview with: Leona Leidecker
Interviewed by: Eileen Muslin
Date: July 16, 1982
Archive Number: OH 409
EM: Leona Leidecker of Houston, Texas. It was conducted at 10:00 AM on July 16, 1982, at the residence of Leona Leidecker in Houston. The interview is part of a 3-year study conducted by the Houston Center for the Humanities and Public Policy under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in Houston: The Development of an International City. The interviewer is Eileen Muslin, acting as a volunteer from the National Council of Jewish Women Houston. Okay, why don’t you tell me about yourself and tell me about—
LL: Well, like I said, there’s really two sides to this deal because Mamma was born here in Houston. She was born on the block of Preston Avenue. Last time I was down in that direction, stood the INGN freight depot. But I haven’t been down there for so long that I don’t know whether it’s still there or not. She was an orphan at 12. There were seven children, and her brother, Ike Fox, had a store on Travis Street. Across from them were City Hall and the Farmer’s Market. The farmers would come in on a Saturday and bring their wagons and put them around the block. The people would go over there and buy what they wanted. Mamma, although she was only 12 years old—she was the fifth one in the family. She would go down and help them a lot. What I’d like to do is lead up to how Mamma and Papa met. It was rather comical. My father came over here—M.L. Westheimer was a great-uncle of mine—came here in 1852, and he had a farm where Lamar High School now stands. His girls all hollered and carried on because when they went to the city of Houston—that was then, I can imagine 2000 people or so.
EM: Quite a difference.
LL: Yeah. And the girls said they faced the sun going into town, and they faced the sun coming home in the evenings. But I will say this for the Westheimers, they were always anxious for people to be able to get an education. So my uncle, M.L., built a little school house on his property, and he didn’t charge anybody anything. The children came there on horseback, and they tied their horses up to the fence and went to school. He paid the teacher and everything.
EM: That’s tremendous. Where did they come from? How did they come to be in Houston? How did the Westheimer family come to Houston? Where did they come from? What country did they come from?
LL: Oh, Baden, Germany. Well, it was really what they call southern Germany—Baden Baden. 04:25.1 (s/l Bischofsheim) they were between (s/l Rosischofsheim), which means “big,” and (Schafflhausen??). My grandfather was a miller. He had this mill attached right to his home. On one side was a big wheel, and on the other side was a bunch of chickens and animals of all kinds. It was all in one house. Of course, my father’s father never did come here to live. He came over here before they were married, and he went back to Germany and told his future wife—she was all of 15 years old, I think—that he wanted to move to America. She said, “No. You want to marry me, you come back and stay here in Germany.” Which he did, of course. We children were sent over there to visit several times. My father couldn’t go back to Germany until he was 5 years old because he had evaded the army. When he became 50, they had a Rotary International in Scotland. We begged him when he went to that to keep on going and go on over to see Grandma, because my grandfather was already gone then, but Grandma was alive. It must be sad when those people send their sons away when they are 15 years old and they never see them again.
LL: 06:3905 So we wanted him to go that way, but he never did. But he sent his family over. And he came here to America, and he went to school. He landed down in Florida someplace on the coast. When he came on in to Texas he landed in Houston. He took, really, a prize—an essay—I have a set of books—from all the American boys he took a prize for an essay that they had in the school. My children have the books now. He came into my uncle’s store one day and he bought some socks and handkerchiefs, and he kept coming back about every week. And my mother said to her brother, “If that man don’t quit coming here, he’ll have more merchandise in his house than we got in the store.” So, anyway, my uncle said, “Well, he seems to kind of like you. He asked me if he could have a date with you, and I told him yes. I think he’s a real nice fellow.” So that’s the way they met. Their amusement was a walk through what was Central Park in those days. It’s down—I think—let’s see—it’s down where they City Hall is now. And, of course, they had band concerts there and everything like that. It was their Sunday afternoon dates. They finally married in 1890 and had four children. There were three girls and a boy. They’re all gone except me. I’m a lonely kid.
EM: Did you all stay in Houston?
LL: Yeah. Well, I lived in Pennsylvania the first year I was married. We have five generations that were born here in Houston—my mother, all her children, some of their children, and now some of their children. I have to show you something real interesting when we get through. I’m very proud. My daughter lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her husband is a doctor. He’s head of the sleep and dream laboratory.
