A Photo Essay: The Strolowitz Adler Family, Joe Louis, and The Resilience of the Human Spirit

It’s been a long time since I’ve written about the Strolowitz Adler line in my family tree since I have been focused on my father’s Cohen line, but I have now completed my research on one other member of the Strolowitz Adler family so am taking a short break from the Cohens in order to report on that research.

Tillie Rosenzweig Strolowitz Adler was my great-grandmother Ghitla Rosenzweig Goldschlager’s sister.  Tillie was the aunt who provided a home for my grandfather Isadore Goldschlager and his sister Betty when their father died in 1909.  Tillie had been recently widowed herself after her husband Jacob had died shortly after arriving in NYC from Iasi.  Tillie also outlived two of her sons, Pincus and Isidor, both of whom had died from serious illnesses as young adults.  Her other five children lived to adulthood, but many of them also faced some personal struggles and in some cases tragic deaths.  Only Leah, the youngest child, seemed to lead a long and happy life with a long and happy marriage to Ben Schwartz.

The only one of Tillie’s children I had not yet written about was Rebecca, the fifth child born in 1892 in Iasi.  She was fifteen when she immigrated to the US with her parents and younger brother and sister in December, 1907, and in 1910 and 1915 she was working in a sweatshop as a dressmaker.

I am very fortunate to have this beautiful photograph of Rebecca Strolowitz Adler.  All the photos included in this post were provided by  members of the extended family.

Ray Adler

Rebecca Strolowitz/Ray Adler (undated)

On April 7, 1917, Rebecca, now using the name Ray, married Ben Seamon.

Ray Adler and Ben Seamon marriage certificate

Ray Adler and Ben Seamon marriage certificate

Ben was born in Chicago in 1893.  He enlisted in the US Army in November, 1917, and served during World War I until he was honorably discharged in January, 1919.  Ray and Ben’s first child Jerome was born in June 1919, and as of 1920, Ben was working as a foreman in a dressmaking shop (perhaps this is where he had met Ray?).  By 1925, Ray and Ben had two sons, Jerome born in 1919, and Paul, born in December, 1920, and the family had moved to the Bronx.  Ben was now working as a chauffeur.  Their third son, Harold, was born in October, 1924, and Ben and Ray’s youngest child Thelma was born in 1926.

By 1930, however, Ray was living with her children in the home of her brother David Adler along with his wife Bertha and their daughter Tessie in Manhattan.  Ben, on the other hand, was living in the Bronx with his mother and his brothers Samuel and Mannie Seamon.

Mannie Seamon ran a gym where he trained boxers, and according to the 1930 census, both Manny and Ben were working as managers at the gym at that time.  According to Mannie’s obituary in the NYTimes dated March 26, 1983, in 1937, Mannie was hired as the assistant to the trainer for Joe Louis, the world heavyweight boxing champion from 1937 until 1949, and in 1942 when that trainer died, Mannie became Joe Louis’ trainer, working in that position until 1951.

Manny Seamon and Joe Louis

Manny Seamon and Joe Louis

Mannie also had trained many other boxers, including Benny Leonard, the World Lightweight Boxing Champion.  According to Ben Seamon’s obituary in the July 25, 1971 NY Times, Ben also had been a boxer and a boxing trainer.

During the Depression, Ray became a patient at the Central Islip State Hospital.  I was not able to find any records for Ray after 1942. Her two youngest children, Thelma and Harold, were admitted to the Hebrew Orphan Asylum (HOA) in Manhattan on June 28, 1935.  Thelma resided there from ages 9 through 15.   Harold was discharged to return to live with his father on February 25, 1940;   Ben was then working as an announcer for boxing and wrestling bouts.  Thelma was discharged from the HOA on July 20, 1941, two months before the HOA closed in Sept. 1941.

Thelma Seamon visited by her cousin Teddy Schwartz

Teddy Schwartz, daughter of Leah Adler Schwartz, visiting her cousin Thelma Seamon around 1944

But it all seemed to work out well for Thelma.  While at the orphanage, she met her future husband, Nathan Letnick, who was also a resident there.  Thelma graduated from high school in 1942.

Thelma Graduation photo 1946

Thelma Seamon graduation photograph 1942

Jerome Seamon married Lillian Wolf on September 22, 1940:

Wedding of Jerome Seamon and Lillian Wolf September 22, 1940

Wedding of Jerome Seamon and Lillian Wolf September 22, 1940

Pictured here are Mannie Seamon (top row, second from left), Harry Seamon (right of Mannie), Paul Seamon (right of Harry).  Thelma is second from the left in the middle row.  In the front row, Ben Seamon is second from the left, then the groom Jerome Seamon, Ben’s mother, and the bride Lillian Wolf Seamon.  The others are relatives and cousins from the Seamon side of the family.

All three of Ben and Ray’s sons and their son-in-law Nathan served overseas during World War II, and Paul received a Purple Heart for his service.  Thelma worked at Western Electric in Manhattan during World War II.

Thelma working at Western Electric during World War II

Thelma working at Western Electric during World War II

Nathan Letnick and Thelma Seamon were married after the war on November 10, 1946.  Here is their wedding photograph with the extended family.

Nathan Letnick and Thelma Seamon's wedding 1946

Nathan Letnick and Thelma Seamon’s wedding 1946

Among those pictured above are the following people, most of whom are referred to in this post:

Back row, far left: Paul Seamon;  Middle row, far left: Jerry Seamon; Front row: Lillian Wolf Seamon (Jerry’s wife); Ben Seamon’s sister, Ida; Nathan Letnick; Thelma Seamon Letnick; Ben Seamon; Ben’s sister Bertha.

Nathan graduated from NYU with degrees in business, thanks to the GI Bill. The four Seamon children, Jerome, Paul, Harold, and Thelma,  eventually moved to Long Island after the war, where all except Harold married and raised families.

Here is a photograph from the wedding of Paul Seamon and Marilyn Tobetsky on August 6, 1949, showing all of Ray and Ben’s children and their spouses as well as Ben:

Wedding of Paul Seamon and Marilyn Tobetsky 1949

Wedding of Paul Seamon and Marilyn Tobetsky 1949

From left to right:  Nathan Letnick, Thelma Seamon Letnick, Ben Seamon, Mae, Paul Seamon, Marilyn Seamon, Jerome Seamon, Lillian Seamon,  and Harold Seamon

As for Ben, I found  a World War II draft registration dated 1942 that indicates that he was employed by the Town Pump in Tullahoma, Tennessee, but was residing with Jerome in the Bronx.  Ben moved to Florida sometime after 1952 and worked at a dog racing track now known as the Mardi Gras Casino.  He died in July, 1971, and is buried at Long Island National Cemetery.

After retirement Nat and Thelma moved to Florida.  They were still married in 2000 when tragically Thelma was killed by an elderly driver who had Alzheimer’s.  Nat died six years later.  Thelma’s daughter told me that one of Thelma’s passions was knitting:  “All her adult life, everyone knew my mother to be knitting something for everyone and anyone having a baby.”

Finally, a more recently dated photograph of Thelma and her brother Paul in 2000.

Thelma & Paul April 8, 2000

The story of Tillie Strolowitz Adler and her children is a story filled with lots of  heartbreak and  hardship but ultimately survival.  They all came as immigrants from Romania to New York City and sought happiness and success, which did not come easily to them.  Although they may have struggled, the generations who followed them found a home here in the US, served their country, and ultimately not only survived but thrived.  These photographs reflect the resilience of the human spirit better than I can ever capture it in words.