Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Her name was Sue Ann

Dear Eli,

Now almost two weeks removed from the passing of your great-grandmother, your Paw Paw's mother, I still have not put down my thoughts for you. This letter, unlike the others that I have written for you over the past 14 months may be the most complicated. Years of disagreements and feuds combined with my cloudy memories of her make for a very hard thing to explain, much less write. I will do my best.

Sue Ann (Fadem) Kodner, Born -- March 28, 1930;  Died -- October 26, 2012. Her dad was Joe, your Paw Paw's Paw Paw. I know this is a very clinical way to start out, but that is about how my feeling are partitioned.

When she died I did not know how old she was. What year she was born. I had only seen her once in the last 10+ (give or take) years. Prior to sitting down with her earlier this year I had not said a word to her since 1993. I have not had had a relationship with her since I was 8. 23 wasted years. You did meet her once. You ate her crackers.

Once a long time ago my father was very close with her. Your Mimi once told me it was much like her relationship with me. How that could have stopped? No words.

In retrospect, to me, I feel badly for her. Ultimatums, bullying, and stubbornness defined her life, or at lease her life as seen through my lens. She lived a full life. Died with family by her side. Death brings sadness. This loss brought much worse to me, emptiness.

I was asked if I wanted to be a pallbearer. All of her other grandchildren in attendance were. I declined. Its said that you need at least 6 people to be by your side to help put you to rest. She did. As always I was on the outside looking in.

How did all of this happen? Well here is the short version. Your great-grandfather was cut out of my life after my birth and Sue was put in a hard spot. She continued her relationship with my father, mother, and your Aunt Robin and started a relationship with me until I was around 8. At that point a fork was was come upon. More ultimatums, more hurt feelings. This time two of my three uncles were drawn in. The family went from dysfunctional to fully fractured. After that I had no relationship with her and the majority of my father's family.

I could go on and on about the past and who said what and who did that. The fact is, that it is, what it is. I would rather talked to you about want can be learned from the past. Those that do not understand history are doomed to repeat it, as they say.

Nothing is black and white. What looks dark for us, was a full, maybe complicated and painful at times, joyful life. Family can be a pain, but nothing you can do will stop them from being your family. Part of Sue is in you. She is in me. I will never know how much she influenced you, but I imagine she is responsible for more than her 1/8th share of blood. Forgiveness is about letting go of your pain. It does not make you weak. It does not make wrongs rights, but it lets you move on.  Lastly, I think we can all learn something about time. Life is short. Enjoy every bit of it while you can. Take the high road. Love, respect, and empathy will take you a long way. Hate and pain will only lead you to one place. Loneliness.

I am ending this letter with two addenda. An obituary and eulogy. Maybe other's words will help you to understand where it is you came from. 

I love you more than I could ever write.


Kodner, Sue Ann (nee Fadem) died October 26, 2012. Beloved wife of the late Marvin Kodner for 62 years. Dear daughter of the late Rose and Joe Fadem. Beloved daughter-in-law of the late Pearl and Paul Kodner. Loving mother of Steve (Lanie), Robert (Mary), Gary (Peggy Nehmen), Ricky (Gail Brody) Kodner. Beloved sister and sister in-law of Marilyn (Louis) Diamond, Myron (Gail) Kodner and the late Sylvia (Manuel) Rothberg. Dear grandmother of Joe (Holly) Kodner, Dr. Robin Kodner, Tracy Kodner, Kenton (Emily) Kodner, Rachel Kodner, Oliver Kodner, Paul and Jordan Kodner. Beloved great-grandmother of Emi, Miya and Elias Kodner. Our dear aunt, cousin and friend to so many.

Note: This eulogy was copied from Rabbi Mark Fasman blog hosted on shaarezedek.org. Sitting and listening to him read this was the hardest part of the funeral for me. The story of the death of a woman I did not know. It sounds like she had a nice life, one without my family in it. Everyone lost.

