Through the Years

Through the Years : An Autobiography by Nathan S. Jonas. New York: 1940. Business Bourse, Publishers, 80 West 40th Street.
A xerox copy of page 266 of the above book, is one of the dearest possession of my grandmother’s youngest son, Dick who was born in 1908.  Even today in 2004, he proudly shows this copy to all who express an interest in his past. Page 266 describes in detail how in 1921 “Mr. Gretsch and I (Nathan Jonas) conceived the idea of having a match …..for the first unofficial (golf) championship of the world.” Dick is very proud of this page and the information it holds situating his father in the events which eventually lead to the prestigious Ryder Cup Championship.

Within the history of golf there are different accounts of the origins of the Ryder Cup, now professional golf’s most important international competition. One precursor was the match at Sound View Golf Club, Great Neck, New York, Labor Day, September 5, 1921, five years before the official foundation of the Ryder Cup series. Jim Barnes, the 1921 U.S. Open Champion defeated Jock Hutchison, the 1921 British Open Champion. Barnes won a trophy and a cash prize of $1250 and Hutchison received a loser’s share of $500. The story of the match is told in Nathan S. Jonas’s 1940 autobiography.  Jonas referred (p. 266) to the match as the “first unofficial championship of the world.” He describes how he and his friend Frederick Gretsch, Charlotte’s husband, conceived of the match and “contributed equal amounts toward a purse of $2000.” Nathan Jonas and Frederick Gretsch were named honorary life members of the Sound View Club in recognition, noted in an official commendation, “of your club-spirited generosity which made it possible to hold the world championship match on our course.” (266-67)

I have seen this xerox copy many times. I now have my own copy of Uncle Dick’s copy and have faxed it on to my sister whose sons are avid golfers. I’ve even imagined there might be references to my grandmother on the pages which were not so carefully copied. Charlotte Sommer Gretsch certainly played a part in her husband’s long friendship with Nathan Jonas.  Perhaps if I found the book and read through the golf stories and the business deals, I might find some mention of my grandmother.

I didn’t pursue this possibility further until the fall of 2004 when a conversation with Bill Murphy reminded me of the references to my grandmother’s life which I imagine this book to hold.  When I luckily and easily purchased the only copy of Nathan’s book from a large “out of print” book purchasing website,  I was not disappointed.

Nathan Jonas was a business colleague and very good friend of my grandfather, Fred Gretsch, Sr. and his brother Walter Gretsch. In the early years of the twentieth century, Walter and Fred worked together eliminating “unsightly buildings” in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn and constructing in their stead manufacturing buildings with the name Gretsch on their top story. Jonas who was at the time president of the Citizens Trust Company of Brooklyn in the same neighborhood took note of these brothers and their friendships grew. There are many references in this book to the long and dear friendship between Nathan and these two Gretsch brothers.

Most importantly, this book brings to light a much less documented friendship i.e. the “close relationship” between Charlotte Sommer Gretsch and Nathan’s wife, Jennie Strauss Jonas. Nathan refers to this friendship several times.

Reading this book alongside Charlotte’s Timeline which can be found on this website, a deeper, clearer picture of Charlotte’s life as a young mother and as a busy wife emerges from the unlit corners and empty spaces of her history. To know the name of Charlotte’s friend, Jennie Jonas, allows us to see her walking arm and arm with a confidant and to imagine further the fullness of her life.

Below is a rough sketch of the book’s references to event and places which were part of the fabric of Charlotte’s life i.e. bank openings, business deals, golf tournaments, infantile paralysis, vacations, Forest Hills Gardens.

Many times, her name is not mentioned but looking carefully between and inside the lines, her image is certainly mirrored there.
page 2  circa  1880   Nathan Jonas went to public school in the  Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. It is quite possible that Emily Gretsch who taught in Williamsburg schools from 1872 until 1915 was one of his teachers.
page 8  1893   Jonas and his bride, Jennie Strauss Jonas, went on their honeymoon. It was also a business trip. “Mrs. Jonas accompanied me on the entire tour of about three month.”  It is quite possible that Charlotte accompanied her new husband Fred on his annual business trip to Europe as their wedding trip in early 1904. It seems to be the custom of the era. (See page 113 below.)
page 18  1901  Nathan Jonas appointed as a member of the Board of Education. Surely, Emily Gretsch was aware of his position.
page 24  November 20, 1905  Citizens Trust Bank opened its doors at 774 Broadway. Nathan S. Jonas is its first president.
page 27     “I inaugurated the habit of personally making calls at the factories, stores and offices of my customers.” Here Nathan would have met personally Fred and Walter Gretsch.
page 48  1914  ” After we merged with the Manufacturers National Bank in 1914, there was a row of unsightly building taking up the whole block below the office of the Manufacturers National Bank. Acting upon my creative policy as bank president, I prevailed upon Fred and Walter Gretsch to plan a large manufacturing building on that site, helped them with their plans and with their financing including assistance in securing a first mortgage in the building.” This building was 60 Broadway. Read Charlotte’s time line for a further discussion of these dealings.
page 113  1893  ” Of course I wanted to take my bride on a wedding journey but I couldn’t spare much time or money either. So, with the firm’s consent, I took her (his bride) with me on my regular selling trip.”
page 127  1916  ” There is but one dark shadow in the domestic bliss of the Jonases–the memory of a little son who fell prey to infantile paralysis.” Jay Seth Jonas, 13 years old, died in early August of 1916. He was ill for only 2 days. Charlotte, whose son Bill also was stricken with polio, must have been very close to Jennie at this time. Just six months later, Fred and Charlotte accompanied the Nathan and Jonas on their vacation.
page 161  January 1926?   At the Silver Jubilee Dinner of the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Gretsch contributed $1,000 to the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital.
page 258  circa 1918  “We then bought a home in Forest Hills Gardens but we found it too citified so we again heeded the call of the wild and purchased about fifty acres of land in Great Neck” Charlotte and Fred lived in Forest Hills at this time. Possibly, the Jonases moved to be close to their friends, Charlotte and Fred.
page 265  1917  “My first interest in golf dates to the winter of 1917, when Mrs. Jonas and I made a trip, with our intimate friends, Frederick and Charlotte Gretsch.” NOTE: this is the winter after the death of their only son. They have chosen to take what must have been a very sad vacation with their “intimate friends” Charlotte and Fred.
While Nathan and Fred were playing golf, one can imagine the long walks and conversations between Jennie and Charlotte in Asheville, North Carolina.
This section goes on to describe the gold championship of 1921.
page 295  1923  “..the children of two couples very dear friends of ours were born on the same day, August 1, 1923. …also being my birthday. …..Walter and Gertrude Gretsch whose daughter Gertrude was born on that same day. We have always felt these children to be protégées of ours in whom we feel a strong interest. Our friendship with the parents of these children has always been very close.
page 297     ” During a long period of years, while Mrs. Jonas and I had various warm relationships, there were three couples with whom we became particularly intimate, making vacation trips with them to various places…….Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Gretsch….Mrs Charlotte Gretsch died on May 12, 1928 and we lost a most charming friend, Mrs. Jonas having been particularly fond of her.  We have always remained very friendly with Mr. Gretsch and his three sons.” The other couples cited were Sam and Johanna Lewin. Sam died on July 21, 1928 and Mr. and Mrs. James Regan. Mr. Regan died on February 13, 1932. Mrs. Regan died on June 19, 1932. Perhaps, these women were also friends of Charlotte’s.

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