EM: Oh, that’s a fascinating area.
LL: 10:01.4 My eldest grandson lives just a little piece of ways right by my land. And the youngest one—well, I started to say he’s still roaming around, but he has bought himself a little—well, you don’t call them apartments. What do you call them?
EM: A condominium?
LL: Yeah. It’s real nice. I told him, I have all the (brides??) on a—I used to have them out here and then my TV went bad and I brought that TV out here, so they’re back on the table.
EM: Tell me about growing up in Houston. What kind of schools were there?
LL: Well, it was wonderful. But I think I had unusual parents. I guess that’s the reason it was wonderful to me. I was the baby and I was my father’s buddy and secret keeper, as he called me. Whenever he’d buy something for my mother he asked me what I thought about it. So he took my brother to the doctor. He had a sort of a cough—you know—asthma. And the doctor told him that if he didn’t take that boy to the country he wouldn’t live. Now the country was 3200 and something. That was about 2 miles from the heart of Houston.
EM: Oh, look how far we’ve grown. (laughs)
LL: How far we’ve grown is right. In fact, when my daughter built in Memorial, I said, “My God! Where in the world are you going? Out in the country some place?” See, they’ve been married 35 years. That was pretty far out when they got married. Well, anyway, they went out there. He had the worst time of transferring. When he first came here, he and Uncle Sidney, who was an undertaker later on, went in together. Then he decided to go into the transfer for himself. Mother said he drove a transfer wagon in the daytime and a (hat?) half the night, taking people to the opera and to the dances. That’s the way he got started. And Houston was beautiful. When I was about 12 years old, I can remember it ended at McKinney Avenue and Main Street. And they had a big flag pole in the middle. They wanted to impeach the mayor for buying that property where San Jacinto High School now stands because it was out in the country.
EM: It’s really hard to picture because I live at Westheimer and Dairy Ashford, so that’s—it’s built much further out than I am.
LL: Yeah. I went to Lubbock on Harrisburg Road and Sampson, I believe it was—the Lubbock School. And I finished there. My brother and sister—Mamma lost one child—very small—a girl. When my brother and sister went to school—and they went on horseback—they went to Rusk, which was down on Reynolds and Chartres. Another cute thing about that is, of course they had horse-drawn streetcars. The motorman—most of the Jewish women, especially, were congregated on Chartres, Franklin, Chenevert, all down in there at that time. So the motorman would get them all and put them on the streetcar and take them to the grocery store, which was the end of the line. And he’d wait in the car until they all got through buying what groceries they wanted. Then he’d take them back home. So, anyway, I don’t know, what else can I tell you? Then of course we went to—when I grew up, being a young girl, we weren’t allowed in those days to go out with boys until we were about 18 years old at least. We had a place just beyond 15:36.8 (Kenney??) Avenue on Main Street that was a dance hall and studio. Peaches, it was called. And I used to go there with my dates. That was a very nice evening. Later on, the only three—I really marvel at this—the only three real nice places, I’ll say, that a boy could take a girl to dinner was the Rice Hotel roof, the Rice Hotel Empire Room, and Maude 16:20 (Shole??) and her husband had a restaurant here. And now you could go every night to wonderful restaurants. I’m not talking about hamburger stands and chili joints. But it really is peculiar how Houston has grown. I don’t know. The people that seemed to come here earlier were ambitious enough to see that they had a beautiful city. Now, my brother used to say that he and his wife, who were then engaged, used to take a walk on a Sunday out where Rice University now stands. Now that was a long way.
EM: That was a long way out, also. That’s beautiful.
LL: See, they were married when she passed away almost 57 years. They had five children—lovely children. Do you know Betty, the girl? She married 17:35.1 (__??). She was married to Alvin Weisberg first. He had cancer, and (__?) wife had the same thing. So after they lost their mates they got married. They’ve been married a long time now—about 15 years.
