Jeannette Fink

Information prepared July 2009 by Carolyn Sue Fink Hollander (oldest daughter) Editor’s note: Sam and Jeannette’s daughter Carolyn wrote her memories of her parents. Their lives were so interwoven that it detracted from both their memory to split their history into two so the write up is the same for both of them.

Jeannette Cohen Fink: 9/9/16-10/18/06 Row 1: 21

Rachmil Reevan Fink was born in Kovno, Poland to Harry and Frema “Fannie” Novak Fink. In order to prevent their son from going into the Polish army at the age of 12, Rachmil’s father and his uncle, Israel Ruby (married to his mother’s sister, Brina), traveled to the United States by way of South America. Fannie Fink and her sister, Brina “Toots“, and their sons remained in Poland until their husbands earned enough money working as carpenters in the U.S. to send for them. Eventually the two women and their sons made their way to France. While waiting to board a ship heading to the U.S., Sam became ill with measles and had to be placed in a Catholic-operated hospital. Upon release from the hospital, a rabbi and Fannie Fink took Rachmil to a river where he was bathed and renamed “Sam” to fool and prevent the angel of death from taking him away. The women and their sons eventually arrived in the U.S. at Ellis Island when Sam was 9 years old. Sam, like most people from Europe, knew how to speak in many languages. He spoke Polish, German, some Russian, Yiddish, and French. Harry Fink and the family made their way to Detroit, MI. He was an expert carpenter in Poland and tried to get permanent work in his original profession. Instead, he eventually purchased a confectionary store where he sold candy, sodas and sundaes in Detroit. Sam’s only sibling, Mildred Fink Kaye, was born 9/11/22 in Detroit and at this writing she will be 87 in September. In 1946 Sam’s father, Harry, sold the confectionary store when he was stabbed multiple times during a robbery. After he recovered, he found work once again as a carpenter and continued that type of work until he retired. During working hours he made custom cabinets, and during his leisure time he made doll carriages and doll furniture for his grandchildren.

Jeannette Cohen Fink was born in New Kensington, PA to Morris and “Bessie” Deborah Berkowitz Cohen. Her parents, Morris and Bessie, came to the U.S. from Baltrimonz, Russia, which is now Lithuania. Morris was a master tailor in Russia and Bessie was a seamstress. After moving to the U.S., Morris opened a custom tailor shop and both he and Bessie worked there. Jeannette had an older sister, Evelyn Cohen Berger, born 3/6/14, and a younger brother, Harold Cohen, born 2/23/19. All three of the Cohen children were born in New Kensington. The family moved to Beaver Falls, PA where one of Bessie’s brothers and sister-in-law were living. At the suggestions of other family members living in Detroit around the start of the Great Depression, the Cohen family moved to Detroit. Morris Cohen decided there was a better chance of earning a decent living working in Detroit as a tailor. Evelyn died 10/30/08 at the age of 94 ½. Harold Cohen at this writing is 90 and lives in a nursing home.

Jeannette was quite a “tom boy” when she was a little girl. During the summer months while both of her parents were working Jeannette and her brother, Harold, would climb trees, play tag, play ball with the neighborhood boys and play follow-the-leader on the nearby railroad tracks. Sometimes they would hop onto empty freight cars and ride to the next stop. In the winter months Jeannette and her brother would go sledding on the streets, even at night, when the parents were working. One evening Jeannette fell off her sled and was run over by a truck. Her nose was broken and in later years she suffered from pain in her sinuses, nose and on one side of her face from the accident. When Jeannette was quite young, both her parents taught her how to mend and sew clothes from patterns, and sometimes she helped out in the tailor shop. While working in the shop her mother kept a close watch on Jeannette and frequently made her rip apart her mistakes and start again. My mother hated ripping apart her work, but it taught her patience and to working carefully. She had a good musical ear, sang well and could pick out popular songs on a piano by ear. One of her cousins gave piano lessons and gave Jeannette only one lesson. Her parents couldn’t afford to pay for private music lessons for both Jeannette and her older sister, Evelyn, who was already taking violin lessons. Because Jeannette was smarter than the other children in her class and quickly mastered the curriculum, her teachers had her skip grades in high school. She graduated from high school when she was not quite 16. In addition, Jeannette was quite an artist and was able to look at items and exactly copy them using pencils or pen and ink. She had taken a few art classes in high school and really wanted to take art classes after graduating. Times were hard and the Cohen family needed money, so Jeannette, upon graduation, had to find work in a department store in downtown Detroit, even though she was underage. She was well-developed for her age, very attractive with lovely light-brown, straight hair which she arranged on the top of her head to look older, hazel-colored eyes, 5’3 ¾“, had a beautiful posture, wasn’t shy and had a quick mouth. She easily gained employment at J. L. Hudson, Dept. Store in Detroit and became a sharp saleswoman.

