Mark and Jill have been married for 45 years, in the course of which they have had children Eric and Stephanie. The day we met, Mark had just picked up Jill after her flight from Santiago Chile, after having previously returned himself from Buenos Aires. More about that below. In recent years, Mark has spent much of his time in various volunteer efforts, including with the Probation Department at the Government Center, teaching elementary school in the St. Paul School District, and at the Science Museum of Minnesota.
We met recently at an Applebee’s – the first time either of us had been to one in decades. He was kind enough to take time out from their preparations for the entire mishpacha coming to visit this weekend.
So what is this deal all about young man?
I ask, you talk, I write, we post. It’s pretty simple. But don’t worry, you will have a chance to review whatever it is before it gets posted.
I don’t give a damn! You want to print it all! Verbatim! Be my guest. Don’t you know me by now?
It’s amazing how many people say that. I can almost predict the ones who will. OK let’s start with the basics – born and raised.
I was born and raised in Baltimore. My father was from a family of ten and my mother was from a family of four. I went to Baltimore City College, which actually is a high school. After classes we would go down to Baltimore Memorial Park where the Orioles used to play, and we’d get in for free – in time to pick up the last three innings.
Then I went to the University of Maryland for a degree in business. And from there to law school at University of Baltimore School of Law. I have a brother who is older than I am, and he lives in Arizona near Tucson. He is retired but he was a district hospital rep for Pfizer. He’s the only family I have left.
What did your parents do for a living?
I never knew my father very well, he died when I was nine.
Can I ask, how did he die?
He got murdered.
My father owned a nightclub, and in Maryland back then, if you came in through the back door, the nightclub part, and you were bringing your own booze, you had to pay tax. So he told a guy that, and he turned to walk away, and the guy stabbed him in the back.
How about your mother?
My mother’s parents (Steiner) came over from Riga Latvia before the height of the Nazi’s, but their whole family – aunts, uncles, and cousins – they all died in the holocaust.
Has anybody studied any genealogy?
No, everybody’s dead.
Well, that seems to be the time to do it. At least someone is still alive. What was your own upbringing like?
Since my mother worked a lot, my grandmother was there for me. I had an Orthodox bar mitzvah, and we had a terrific Rabbi, his name was Liebowitz. He reminds me of Rabbi Spilker in a way, young, energetic guy, and when my father died, the Rabbi was the greatest thing. Friday nights we used to go to his house after services, and on Saturday mornings he had a little youth group at his house. His wife was just as nice as he was. He steered me through a lot of tumult. When I was nine years old.
And I grew up in a great neighborhood, though I call it the “ghetto”. Baltimore was divided up into sections – the Polish people lived here, the Jewish people lived there, and they never met. But just four miles from my home there was a sign at the edge of another neighborhood that said – exact order – “No Negroes, No Jews, No dogs.”
And in my two block area there were 21 guys that I hung around with, went to school together, dated together. Half went to the University of Maryland. Just one of those guys opened up a business, and all the others became a professional, believe it or not. It was an interesting phenomenon. And all the parents were like aunts and uncles to all the kids. So if you went to somebody’s house, you stay for dinner. And everyone had the same philosophy regarding the importance of education. They can take a lot from you, but they can’t take your education.
Did you take any vacations?
Only when my father was alive. I remember going to Florida one year with him, and I remember going up to a Thousand Islands near Canada, right outside of Lake Placid, NY.
Who was the cook in the family?
My mother was the only one who went to college in her family, but she worked in a clothing store, about 50 hours a week. But my grandmother was a great cook. On Saturday mornings she would make cucumbers with cream and an onion in it. I forget what the hell it was called, but it was great!
Who was your first crush?
Sue Marcia Kaplan.
That was quick. What were you 29 years old or what?
No, I was 12 years old. She lived next door to my grandmother. We just hung out. We didn’t date. We went to elementary school and junior high school together, but I’ve lost track of her from there.
When did you meet Jill?
I met Jill here. My first job was as an Administrative Assistant at Saint Paul Ramsey Hospital. A friend of hers bugged me to meet her and finally introduced us. I said OK, but only for lunch. Dinner is too complicated. So we met on February 19, 1970, and we got engaged in April of 1970, and we were married September, 10 of 1970. And we’ve been married 45 years.
Wow, 45 years! You think it’s going to last?
No. we’re just trying it out.
And from that marriage we have two children, one is Eric and one is Stephanie. Eric recently got married and they are living in Chicago. He graduated from an art school and then got a graduate degree and is now a creative director for a place called IsoFor. And his wife does basically the same kind of thing at a different firm. And Stephanie studied criminal justice, but she is now working at a country club, and going with a guy, but they’re not married.
Are there any grandkids?
Not yet. Ask my wife, she already told my son when to have the baby. And I’ve told my daughter I don’t care if you’re married, or not married, just give me the grand babies.