EM: Tell me a little bit about the Jewish community at the time that you were growing up. I can see that they—
LL: The Jewish Community Center—(Adas Yehshurun??)—oh, this was—I don’t know. No, it was there before. I’ve got a picture where I’m standing and I’m about 8 years old with a little straw basket filled with flowers. A new dress, I suppose. Next to it was a big, white house. They had in there—they used it for some school rooms—and they had what they called the Jewish Community Center, like we have today only it was—oh, the young folks had a real good time there. They’d have dances, picnics, and shows and everything like that. One time, my daddy was a little baby in a baby buggy with a cap. We’ve got pictures of all this.
(interruption in tape)
EM: Tell me about the—did the Jewish community at that time live together, or were you just kind of spread out around the city?
LL: 19:58.5 Well, we were somewhat spread out, but, as I told you, most of the Jewish women, when they were brides, they moved in this little Chartres rental homes—Franklin Avenue way down where Navigation is now. In that direction. I told you about the motorman taking them to buy their groceries.
EM: Right. That really was kind of the social event of the day, I imagine. They got to visit.
LL: Yeah, I would imagine, too. Of course we had a whole lot there, because Papa had his wagons and horses in the back. We had a very pretty home. It was one of those gingerbread things.
EM: Which are popular again.
LL: Yeah, they are?
EM: They’re really going to them.
LL: We had a wonderful life. As I say, I’ve never lived with any other parents, but I had—my mother was only 4’ 11”. But she was the big boss, I tell you. What she said went. They got along beautiful together because neither one of them had an in-law they had to worry about. Papa’s was in Germany and hers were gone. My sister always said she gave them a month to be respectable. In those days, if your baby was born before the month was up they started a scandal—before the nine months.
EM: Let’s see. We were talking about the Jewish Community Center and how that this—
LL: Yes, and it really—they all went there. It was the center of Jewish amusement. And then later on they gave plays down at the city auditorium, which is—well, it’s still there. If you’ve ever been to Jones Hall, you notice that plaque on the ground that tells that this was where the city auditorium was. They’d take plays and shows down there and different things they wanted to do. When Rice Institute opened, it was a long way from where we lived. And I started to go to Rice and then I said, “No.” I wanted to go to some kind of drama school. I used to do a lot of work in drama. I graduated from Chicago Musical College, but the drama was important. And I did a little theatrical work. (inaudible) I wanted to really go on the stage, but actresses and actors weren’t very well thought of in those days, I’m ashamed to say. My folks didn’t want me to. Well, when I finally got engaged to marry Louis they told me if I wanted to I could. I said, “No. When I wanted to go you wouldn’t let me. Now I’m getting married. I’m not interested.”
EM: What was the attitude toward education as far as for women at that time advancing into other things besides that?
LL: Well, it was very—anybody that was interested in education—we had a lot of educated people. I was talking to the nurse the other day. I had a clean-up woman here and she said the nurse was doing something she couldn’t do. And I said, “What’s that?” She said, “She was reading.” I said to my nurse, “Oh! Are you working a crossword puzzle?” She said, “No, I was just reading the paper.” I said, “You mean there’s people today that still don’t know how to read? With all the education opportunities that we have?”
EM: It’s hard to believe isn’t it?
LL: And she said, “Yes, they just don’t seem to be interested.” And of course I imagine those were people like hillbillies in those days—their wild in the mountains—people of a lower class. But my father was very interested in it. In fact, he educated more boys and girls in college—spent a lot of money—and every one he heard from, except one boy and he went into opera in Switzerland. Papa sent him to study, and I gave him lessons in expression—they called it in those days. That boy never so much as wrote Papa a note to say how wonderful it was that he had sent him there. But I guess you’ll always find some people that are ungrateful.
EM: You have to think of all those others. They really make it worthwhile.
LL: And of course I was so interested—my father and my sister—all three of us taught Sunday school at Emanu El—I’m getting ahead of myself—at Adath Yeshurun. It was on Jackson Avenue. It was in town, you can say. It was close. Then sister and I taught at Beth Israel for a little bit. When they split up I joined Emanu El. My maternal grandfather was one of the 38 men that founded Beth Israel temple.
EM: What was his name?