While Sam and his sister, Mildred, were growing up, they were used to helping their father in the confectionary store. After Sam graduated from Northern High School, he continued to help out in the store and associate with some of the neighborhood boys who were also his school friends. Sam was an intelligent young man and his mother wanted her son to attend one of the local colleges and escape from the bad influence of the neighborhood boys. For a brief time Sam attended City College (now Wayne State University in Detroit). When Sam refused to continue attending college, his mother arranged for him to work for his uncle, Israel Ruby, who had purchased a jewelry store in Greensboro, NC. Sam moved in with his uncle Ruby and aunt Toots and their two sons, Sam and Richard, and went to work in the jewelry store where he learned about the business. A few times a year he returned to Detroit to visit his family. During one of his visits Sam and Jeannette Cohen met on a blind date which was arranged by two mutual friends from the “old neighborhood.” Jeannette saw no point in going out on a blind date with someone who was living so far away in the south and just visiting for a short period of time, but she agreed to go. Sam was a tall young man, 5’11”, with dark brown, thick, wavy hair. His eyes were large and grey in colored and his thick dark lashes were long and curly. There was immediate attraction between Sam and Jeannette and some time later, the couple were engaged.

Sam and Jeannette married on August 30, 1937 and the couple set up housekeeping in a very small, one-bedroom apartment in Greensboro where Sam continued working for his uncle. After Jeannette became pregnant with their first child, she wanted to be near her mother and father when the baby was born. The young couple returned to Detroit and Carolyn Sue Fink was born on September 16, 1938. At that time Sam purchased a grocery store. Time passed and Sam realized he no longer wished to live permanently in Detroit, plus he hated working in a grocery store. In 1940 when Carolyn was 21 months old, the family returned to North Carolina and Sam resumed working for his uncle Ruby. By then the Ruby family had sold the Greensboro store and purchased Ray’s Jewelry Store in Durham, N.C. and needed Sam to be the manager. Sam, Jeannette and Carolyn moved into a one-bedroom, small apartment on Duke University Road. The couple joined the Beth El Synagogue and they became active members. Dad joined B’nai B’rith and mother joined Sisterhood and Hadassah. Most of the women were much older than Jeannette and they all spoke Yiddish at the meetings. Mother didn’t know how to speak Yiddish, but she could understand the language from listening to her parents. All the women taught mother how to speak Yiddish and even taught her how to cook some traditional Jewish recipes. In 1943 Sam was drafted into the army. Fortunately at that time men who had young children were given the opportunity to either go into the army or work in a defense plant. My father and mother decided that daddy would have a far better chance to survive World War II if he worked in a defense plant. Once again the Fink family packed up and moved back to Detroit where they shared my grandfather and grandmother Cohen’s two-bedroom apartment. Daddy went to work at the Freuhoff Truck Factory. Daddy’s job was to help build tanks and he learned to use a riveter. Daddy’s long, slender, well manicured jeweler’s hands became swollen and stiff from the hard labor. Winters in Detroit were terribly cold and it was difficult for Daddy to get up a 4 a.m. and wait for a city bus to take him to and from work at the defense plant. The year I turned 5, I came down with the mumps. Unfortunately, Daddy caught the mumps from me and was very ill with a high temperature. He missed a number of work days but never lost his job at the plant. Life was probably quite hard for my parents during the war. The 3 of us shared one bedroom, my mother’s sister, Evelyn, her husband and 2 year old daughter slept in the second bedroom, my grandparents slept on a studio couch in the dining room and my mother’s unmarried brother, Harold, (before he was drafted into the army), slept on the couch in the living room. We lived in an all Jewish neighborhood inhabited by immigrants from Austria, Germany, Russia and Poland. There were many children and playmates for me. Being the oldest grandchild, my grandparents, uncles and aunts spoiled me with lots of attention. In 1945 after the war ended my father, mother and I moved back to live on Duke University Road in Durham and Daddy went back to working at Ray‘s Jewelry Store. I was 7 years old and continued the second grade in the middle of the school year. I hated returning to Durham, I missed my relatives in Detroit and there were no playmates for me on our street. Plus everyone spoke with such a thick southern accent that I had a hard time understanding my teacher and my classmates. During the hot North Carolina summer months, Mother and I would sit outside under the shade of a tree, played card games, and we took turns reading to each other. My mother at that time instilled in me the love of reading and escaping into the stories about other people and far away places.

