Grace and Harry Stillman

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Obviously, this essay would be ten times longer than it already is if I were to summarize the lives of all Moishe and Temma’s progeny.  In the interest of succinctness I will only treat their four children, Grace, Hattie, Lou and Max, and their respective spouses.  According to my grandfather Bud, two of them, Hattie and Max, were tall with dark hair and brown eyes like their father, while the other two, Grace and Lou, were short with lighter skin and blue eyes like their mother.  Grandpa told me that “they were all very determined people, all very ambitious.”

Of the four of them only Hattie settled outside of Minneapolis, in St. Louis, Missouri.  As a result, her children were not in very close touch with their first cousins.  Hattie’s golden wedding anniversary of June 26, 1956 was perhaps the last occasion which saw all of Moishe’s children and grandchildren together in the same place.  Grace, Lou and Max were close to one another for most of their lives, although not necessarily in frequent contact.  They also were close to Hattie in spite of the distance to St. Louis.

Harold Grossman (Lou’s son) reflected: “It was amazing how close [Max and Lou] were to each other and I remember being in my father’s office, and almost every day he’d call Grace, and when he was talking on the phone to Grace or Max, that was it.  Get out of the office!  It’d be a long time… They talked every day.”  Marion Shapiro commented, “When [Max and Lou] grew older, my Dad passed away and my mother [Grace] lived in our home.  They came over very often to visit.  They would stay hours to visit my Mom.”

Grace Grossman was born in Sudilkov on December 1, 1881 (although according to the 1900 census the date was November, 1881; her file at Minneapolis Hadras says she was born in Poland, but this is also wrong).  She emigrated to the United States with her mother Temma and sister Hattie in mid 1892 when she was 10 years old.  Grace and Hattie were sent to school soon after their arrival, where they quickly learned to read, write and speak English.  From 1899 to early 1900 Grace was employed by Robitshek, Frank & Heller, and by June of 1900 she was working as a “seamstress”, probably for the same company.  As I stated above, on the 1900 Federal Census Grace was listed as “Nessie”, which may have been her original name.  She lived with her folks on 618 North 6th Street until her marriage to Harry Stillman (21 Dec 1876-21 Dec 1956) on December 15, 1901, shortly after her twentieth birthday.

Mildred Bookman Stillman (19 Apr 1909-), Grace’s daughter-in-law, claims that Moishe and Temma wanted their daughter to marry a learned man who was intimately familiar with the Torah and Talmud.  Harry had acquired a deep knowledge of Jewish texts through many years of intensive of study when he was growing up.  It so happened that he and Grace fell in love, got married and raised a marvellous family, much to the pleasure of Moishe and Temma.  Irene Silesky Stillman (3 Mar 1908-), another of Grace’s daughters-in-law, recalls that Harry and Grace were very friendly and loved to visit people, often losing themselves in conversation.  According to her, Harry had escaped from “Russia” in order to avoid conscription into the czar’s army.  He appears in the photograph of Moishe’s butcher shop on 6th Avenue North that Norman and Sylvia Grossman sent me. He was about 40 at the time the picture was taken.  

  Harry Stillman, circa 1915 

Grace and Harry moved to St. Louis with Moishe, Temma and their other children around the time of Hattie’s wedding in 1906, and remained until late 1909 or so.  By the end of 1909 the Grossmans, with the exception of Hattie, had moved back to Minneapolis.  Harry and Grace got into the grocery business soon afterwards and opened their first store around 1910-11, but no later than 1914.  In the 1915 city directory Grace is listed separately from her husband (a rare phenomenon in that period!) as: “Grace Grossman icer b 629 7th av N”.

On July 21, 1996, I interviewed Marion Shapiro, Norman and Sylvia Grossman, Harold Grossman (Lou’s son), and my grandfather Bud Grossman.  The following is a transcript of a part of my conversation with them:

Marion: “She [Grace] was a businesswoman.”

Harold: “She was a walking computer.”

Marion: “They owned a little grocery store.  She had four sons at the store and they... had their living quarters behind the store.  [It was located] at 4th Street North, across from Franklin School.  It’s still there.”  Marion did not remember when it was opened, but it was sometime before she was born, before 1916.  She continued, “And she worked hard, ran the store, took care of the children.  My Dad [Harry] would have to ride the horse-and-buggy to all the customers, take the orders, come home, make the orders, deliver it.  That was their day.  Then… her sister Aunt Hattie Bierman would come every summer, and she was married to a man that was quite wealthy for those days.   She would come with her four children.  We all lived behind the store.  I don’t know where they slept but that’s how it was during those days.”

Sylvia (Turner) Grossman: “She [Grace] was the finest, sweetest lady, and she and I had a special relationship.  Just loved her.  And she was the type of person that never expected you to come to her or to call her.  She always made a point of calling me at least once a week.”

Francis Yedidia, Sam and Hattie’s daughter, told me during my interview with her that she used to go to the Stillmans’ store when she was a kid.  She remembers the soda fountain and having a lot of fun.  Fran told me that the couple also went into the artificial flower business.