Sue Ann Kodner

Sarah Channah bat Yosef v’Rachel

שרה הנה בת יוסף ורחל

b. March 28, 1930 – St. Louis

d. October 26, 2012 [12:22 p.m.] – St. Louis

4 Cheshvan 5773

Funeral: Brith Sholom Knesset Israel Synagogue

Interment: Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol Cemetery, Ladue

October 29, 2012

[These comments are based on a conversation with Steven (Lanie) Kodner, Gary (Peggy Nehmen) Kodner, Rick (Gail Brody) Kodner, and grandsons, Paul and Jordan Kodner. They are also drawn from a document prepared by Gary Kodner giving a detailed history of his mother’s life.]

[Mourners: Steven Kodner (son), Robert Kodner (son), Gary Kodner (son), Rick Kodner (son), Marilyn Diamond (sister).]

Sue Ann Fadem was born 82 years ago to Joe and Rose (Goldberg) Fadem, on March 28, 1930, just 25 days after the death of her 5-year-old sister, Dorothy. At the time of Sue’s birth, her mother was deeply depressed over the loss of her first-born. So Sue began life living with her Aunt Etta (and Uncle Joe) Morris on Hyland Avenue. After life settled down, they moved back to their home on Wells Avenue. It was a two-flat. Sue’s mother’s parents, Mollie and Max Goldberg, lived upstairs. Her cousins, the Gershbachs, lived next door. So began a lifelong pattern of living next door to relatives.

Four years later, Sue’s younger sister Marilyn was born. Marilyn and her husband, Louis Diamond, survive Sue. Though the sisters lived apart most of their adult lives, they remained close and kept their families close.

In 1935, Sue entered the Arlington School on Burd Avenue. In the fourth grade class was a boy named Marvin Kodner. It isn’t likely that they knew each other then.
In 1939, the family moved to University City – 7408 Stanford, next door to Sue’s Aunt Etta and Uncle Joe Morris. She attended Hanley Junior High School and then University City High School, from which she graduated in June 1947.

Sue’s family was Reform. She attended Sunday school at B’nai El Temple on Union Avenue through her Confirmation in June of 1946. She was also active in the B’nai Brith Girls.

Following graduation from high school, Sue entered Washington University – but left school after one year. It was one of her biggest regrets in life that she had not continued with her higher education.

Sue entered the workforce as a bookkeeper. She worked for Dave Ludwig who had an accounting firm with Al Fine.

Sue remembers meeting Marvin for the first time at her friend Fritzie Miller’s house. In fact, she mistook him for a guy named Mel Sova. It wasn’t until later, at a birthday party of a friend, Jean Sloofman, that she and Marvin were formally introduced.

Gary provided me with a detailed description of the wedding:
Sue and Marvin were a mixed marriage. One coming from an Orthodox upbringing and one from a Reform experience. They were married at The Kingsway Hotel on Kingshighway and Lindell. The rabbi was the head of the Orthodox community, Rabbi Menachem Eichenstein. Hazzan Shore sang at the wedding. The bartender was Joe Stenback. The band was led by Al Simpkins; Selma Kotner made all the baked goods for the wedding but had  an emergency appendectomy and was unable to attend. There were numerous kosher butchers in attendance and approximately 250 family and friends were in attendance.

The hall was dirty and unprepared for the party. They spent the day cleaning the floors and tables so they would be ready. The event was strictly kosher….

[Of course, Marvin was a kosher butcher.]

Sue and Marvin’s first home was at 6431 Clayton Road, across the street from Saint Mary’s Hospital in Clayton. It was a four-flat owned by members of the Kodner family. At the time, Sue was working for her father in their downtown  jewelry store. Marvin was helping to run the Kodner’s kosher meat market with his brother-in-law Manuel and brother Myron. Because of the business, there was always meat in the Kodner home (the children remember saying, “Steak? Again??”)