On July 27, 1947 my middle sister, Sandra Lynn, was born. I was 9 years old and that year I started taking piano lessons and going to Hebrew school. Being an excellent seamstress, my mother made for me, without using a pattern, my first piano recital evening gown. For a while Mother would sit in the room where I was being taught how to play. When I was at school, Mother would sit at our piano and teach herself how to play. In 1950 my father became the co-owner of Ray’s Jewelry Store with his uncle. On March 7, 1950 the Fink family moved to our new home at 915 Urban Ave. in Durham. All the gardening and carpentry skills that my father had learned from his father, he put to use in our new home. Daddy and mother and I enjoyed working on the landscaping in our front and back yards. Daddy even built a nice-size playhouse in the backyard which was converted into a gardening shed. I enjoyed working with him and was amazed at how skilled he was. Sometimes Daddy would sing while we were working in the yard and I loved hearing him sing in Yiddish, and then translate for me. Meanwhile Mother used her sewing skills and made all the drapes and bedspreads for the new house. My mother always made all her own clothes and mine too. On Sunday mornings Daddy would take me to the store with him where he taught me how to decorate the display windows in front of the store. Daddy was quite artistic and he knew how to design the advertisements, including pictures, that would appear in the local daily newspaper. One of my fondest memories is about Daddy taking out his harmonica and playing the Polish and Russian melodies he remembered from the old country. Our home was always a popular place for my friends to get together with me. Many times, once I joined Young Judaea, the members would meet in our home for dancing to and singing the Hebrew melodies we were learning. Mother and Dad loved to ball room dance and often joined our group while we practiced the Hebrew dances in our living room. Once in the evening the group of teenagers were making so much noise, the neighbors complained to the police to quiet us down. We did lessen the noise, and the policeman, who happened to be one of my father’s customers, joined in the dancing. I entered University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill in September 1956 and graduated in June 1960 with a B.A. in Education. February 14, 1960, I married Jerome Hollander whom I met while attending college. Jerome graduated also in June 1960 with a Ph.D. in Chemistry. We moved to Morristown, NJ. For the first 2 years of our marriage I taught 6th and 8th grades in Parsippany-Troy Hills Township, Dover, NJ. Jerry worked for Allied Chemical Co. in Morristown. I am the only surviving child. We live in Oceanside, CA. We have two sons, Harold Neil and David Stewart. David lives in San Diego, CA and Harold lives in Grand Rapids, MI. Our older son, Harold, has one child, Robert Jacob.