My grandfather had this to say about Harry and Grace: “They started a grocery store.  Now Harry was in my grandfather’s [Moishe’s] tradition…[in the sense that he had been brought up by a religious family].  He would dress up and he would go down to the store and he would sit by the cash register [and greet the customers].  But Grace started the business with him, in the tradition of her mother.  And that at one time was by far and away the largest chain of grocery stores in the state of Minnesota.  It was a very successful business… I had a very warm relationship with all of them.  [Their descendants] “lead good lives and they’re excellent members of the community.”

Marion Cohen, Bud’s older sister, told me the following about Grace: “She worked hard.  She helped her husband build the grocery business, and she had lots of kids, and I used to stop there sometimes for lunch… They were dear people, and they had a daughter named Marion also... She had these older brothers and her father was a very, very loving man, and her mother was... a terrific woman.  I respected them a great deal and I loved them.”  According to Marion, Grace was very sharp and intelligent.  “She reminded me of her mother—tiny, pretty face... She was built like Temma but she was really... a mixture of the two of them [Temma and Moishe].”  Grace and Hattie, both of whom were born in Europe, seemed more “old world” to Marion than Lou and Max.  Bud agrees with his sister: “Grace looked very much like my grandmother (Temma).  She was small.  She was plump.  She was blue-eyed, very fair, and very sweet and very determined.”

Gene Stillman (10 June 1921-), Grace and Harry’s daughter-in-law, remembers Grace as a beautiful woman with gorgeous skin who remained lucid until she died.  She was short, well-dressed, had hazel eyes and brown hair until she grayed.  She was sweet, quiet, very bright and socially savvy.  She was fairly religious and was a good cook.  She kept kosher at home, but not when she went out.  She gradually became more “modern” and played cards, a favorite pursuit, on Shabbas.  Gene remembers that she often wrote letters to Hattie.

Harold Grossman, Max’s son, recalls that Grace was “A lovely lady.  She was like a little dumpling—cute, nice, always smiling, a wonderful wife and mother... We kept in close contact with Grace because we used to be next door neighbors to George and Ruth Stillman, and we always used to see aunt Grace either there or we’d see her all different places.”

Grace Stillman (Grossman)

Irene Silesky said Grace was the matriarch of the Stillman family.  She ran the grocery store and was a skilled businesswoman. Harry delivered her orders.  She was very talkative and loved to visit with people; she had a nice disposition and many friends.

John Marcus told me that Grace was his mother Sophie’s favorite among the Grossmans.  The Marcus’ knew all of Grace’s children, and they lived only a block away from them.  When the Stillmans moved out of their workplace they bought a home on Sheridan and 16th Avenue North.  Meanwhile, the Marcus family lived on Thomas and 15th Avenue North, right around the corner.  John remembers Grace as a lovely person, very friendly.  “I can’t say enough about her.  She was wonderful.”  He continues, “Grace helped run the grocery store.  The first grocery store was across from Franklin School, on North 4th Street, east of Lyndale.  As the boys grew older and more helpful they started another store on Plymouth Avenue.  Later [their business] became a good-sized chain of stores.”  John thinks the Stillmans were eventually bought out by Krober (sp?).

Harry and Grace had five children: George Nathan (30 Dec 1904-7 Feb 1979), who married Ruth Doris Brockman (15 Mar 1907-) and had three children, Ralph Paul (16 Dec 1931-), Phyllis Rae (19 Aug 1933-), and Dr. M. Thomas (11 Aug 1938-); Norman (born 17 July 1906), who married Mildred Bookman (19 Apr 1909-) and had three children, Norton (22 Apr 1934-), Beverly Naomi (23 Aug 1936-) and Jerold Michael (Jan 1943-); Arthur Zelig (1 Nov 1907-5 May 1977), who married Irene Silesky (3 Mar 1908-) and had four children, Pearl Beverly (18 Jan 1931-), Robert George (19 Mar 1934-), Marvin Stewart (25 Mar 1936-) and Shirley Marilyn (22 July 1940-); Leonard Sydney (20 June 1908-16 July 1991), who married Gene Margaret Goldberg (10 June 1921-) and had two children, Barabara Ann (28 Sep 1943-) and Linda Tema (25 Sep 1948-); and Marion (12 Dec 1916-11 Feb 99), who married Prentice Shapiro (1 Nov 1910-1 Sep 1980) and had four children, Terry (28 Jan 1941-), Ronald (24 Apr 1947-), Susan (1 May 1949-) and Howard (27 Apr 1957-).  I have not yet gathered detailed information on Grace and Harry’s children and I apologize for the shortcoming.

Harry and Grace celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary at Mikro Kodesh synagogue on December 15, 1951.  Harry passed away on December 21, 1956, but Grace lived on vigorously until July 19, 1975, when she died at the age of 93. 

Harry and Grace Stillman tomb, Minneapolis

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