LL: Samuel Fox. Maurice Dannenbaum had just died. They were standing around talking, and he said one day, “My grandfather was the first rabbi of the temple here.” My son-in-law said, “Oh, that’s nothing. My wife’s grandfather was the fellow that wrote him to come here.” (laughs)
EM: Tell me about the founding of the temple. How did all that come to be?
LL: I don’t know. I guess these men just got together and decided they wanted it. Now Beth Israel was an orthodox temple at first.
EM: Oh, I see. And how did it change? Different feelings over the years, maybe?
LL: I guess so. They just decided they wanted a reform temple. My children still belong over there. And my brother belongs. It was real funny. It was at mother’s funeral. Afterwards, he had come to the house. We were sitting around talking. I’ve had—what was that fellow’s name that was over there? Gold-something. He was in the direction part of the temple. He’d always say, “Leona, when you coming back?” And I’d say, “I’m very happy where I am.” I taught Emanu El kindergarten for 37 years—38 years. You want to turn this off for a second?
EM: Tell me how you met your husband.
LL: Well, Morris Leidecker is married to my first cousin, Bertha Cohen. They live in Corpus now, but they lived in Houston at the time. He came down here to visit them, and that’s how I met him. We went together for 5 years before we got married. And then he had a store up in Pennsylvania. We moved up there. I never said anything about coming back to Houston because I always feel like a woman has to go where her husband makes a living. So finally, he said, “How would you like to go back to Houston?” I said, “I’d love it, of course. Whatever you want to do, we’ll do.” So we moved back here. We moved back here in February, and we stayed with the folks in the house on San Jacinto Street between Elgin—(inaudible).
EM: What year did you get married?
LL: 1924 at what was then Concordia Club. It’s on Rusk Avenue. We had a double wedding. My cousin Irene Westheimer married Louis Waldvogel of Columbus at that time. They’re both gone now. I married first, and she was my maid of honor. Then she married, and I was her matron of honor. I had my bridal dress fixed so the train went on at the waist, so I took the train off.
EM: 31:08.4 For her ceremony, then.
LL: Yeah. And we had the reception together down in the hall downstairs. It was quite the affair.
(Break in tape 31:22.5)
LL: 31:36.8 It seemed like the people that first came to Houston—it wasn’t even a state. It was just a hole in the wall. They were ambitious. Galveston was the capital in those days. But Houston began growing and growing so fast that they moved it up here. The Rice Hotel was where the capital of Texas stood in those days.
EM: What was it like being Jewish and going to—what was the relationship with the gentile community. Did people assimilate? Did they try and stay together? What were the feelings there.
LL: Well now, I want to tell you. I’m a funny person, and I can’t tell you much about that because I’ve always been—it made no difference to me what a person’s religion was. If they were my friend, they were my friend. In fact, I’d go to Jewish Sunday school in the morning, and in the afternoon I’d go with a girlfriend to German Lutheran Sunday school. My father played Santa Claus at the German Lutheran Church at Christmastime. We lived in an entirely non-Jewish neighborhood. We were the only Jewish family in that neighborhood. It was out near Milby Avenue on Merckel and Hutchinson Street out toward the bayou.
EM: And so you were all just very comfortable?
LL: And we lived in that house until after I got married. Then the folks bought Mr. Cohen’s house—Arthur Cohen, who was a head trustee of the Rice Institute. He sold that home to Papa. This furniture, this piece and that piece over there, came out of that home. He had a beautiful set. At that time, when I got married in 1924, he paid $1500.00 for a set of dining room furniture. Now you can imagine. And he sold it to Papa for $750.00 when we bought the house. It had a table and eight chairs. I made all needlepoint for it. I practically gave it away, because, my God, you had to have a house that was a mansion.
EM: Right. To get around in.
LL: And my mother and my father, they had a bedroom, a bed, each pillow was that big around. And you had a stool that you had to step on to get into this bed, it was so high. And in the backboard, there was a perfect eye in the wood. If I wanted to move that bed into an apartment, I couldn’t have gotten into the bedroom to get into bed. And they used to laugh. Mama was so small, and she slept in that great big bed.
EM: 35:36.1 Tell me, where the Jewish organizations prevalent at that time? Were there a lot of organizations? Did people get involved in those kinds of things?