Sue became a full-time stay-at-home mom in November of 1950 with the birth of the first of her four sons: Steve. Their second son, Robert, was born in May 1952. As the family got larger, the apartment got smaller. Sue and Marvin, along with Marvin’s sister Sylvia and her husband Manuel, bought adjoining lots on Kurt Avenue in Richmond Heights and build houses on those lots. They moved in in April of 1953. (In 1967 they added a room at the back of the house.)

Sue and Marvin lived in that house for 59 years. Their other two sons, Gary and Rick, were born after they moved to Richmond Heights. Between the neighboring Kodner and Rothberg families there were eight kids, one back yard, one garage, one Sukkah, an assortment of animals and pets, and a swing set. It was a place of shared ballgames, parties, holidays, and celebrations. Marvin loved having animals around – over the years, there was a rooster, chickens, ducks, a lamb, dogs, mice, snakes, and turtles.

In 1960 the recently-merged B'rith Sholom – Knesseth Israel congregation built the school wing of their new synagogue – just a couple of blocks away from their home. It was then that the family transferred their membership from Shaare Zedek to BSKI. Sue took a job as synagogue secretary, working for Rabbi Skoff for seventeen years.

Sue and Marvin had a traditional marriage – that is, he was in charge of the business and she ruled over the home. Sue was a caring mother. It was always “kids first” in her life. She was a nurturing mother – a great cook and an enthusiastic knitter and crochet-er (the kids all had comforters and sweaters made by their mother. She taught her sons to cook, to do the dishes, to take out the trash – that is, to be self-sufficient. She disciplined her sons when needed, but mostly provided a buffer between them and their father. They were boys, after all – her greatest challenge was keeping them apart.

It seems to me that Sue’s style of discipline is nicely reflected in a story concerning Steve and curfews. Sue had a curfew; Steve routinely broke it. There were times he would come in late at night, no shoes on, quietly entering the dark house, only to walk right past his mother, who was sitting up waiting for him! One night, Gary heard a tapping on his window – it was Steve, who needed to be let into the house – Sue had not only locked the door – she had put the chain on as well! Sue was very pleased that her sons never had serious problems and that they ended up with good Jewish wives and families.

Sue always lived in a Jewish universe. Even though she had grown up in a Reform home, she embraced Marvin’s traditional Jewish practices. She kept a kosher home. The neighborhood was a Jewish enclave. She worked at the synagogue. She was active in the BSKI Sisterhood, especially in the kitchen. Every Friday night, there was a Shabbat dinner at her house – and there was always extra food available in case there were last-minute guests.

Sue said that she tried four times for a daughter. But it wasn’t until her four sons grew up and married that she finally got her wish. Steve married Lanie Schuchat, Robert married Mary Abrams, Gary married Peggy Nehmen, and Ricky married Gail Brody. And so, Sue embraced each of these women, not as daughters-in-law but as daughters. These daughters say she was the “best example” of a mother-in-law: she accepted each for who they were, she didn’t criticize them, and she gave advice only when asked. Sue always praised her daughters-in-law – and she was never threatened that they were taking her sons away from her.

As much as she enjoyed being a mother, she used to say that if she had known that being a grandmother was so much fun, she’d have done it first! Each of her sons gave her two grandchildren – a total of five grandsons and three granddaughters. Steve and Lanie gave her Joe and Tracy, Robert and Mary gave her Robin and Kenton, Gary and Peggy gave her Rachel and Oliver, and Ricky and Gail gave her twins: Paul and Jordan.

Grandma Sue was always available for babysitting. She would take the grandchildren on trips to the firehouse and to Allen Foods (where they fed the ducks). She took some of them on early morning breakfasts. And she was always at her grandkid’s performances, sports events, and graduations. Paul and Jordan lived with her for their first two years of high school. They said that Sue and Marvin were the only grandparents they ever knew – and that their grandma spoiled them. I suspect that she spoiled all of them.