They will all be coming to celebrate the holidays here this week. Including my nephew, who I hadn’t seen in 25 years, until my son’s wedding this fall. We invited him over for Christmas because he’s never been to a celebration. We do have a tree, but for us it’s just part of the season. In fact it has a Jewish star on top.
As a matter of fact, we raised the kids Jewish. Am I jumping ahead of you?
No, I’m actually keeping up with you. That’s the scary part. So go back to when you both first met.
We met in 1970, and left two years later. I said “I gotta get out of here.” It was 25 below zero, with a 40 below wind chill. So I got a job as Assistant Hospital Director at Jackson hospital in Miami, and both kids were born while we were there. And we were there for seven or eight years, but then realized that was no place to raise the kids. So I found a job as an Associate Director of the University of Michigan hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and we were there for ten years. And it was during that time that I also got my masters degree in hospital administration from Wayne State in Detroit.
Was Jill a nurse during this whole time?
No, she didn’t go back to school till she was 40, so she’s been a nurse for 25 years. We did that by design.
Then we left the University of Michigan to form my own company under a healthcare corporation in Detroit, where I was the President and COO, and we bought out 150 doctors, built clinics, ER rooms, urgent care centers, and they all worked for me. We did that about six years. Then one day I decided I don’t like to work 13-14 hours a day, 6 years in a row, and I got a call from KMPG. They had a health care branch and were looking for somebody to work out of Chicago and visit all the rural hospitals as a consultant. So I did that for four years.
What does a hospital administrator do – in a nutshell?
The main responsibility for a Hospital Administrator is to work with the Board medical staff and department heads in goal setting, strategic plan, and in many instances, the day-to-day operations. Though at one point, I was responsible for an organization of over 1200 people with a budget of $200 million.
Then Jill’s mother got sick. Jill had grown up here. They lived a block off of Como Lake. So that was the beginning, and we moved back here in 2002. We chose our townhouse in Vadnais Heights because we were looking for something with a full basement.
A full basement and a poker table, what more does a guy need?
That’s right! I was here a year when I formed the poker games. It was five guys from Temple and we’ve been together almost 11 years – Joe, Shel, Charlie, Ian and myself. But we’ve added people to it. We play every month. In fact the next game is at my house if you want to come try again. We’ll take you for everything you’re worth.
No thanks I’ll pass. Do you have any hobbies?
Outside of golf you mean? I would say travel. We just came back from a cruise around South America. We have been doing that a lot ever since Jill retired and became a cruise line nurse for Holland America. We went to Santiago Chile, along the coast, to the southernmost city in the world, 500 mi from Antarctica. Then through the straits, and Glacier Alley, to the Falklands, and Montevideo. It was absolutely beautiful.
We have gone on other trips since she began in May. And we have two more cruises coming up – to Australia and New Zealand, and then to the Baltic Sea.
Is it too late for me to become a nurse?
I’ll tell you, it’s a hell of a deal.
How have you been active at temple?
I won an award! I was the first Volunteer of the Month back when Nancy Lewis helped start that. I was on the Board for about 10 years, and the Budget Committee, and Brotherhood. I was extremely active. But I had a health concern a couple years ago, and I got through it just fine, but it got me thinking about what’s important in life. And what I wanted to do and how much time we all have left. All those things flashed through my head. So with Jill thinking of taking this cruise line gig, I decided I’m going to go out and enjoy myself, see the world. I’m glad the Temple is there. I’m glad people take advantage of it. And we go on the High Holidays, but I’m not as active anymore.
Do your kids now consider themselves Jewish? Do they lead Jewish lives?
Then you’ve succeeded.
Yeah, and that’s what I care about.
Do you guys have cemetery plots?
No, and it’s strange that you should bring that up! On this last trip Jill and I talked about that, as strange as that sounds, we were cruising from the Falklands to Montevideo, as the ship was rocking and rolling. It’s a rough trip. And I said, “I don’t go back to see my parents graves in Baltimore, so there is no reason I would want to end up there.” So I’ll stay here and if I decide to be buried, I will be buried in the Temple’s cemetery. So the answer is yes. We will probably buy a plot or two there.
We both bought ours while Jane was still Executive Director – largely because the price was going to go up. It seemed to be just the kick in the pants we needed.
Final question, can you name one experience or decision in your life that seemed a concern at the time but turned out for the best?
That’s a tough one. Let’s put it this way, when I married Jill I had never contemplated not marrying a Jewish girl. And my mother and brother were all over me like a cheap suit. But I thought about that long and hard before we were married. But it turned out absolutely beautifully – the greatest decision I ever made in my life.
She never did contemplate converting. But the kids were raised Jewish, and at the same time we celebrated every holiday, she cooked all the food for the holidays, and went to the temple with me all of the holidays and Friday nights – I couldn’t have asked for anything better if she had been born Jewish.