LL: Yeah, but of course nothing like today. In those days, the women joined in connection with the temple they belonged to—synagogue, I guess I should say. They had a—what did they call it? A sister league or something—you know—like we have. Of course, the older I got the larger those—all the temples. In fact, right now they need another reform temple.
EM: Yes, it’s really growing.
LL: Because we have 2000 families, and I think Israel has about that many. And of course they have that one very exclusive—at the time that they formed it, the Dannenbaums and the Meyers formed that other temple. And they only had allowed 11 family members. I don’t know whether they have larger families now. They were very exclusive. They were what I call ultra, ultra, reform.
EM: That’s not Beth Israel? Is that Beth Israel?
LL: No, it came out of Beth Israel.
EM: What is the name of that one?
LL: I don’t know, some reform temple. And all the Meyers, like George Meyer and his wife’s sister and all those boys and the Namans—there were several families. I don’t think they ever let it grow very large. I don’t know who belongs now. But Houston needs, to my way of thinking, another reform temple.
EM: Because if its growing—
LL: You see, the children who are growing up today are not as religious as the children that were born years ago. My granddaughter, in fact, told me only last night that they may join a reform temple up there because her husband was conservative. But she said the Orthodox temple up in—they’re living in Cincinnati now. They lived in Jersey, Pennsylvania for a while. He had to go out of the city to—(inaudible). That they don’t even let the men and women sit together. Now the one in between, they let the women sit together, but most of the service is in Hebrew. So she thought maybe they would join the reform. Of course, that was up to them. As I say, he was between and betwixt. And we’ve had five generations born right here in Houston, Texas. I love Houston. If I had to move away from here, of course, today every city has gotten so terrible as far as crime is concerned. But if I had to move away I’d move to San Francisco.
EM: What would make you move there? What attracts you?
LL: I don’t know. It’s just charming to me. It fascinates me.
EM: I’ve never been there, but from what I hear it’s absolutely beautiful.
LL: Oh, you haven’t? You have to go there one time. It’s—well, it’s like New York. It’s metropolitan. And of course it’s built in a different manner because they’re on hills. And some of those streets, boy, you can almost go straight down. I used to laugh at my son-in-law’s mother. She’d hold on to the seats like this. I’d say, “Look at me, Fan, I’m so beautiful. Don’t look at where we’re going.”
EM: 41:15.1 You had to make her feel more comfortable?
LL: Yeah. We had a lot of fun together. The two couples, we travelled to California, to Florida, just travel around. I didn’t get to go on all my wonderful trips until after Louis was gone because they didn’t have them in those days. My children, for my 75th birthday, sent me to Scandinavia. Now that’s a gorgeous country. And of all of them, I like Denmark the best. And for my 80th birthday, I went on a trip to New York, Washington, D.C., Williamsburg, and where else did I go? Oh, they were living in Jersey then, and they came over to Pittsburgh. The bus went through Pittsburgh and took me to their house in Jersey.
EM: So you’re getting to see, really, most of the country?
LL: Yeah, I have been. I’ve never gone to Israel. People laugh at me. When temple was forming groups to go over to Israel, Bob Kahn was taking the older people, and Roy Walter was taking the younger group. They didn’t want to go with the old people. I wanted to go with the young people. So I didn’t go, and then they didn’t get enough young people to go, so I never got to go. But outside of Israel and Greece, which I know must be magnificent from what people that have been there tell me, I’ve been to practically every European community. We started in New York, when to London then to Holland and on to Paris. And it’s—I love to travel.
EM: Well, how do you feel about Israel and its impact on the (Jewishness??) of—?
LL: Oh, I don’t know, to be truthful with you. I’m not going to say. It’s a bad thing anyway, because people had to go there to have a home that they thought would be nice and quiet and they’d enjoy it. And now it’s just like every other country. It’s gotten mixed up in all the world war affairs. It’s too bad that we have to war all the time. We had a boy who turned Jewish. You find a lot of—of course, today they don’t think anything of it. But then, he was at Emanu El. He taught the first grade. He was in temple one night sitting there, and I said, “You look so lonesome. You want to come here and sit with a bunch of old grandmas?” So he did, and we all became real good friends. He got Bar Mitzvahed, and he said, “Come here, Leona. I want you to meet my mother and father. They’re not Jewish, they’re Presbyterian.” And I said, “Well, that’s all right.” And his father seemed pleased, but his mother I don’t think was too pleased that he had changed.