Three of her grandchildren have partners: Joe is married to Holly, Tracy’s partner is Jered, and Kenton is married to Emily. Two of these couples have given Sue great-grandchildren: Joe and Holly children are Emi (3) and Miya (1). And Kenny and Emily’s son is Eli. These great-grandchildren called her “bubbe” – it was something she had wanted to hear for an entire generation.

Family was always very important for Sue. She was close to her sister Marilyn and her husband Louis, as well as their three children and eleven grandchildren. She was also close to Marvin’s family – older brother Myron (and Gail) used to be a co-owner of the business. They now live in Jacksonville, Florida. And Marvin’s younger sister, Sylvia and her husband, Manuel Rothberg were close personally, professionally (Manuel was the third owner of the kosher meat market), and geographically (they lived next door to each other on Kurt Avenue for decades). As neighbors, Sue was particularly close with their four children as well: Mueriel (Stan Carp), Janet White, Jim (Dana) Rothberg, and Larry Rothberg. Because both of her parents were from large families, Sue had many, many cousins – and she was close with many of them.

When Marvin and his brother and brother-in-law closed the P. Kodner Kosher Meat Market, he took a job working for Allen Foods. And for the first time in his adult life, he had vacations! It was then that Sue and Marvin began their extensive world travels. They started with a trip to Israel in 1972. Subsequently, they traveled to China, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, and Jamaica. In later years, they started cruising – Alaska, Europe, and Sweden (as her children recall). There were also family trips to visit the kids: Arizona, Florida, San Diego, and Oklahoma were their primary destinations.

Sue was active with Oasis, through which she tutored elementary school students. She loved to play cards – with everyone. For many years, she was in a Canasta group in her neighborhood – the “Kurt Avenue Cats.” She enjoyed gin and solitaire. And she would play any kids’ games with her grandchildren. In her later years, Sue enjoyed crossword and word search puzzles. She also did on-line gambling (but with fake money); she also used real money at the local casinos, where she preferred video poker and slots (her limit was about $20).

When it came to sports, Sue was a devoted Cardinals fan. As a young woman she had played tennis, and she enjoyed watching tennis matches on television. She also enjoyed fishing.

Sue wasn’t a vain woman. But she always had her nails done. And she spent a number of years as a redhead.

Even before Marvin’s passing, fourteen months ago, Joyce Grandberry had become her caregiver and companion. This close relationship continued throughout the last months of her life. For the past eight months, Sue lived at the Barclay House on Brentwood Boulevard. She got to know everyone there, and they got to know her. And the good people at Bethesda Health were there for her at the Barclay House, at their rehab center, and through their hospice program.

Sue’s family describes her as a warm, caring, sensitive, loving and devoted woman. She was honest and very direct (she told it like it was). She was often sarcastic. She was easily upset, but she loved a good joke.

Sue Kodner was a woman devoted to her family, to her Jewish community, to her synagogue. She was a nurturer, serving many people in many ways throughout her 82 years. She had many lifelong friends and never stopped making new friends. She has left this world a better place, through her children and their families, through her extended family and wide circle of friends, and through her synagogue.

Sue’s Hebrew name was Sarah Channah. We just read (on Shabbat morning) the passage in the Book of Genesis that describes Sarah, the wife of Abraham. She was a strong woman, a woman who yearned for family (and who, in this week’s Torah portion, will experience the birth of her son, Isaac). Sarah was the first matriarch of the Jewish people. In many ways, Sue was the matriarch of her family. She had a prodigious memory for family history and she worked hard to keep the family together. Sue has been a blessing. Her legacy is the family and friends she leaves behind whose values and commitments were shaped by her own and who will thus continue to be a blessing in our world.

Death may end life, but it doesn’t end love and it doesn’t end memory. As she did for more than eight decades, Sue Kodner will continue to bring blessing to this world through the loving memories she leaves behind.

1 comment:

  1. I love you!!! There is nothing like boy in him Mommy!!!