My Uncle’s Draft Obituary

Sekhnet recently came across some folders I took from my uncle’s filing cabinet after he died.  I was delighted to find the folder with the dementedly detailed obituary he’d handed me in the living room of his recently departed brother’s condo to place in the New York Times, the one I instead placed on a table after skimming the first few paragraphs glorifying their grotesque childhood in Peekskill.

I was relieved to find it and placed it somewhere safe where it is now hiding, probably in plain sight.  Sekhnet brought me the folders the other day, but that piece was not among the papers, 99% of which are bound for the shredder.  This was there instead, an earlier draft, no doubt, and much more svelte.  I have added a few footnotes with corrections.

Draft Obituary for Irving I. Widaen

Irving I. Widaen [1], a career New York City educator who helped develop student programs of inter-racial understanding, died Thursday, April 29 at Northwest Medical Center, Margate, Florida, of cancer of the liver.  He was 80.  

A former resident of Flushing, New York, he had retired to Coconut Creek, Florida.  Burial was in the cemetery of the First Hebrew Congregation, Peekskill, New York, where Mr. Widaen was a continuous member.  

Mr. Widaen was born June 1, 1924 in Manhattan and moved as a child to Peekskill, New York.   He graduated from Peekskill High School in 1941 and soon after served in the U.S. Air Force as a crew chief [2] stationed in the U.S. and abroad.  Following his discharge from the service he enrolled in the Maxwell School of Public Affairs [3] where he received a bachor (sic) of arts degree.  He received a master of arts degree in American history at Columbia University and pursued doctoral studies as a student of noted historians Henry Steele Commager and Richard Hofstadter, among other faculty.

He taught history at the Manhattan Vocational Trade School [4] and Martin Van Buren High School and won the esteem of many high school students.  He subsequently moved to the headquarters of the New York City Board of Education, served as Coordinator of pupil personnel guidance programs [5], specializing in the design and implementation of school programs promoting inter-racial understanding.  He developed sensitivity workshops, using team building, and humor approaches helping acrimonious student factions to understand and resolve their racial animosities.

During his years at the Board of Education and following his retirement from the Board, he served as Director of the Nassau/Suffolk region of Young Judaea, a national Zionist youth group.  He later went on to direct Young Judaea’s national summer program, administering their senior camp, Tel Yehuda at Barryville, New York.  In his capacity as camp director, he traveled extensively throughout the U.S. recruiting youth for the camp program. [6]

With a partner he met at Tel Yehuda [7], he opened the first Glatt Kosher Chinese restaurant in Queens [8] which he operated for several years before retiring with his wife, Evelyn [9], to Coconut Creek, Florida.  In Florida, both he and his wife served as reading/teaching mentors in the Broward County school system.  

Mr. Widaen had a life-long commitment to the welfare of children and youth, social justice, animal rights, and the environment.  He loved animals and he and his wife always kept a dog as a pet.  He had a keen interest in sports, reading, current events, and traveled extensively with his wife throughout the U.S.

At his funeral service, Daniel Neiden, a family friend [10] conducting the service, noted: (insert major brief comments regarding Irv’s life) [11].

My uncle then lists the surviving family, whose names I omit to preserve their privacy.

NOTES

[1]  The “I.”, we learned while preparing his gravestone, should have been an “A.” because it stood for Azrael.  Irv was named after his  maternal grandfather, already deceased by 1924.   We were always told his name was Israel I. Widaen, but that was not so.  His parents had both been illiterate in English, so there you go.

[2] The highest rank the ‘crew chief’ attained was corporal, as far as I recall, though it’s possible he had been promoted to sergeant by the end.  His crew maintained the Army’s air craft.  A man with no discernible mechanical skills, he got his job, he said, because he could read the manuals to the more skilled mechanics when they ran into trouble they could not fix with mechanical talent alone.  

[3] The Maxwell School was apparently part of Syracuse University.

[4] He taught Junior High School social studies there, if memory serves, at the school where he met long-time friend, and eventual enemy, Harold Schwartzappel.

[5] His title at the Human Relations Unit of the Office of Intergroup Relations was “Coordinator of Pupil Programs”.  

[6]  He went on to become national director of Young Judaea.  He served in that capacity for several years, while also directing the summer camp.  When he asked for pay commensurate with the year-round double job, the wealthy volunteers of Hadassah who oversaw Young Judaea made a counter-offer– less money than his combined salaries.   He left their employ somewhat embittered.  When he died they immediately solicited donations in his name, the heartless bitches.

[7] Benjie Lang, surrogate son and life-long friend.  

[8]  Tain Lee Chow  

[9] this first mention of his sister-in-law may indicate that the strong dislike my mother felt for my uncle was not entirely unrequited.

[10] Neither of my parents ever met Mr. Neiden until my father’s funeral, at which time only my mother had a chance to form any impression of him. She agreed he had a beautiful singing voice and had read the eulogy I’d written wonderfully.  He did a similar lovely service at my mother’s unveiling six years later.  

[11] presumably a few lines from my eulogy of my father.

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