EM: 45:25.7 Well, how did you feel about people converting and things like that?
LL: Well, I feel like everybody should go where they feel most at home. And I tell you, I think that non-Jewish people—because the Jewish people have been so discriminated against and treated so badly—that you have to be a brave person to want to be a Jew. Of course, me, I couldn’t be anything else. I’m just—where I say I’ve always had a world of gentile friends. All the kids, they had a beautiful party when I left. They gave me all the plaques. 46:24 (Renee Brith??) had a nice party for Elsie Hart and I because we worked 40 years and we were in the original chapter. This was about 2 years ago. They gave us those plaques. That’s a fine woman. She came down here from New York. Her family moved when she was not a married woman yet. But she’s very smart and does a lot of work for community. I like her very much. We’re very close. We go together places. My religion group is in San Antonio right now at a convention. I would have gone if I would have been well.
EM: So you’re just up and travelling, and when you feel good you can do so many things and are so involved.
LL: Oh, they can’t hold me down. (laughs)
EM: That’s beautiful.
LL: My life has been so wonderful. I don’t think anybody in the world—I said one day—I was coming home from Sunday school one night—they stopped me driving about 3 or 4 years ago at night. When I get better, if they don’t let me drive in the daytime, I’m going to have a fit. But I’ll do whatever the doctor says.
EM: Right. Tell me, how old are you?
LL: Well, I feel much, much better. In those days, the eastern men bought stocks in the stock market. The southern men bought property, but they mortgaged one piece to buy another piece. But I said, in actual money I don’t have much. But in life and a family, I’ve had so many wonderful friends. I feel like I’m a millionaire because I have such a wonderful life. I really do. And all right, so I don’t get everything I want right now. I try to save my money a little bit. I want those great-great-grandchildren—Carolyn says whatever I leave she’ll put in their education.
EM: 49:28.3 So that’s still a very important part of your life—is education.
LL: Oh, education to us is everything, except my brother, God bless him. Papa even sent him to a private school. He used to play hooky. But he was so darling and so—he was gift-giving. In fact, he’d give too much to charity for what his income was. And I’d fuss at him. I’d say, “That’s too much to give.” Where I may give $50.00, he’d give $100.00.
EM: He just thought it was that he really had to—it was something he had to do?
LL: Yeah. Well, our family was so charitable. Both our parents—you know—Mama had a section out at Camp Logan in World War I. Every week she’d go out and give them ice cream and cake and all that kind of stuff. And I gave plays out there for them. We’ve always been in the community somewhere.
EM: Tell me, how did—now that I told you I live at Westheimer, which is really funny—how did that street get its name? How did that come about?
LL: Well, it came about from M.L. Westheimer, because he was so charitable and he had his farm there. They named it Westheimer Road. It went way out.
EM: Yeah, it really keeps going, too.
LL: And during World War I, a lot of the citizens wanted to change it because Westheimer is a German name. And a lot of other citizens revolted. Well, they’ve always done a lot for the city. There really was no reason for them to change it. But, like you have the Ku Klux Klan today, there’s some—(inaudible)—probably. But, as a whole, I think our name has a pretty good reputation. We’ve never cheated anybody out of anything and given what we could to make it improved.
EM: That’s important. That’s really—when you’re talking about the history of Houston, you really are looking at a family that has contributed so much here.
LL: We all, even our children, are that way. Now, M.L. Westheimer’s children—I don’t know if you ever knew any of them. They have one granddaughter named Jacqueline Westheimer. She’s still living. And they own the property from where the school is now down to McGowan. That was all a community.
EM: What school was that?
LL: Well, Lamar High School. That’s where the farm was.
EM: That’s a considerable area there.
LL: That was a bunch of property. Well, the Zindlers bought Bellaire property for about 50 cents or a dollar an acre. They have a big home on Houston, too. They were here a long time.
EM: Well, are there any other comments that you would like to make or any messages that you would like to pass on to the Jewish community here?