On February 11, 1955 my youngest sister, Debra Lee Fink, was born. I was 16 years old when she was born. Debbie inherited my mother’s and father’s artistic talents. She graduated from University of North Carolina - Greensboro campus with a major in Art History. She taught art in junior and senior high schools in South Carolina for the first year after graduation. On July 31, 1977 Debra Lee Fink married Dale Conrad Windsor. The couple moved to Pleasant Gardens, NC where Dale personally built their first home. The end of January 1981 Dale helped my parents move into their new home on Stuart Drive. For a while Debbie continued teaching art classes in the local school districts. Their son, Justin Ross Windsor was born on 11/10/81. Debbie returned to teaching within 6 weeks of Justin’s birth. She never properly recovered from the birth of their son, on March 10, 1982 she became seriously ill, entered the hospital on March 13, went into a coma and was operated on March 14. She never regained consciousness after the exploratory surgery. Debbie remained in a coma until September 13. Tragically, she died from complications from childbirth on Sept. 13, 1982. She was 27 at her death. She is buried in Clemmons, NC. Her husband, Dale Windsor, still lives in Pleasant Gardens, North Carolina. Justin and his wife, Abby, also live in Pleasant Gardens, not too far from where his father lives. Justin and his wife have no children at this writing.

Sandra Lynn died in 2003 in Utica, NY. She and her former husband, Morris, had no children. See her biography attached separately.

Sam served on the Beth El ritual committee, was treasurer of the synagogue for several years, and was a member of the building committee for the present Synagogue at Watts and Markham Streets. In addition, he was past president of the United Jewish Fund and a member of B’nai B’rith. Sam and Jeannette were very active members of Beth El for over 50 years. Jeannette was involved in Sisterhood projects, most notably the annual Memorial Booklet. Sam didn’t retire from full-time work as a jeweler until around 1980. He had earlier begun to supplement his income in the real estate business, and continued with real estate, as well as working part-time for other local jewelers, after his official retirement. When my sister, Debbie, was 5 years old, my mother became a teacher’s aide in the Durham schools and continued as an aide for a number of years. She used her artistic skills in creating bulletin display boards for the teachers. In addition she specialized in tutoring the children who were having difficulty learning to read and do arithmetic. She had a lot of patience, took a personal interest in each child and the children loved her. In her free time she made crewel work pictures and produced pictures using pencil or pen and ink. Examples of her artistic endeavors are prized by her family and former friends.

I have always considered my father to have been an excellent role model - generally even-tempered and friendly to everyone, no matter their race or religion. People liked him. Daddy had a knack for giving good advice. He taught me to be considerate of others’ feelings and never speak unkindly to or critically about others. He said you might not like someone, but it is best to keep unkind thoughts to yourself. Above all else, always think first before saying something that you’ll immediately regret. We used to have long, private discussions about any problems I had concerning relationships with others. Daddy was the parent who accompanied me to a meeting with the Dean of Nursing at UNC when I had to change my major from Nursing to Education. My mother taught me patience. She taught me to be observant of my father’s demeanor when he arrived home in the evening, in case he had been having a bad day at work. That was an excellent lesson because it taught me to not take people for granted, and to actually pay attention to them and how they were acting. My mother also taught me to be well-organized and to keep a clean, tidy home that would be a comfortable place to live. Mother only taught me to bake cakes and some traditional Jewish dishes, such as gefilte fish, chicken soup with matzo balls, chopped chicken liver. I guess she decided that I would learn the basics of cooking from a cookbook. My mother was a beautiful woman even in old age, had a proud bearing and a generous heart.

In memory of their 50th Wedding Anniversary my parents donated funds to Beth-El for a new Torah cover. In addition, in memory of Debbie who enjoyed attending summer camp, they donated funds to Beth-El so that a scholarship would be available for young children to attend summer camp. My father, Sam Rachmil Reevan died on February 18, 1994 from malignant melanoma. Funds for a beautiful new perochet (ark curtain) were donated by my mother in memory of my father and Debbie. Two years before her death my mother sold the home on Stuart Dr. and moved to a Durham Regent Assisted Living Apartment located on Pickett Rd. in Durham. Jeannette Cohen Fink died on October 18, 2006 from complications caused by a failing heart. She was 90 years old at her death.