Scenic view of Bronx House Emanuel Camps Copake, N.Y. Image courtesy cardcow.com

Alan Chartock: I Publius — Tell them now

There are a number of things to think about here. One is that there are people who played a profound part in your life and you really need to get back in touch and tell them that.

So every morning, we have a WAMC group staff meeting on the phone. The other day when everyone was strangely silent, I said I was going to tell them the story of Steve Solender. The always brilliant Joe Donahue said, “I love that one!” Ha!

There I was at Camp Bronx House in nearby Copake, New York, all those years ago. We are talking a LOT of years ago (maybe 60 or so) and Steve Solender, who went on to be the top social worker in the United States, was my boss. He was terrific. He took his profession very seriously. We should have known then that he would have many important jobs in both the United States and abroad and end up as the head of the Jewish Federation in New York City. He may have been three or four years older than I was, but as far as I was concerned, he was much older than that. He spent an inordinate amount of time with me, pointing out flaws and asking why I did this or that. Frankly, I loved the guy.

Anyway, a bunch of us were about to have a day off and we decided that we would leave Copake and drive to Fire Island. My parents had a house there and we were going to play folk songs at the Fire Island Youth Group, which my mother had founded years before. The problem was that Steve Solender had called a staff meeting and those could go on and on. We decided that NO ONE, under pain of social isolation, would say anything at the meeting. Steve was so smart that he figured it out in no time at all and he went on with a lecture that lasted a very long time. We were hoist with our own petard (Shakespeare, you know.) When you are dealing with a guy much smarter than you are, you have to know when to quit.

In any case, when it’s clear that the group that reports to me wants to get on with it, I tell them the story of Steve Solender. When I was done with the meeting, I decided it was time to call Steve, perhaps 63 years later, and pick up the conversation. I tried to find his number but I couldn’t, so I asked our news director, Ian Pickus, if he could use his formidable skills to find it for me. In a few minutes, he was back with the number. I couldn’t believe it. I asked him how he had accomplished the feat and he said, “I looked in the white pages.”

So, with some trepidation, I called the number and his wife of many, many years, picked up the phone. Steve was taking a nap. It seems that he has some serious health problems, but his wife, Elsa, who has also had a very distinguished career, spoke with me for quite some time. I told her that I was calling because of “The Story of Steve Solender” and she promised that she would pass it on.

There are a number of things to think about here. One is that there are people who played a profound part in your life and you really need to get back in touch and tell them that. Every time one of my students writes me and tells me what I meant to them, it has an amazing effect on me. I recently interviewed one of my American University professors, Marty Meadows, on the air and we spent an hour discussing his internment in the Philippines during World War II. That was a story that needed to be told. So was the story of Steve Solender. I suggest no one waits for a eulogy. Tell them now. Don’t wait. A second lesson is that we should never try to abbreviate a meeting by not talking, otherwise someone will tell you the story of Steve Solender.