LL: I don’t know, just work hard and keep together and do what you think would be good for the community, that’s all.
EM: Well, your family certainly has done so much.
LL: Yeah, we’ve done a lot for Houston.
EM: I have one more question about the relationships. I realize that things like people wanting to change the name of the street during the wartimes and so on. Was there anything else you encountered, or was your relationship just really very good with—(speaking at same time).
LL: My father would walk down Main Street and talk to his black men that drove the wagons and took care of them. White men didn’t do those things in his day. But he’d stop right on Main Street and talk to them.
EM: See, that’s something else that you are very much a part of. The community and the whole city—
LL: And at Christmas time he would dress his worker’s families from the skin out and then a big Christmas dinner. Now we had a little, fat girl called Elvena and her husband was called Renny. I think they were Cajun or something. And I can see her today in a black taffeta skirt they wore in those days and blouses—you know—black blouses. In fact, M.L. Westheimer’s wife was a very aristocratic woman, and she wore black taffeta skirts, black blouses with high collars like this with lace around the edge of the collars, and a little black, like a yarmulke—little white lace handkerchief. In fact, Cousin Rose had a store here and in China, and they could tell you what manners were and how to set your table.
EM: Very fine people.
LL: It’s interesting. M.L. brought Sidney and Papa and a couple of the girls over. He gradually got all the family over.
EM: And they all settled in this area?
LL: Yeah, most of them.
EM: That sense of family is beautiful.
(Break in tape 57:31.9)
EM: Okay, tell me where you were born.
LL: I was born in Houston, Texas on Sampson’s Alley. Oh, I should tell a little bit about how I got the name of Leona. Of course, in those days women had midwives. They never went to a hospital. And my sister Bertha and my brother I.B. were playing out in the yard when the midwife came. She says, “I’m going to bring you all a baby. What do you want, a brother or a sister?” And they said, “Oh, we don’t care.”
EM: That’s nice.
LL: So she went on in the house, and they made a pact. If it was a boy, my sister was to name it. If it was a girl, my brother was to name it. And, of course, as you know, I’m a girl, and he named me Leona after a ship that was out on the water at that time. The poor ship had had fires and all kinds of stuff. Thank God my life isn’t like that.
EM: And that was 1899? That’s beautiful. So this is when—?
LL: Louis was in the war—World War II. He was stationed in Iraq and Iran for 14 months. I’m glad he’s not there now.
EM: We’re looking through a scrap book that has all kinds of mementos from organizations in history and all kinds of honors that have been given to Leona that are beautiful.
LL: And then these are all notes and things that people wrote me.
EM: How many years were you involved in—?
LL: Well, it was 40 years. Oh, I taught kindergarten for 38 years.
EM: And you were involved in Bnai Brith?
LL: Oh, yes. Very deeply.
EM: And what other organizations have you been involved with over the years?
LL: Well, the Legion and the Legion Auxiliary and the (8 & 40??) and—I don’t know—I was always going to a meeting somewhere. At Christmastime, the Legion Auxiliary gives a Christmas party in Ward 15 for the boys. We’d go out and decorate the tree and have gifts and games. That’s all still Elsie and I at that Legion. You know her don’t you? Judy—what’s her last name?
EM: Simon, Judy Simon? And you were involved in the charter Bnai Brith?
LL: Yeah. This is the council, and she’s now president of the council. This is our little thing that you can send a memorial for the children in Israel. That’s my favorite charity. This is my cousin in Florida. You know what happened? I walked in that night to the hall, and he had his back to me. I didn’t know who he was coming. And the kids knew he was coming. They went to meet him. And when he turned around, oh, I was so happy. I just love them so much, and they love me. And then my husband’s people—my husband’s cousin—and how we met I’ll have to tell you that some time. It was a strange meeting. Harold Reingold would always come back from their convention, “Leona, haven’t you got some cousins that live up in Connecticut?” I said, “Not that I know of.” He didn’t say their name was Leidecker. They call themselves Leidecker. I said, “Not that I know of.” So when the boy that was here was Bar Mitzvahed, the educator at that time and Stanley kept sending each other their bulletins. So he saw the name in there. So he wrote me.
(End of dictation 62:55)