Rabbi Drew Kaplan, Director of Pastoral Care at Cedar Village Retirement Community, recently interviewed Sally Korkin on the history of Cedar Village. Korkin was involved with Cedar Village from before its opening for its first nineteen years, and she provided many personal reminiscences of its history.
Cedar Village was opened in 1997, but its history began long before that date. It resulted from the merger of the Orthodox Jewish Home for the Aged (OJH), founded in 1906, and Glen Manor Home for Jewish Aged (GMH), founded (under different names) in 1883. Both had moved several times through their history, but were located about a mile apart in Bond Hill in their last facilities.
Korkin and Rabbi Kaplan together sketched the prehistory of a single Jewish retirement community to unite the Orthodox Home and Glen Manor. In the 1960s, when the buildings of both institutions were in need of substantial repairs and upgrades, negotiations had been opened to replace both with a single new facility, but talks foundered on two major sticking points: the board of Glen Manor objected to restricting their residents to kosher food only — the original issue on account of which the Orthodox Home had been founded — and those of the Orthodox home to the conduct of Reform services in the chapel. Each facility, therefore, rebuilt separately, and merger talks were dropped for a generation.
Merger talks were reopened in the mid 1980s when both facilities again needed major repairs. The Orthodox Jewish Home had bought 80 acres in Mason in 1987, so they came to the shidduch (matchmaking), as it were, with the land. Korkin had interviewed Dave Jacobson, past president of OJH, in 2007 for the tenth anniversary of Cedar Village and read a long letter from him about the merger. Not only was Jacobson a driving force behind the successful merger talks that resulted in Cedar Village — he had made it a condition of becoming president of OJH — but his father, Jake Jacobson, who had been president of OJH thirty years earlier, had been a proponent of the earlier merger effort that did not come to fruition. Jacobson named Ben Ritter and Eddie Jacobson as other supporters of the merger, and cited Frank Harkavy, Lawrence (Larry) Shapiro, and Theodore (Ted) Schwartz as supporters on the GMH board. Jacobson and one other representative of OJH met with twenty-two members of the GMH board. Jacobson credited Harkavy with support and encouragement; in 1992 Harkavy became board facilitator and asked Paul Heiman to chair the capital campaign.
Agreement was reached on the issues that had proven intractable during the merger talks in the 1960s. The GMH board agreed this time that the kitchen and public dining facilities would be kosher, but that residents could eat whatever they and their families preferred in their own rooms or apartments. Cedar Village was built with two chapels, resolving the problem of religious practices by one group that were unacceptable to the other; Rabbinic interns from Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion were provided as Reform rabbis and an Orthodox rabbi was hired. In the letter of reminiscence that Korkin read, Jacobson said, “It took a lot of work and a lot of people and friends to make the merger happen, raise the money, and build Cedar Village.”
Korkin had been approached by Leonard (Len) Sternberg, executive vice president of Cedar Village, about working at the prospective new home about a year before it opened in March 1997; she was at that time in public relations and marketing at the Drake Center, and had not been an employee of either OJH or GMH, although she was familiar with the latter from her grandmother’s residence there. She was hired in October 1996 in marketing and admissions, five months before the opening, but later in her long association with the facility moved to development; she reminisced about working for the first five months in a Sharonville business park because they couldn’t get into the Cedar Village building. The November 1996 dedication for major donors was held in a tent in the parking lot on a cold and snowy day, with pictures of the facility but no tours because the building was still only open to the construction workers.
The last hurdle before opening was approval by the State of Ohio. According to Korkin, two women were moved in to provide the state inspectors an example of the care. Korkin recalled that the families asked repeatedly when the residents would move from OJH and GMH, but, awaiting the state inspection, she had been unable to give them an answer.
The big move-in day finally came on March 16, 1997. The residents’ belongings were largely moved in advance, and their rooms were set up for them; each resident brought one shopping bag of personal things. All residents came from OJH and GMH in buses or ambulances as appropriate; the families were already at Cedar Village. Board members greeted the residents with flowers and they were reunited with their waiting families, and then taken to their rooms. The Torahs were also brought from both OJH and GMH and installed in their new home. Korkin remembers that the schedule and coordination was executed without a hitch. It was a very emotional day, and all the staff — from OJH, GMH, and the new Cedar Village staff — were exhausted at the end of it.
Korkin also talked about some of the changes that were made to Cedar Village after opening. The numbers for different types of residences and levels of care had been ‘guesstimated’ based on the numbers at OJH and GMH. Cedar Village later decided to add more independent and assisted living and added Fountain View. The rehabilitation wings were added in 2012-2013. The pool was added in 2014. Rabbi Kaplan pointed out that all of these facility upgrades had been financed by the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati; the other renovations were funded by a capital campaign.
Korkin shared especially fond memories of the three trips to Israel in 2007 (the tenth anniversary of the opening of Cedar Village), 2009 (Cedar Village’s B’nei Mitzvah at 13), and 2012. The last was an interfaith mission with Otterbein Senior Life, a United Brethren (Christian) facility that was celebrating their centennial that year; the two groups had study sessions together and visited each other’s worship services. Generous board members helped fund the trips. The staff were told to bring back some Israeli artwork to decorate Cedar Village and given a price range. They were in Tzfat during Sukkot and Simchat Torah, where she was captivated by prints related to those holidays; she realized that they could purchase the entire holiday set of prints within their budget, which have since been on the walls at Cedar Village. Each resident and staff member who participated in the trip was also given a print.
Korkin and Rabbi Kaplan also reminisced about how far Cedar Village had seemed from the centers of Jewish Cincinnati when it opened and what a ‘shlep’ it was to get to Mason in traffic in 1997. She recalled the complaints that she, in the admissions office, received about the location and the jokes among the staff that people were willing to go to Mason to visit the malls but not to see their mothers. She added that other Jewish facilities — a branch of Jewish Hospital, schools and agencies — were intended to move near Cedar Village, and that additional land had been acquired, but none of those facilities were ultimately built. When Cedar Village opened in 1997, “P&G and the Marriott” were the only businesses out there; Korkin described the decision to build in that location as farsighted.
Korkin also provided background for the choice of the name “Cedar Village.” Focus groups had been conducted; something with biblical connections was wanted. From lists of names, Cedar Village was chosen. There was a large oak tree on the property, for which the Oak View apartments were named.
Finally, a few of the landmarks at Cedar Village were discussed. A huge stone was brought to Cedar Village to commemorate Israel’s fiftieth anniversary in 1998, a year after the opening, as a permanent memorial to fallen Israeli soldiers. For many years Cedar Village hosted the community Yom HaZikaron ceremony; a few years after the new (Mayerson) Jewish Community Center opened, the ceremony was moved there. There is a sundial with the priestly blessing from the Torah that was presented by the Friends of Cedar Village, who also installed commemorative bricks and ran the gift shop. A commemorative sculpture outside the garden dining room was commissioned by Wilbur Cohen to commemorate his daughter Linda Abrams who died in 2004; the letter “L” for Linda is incorporated in the sculpture. There were duplicates of some prints by Mordechai Rosenstein that had come from the two homes that merged, OJH and GMH; staff were permitted to hang some of the extras in their offices.
Korkin described the decoration of the board room of Cedar Village as one of its most significant displays, encapsulating its history; one wall had pictures of all the past presidents of the Orthodox home, another all the past presidents of Glen Manor, and a third all the presidents of Cedar Village. The uniting of the Cincinnati Jewish community to create Cedar Village and the sense of history are visually displayed in that one room.
Korkin said she was very fortunate to be there for nineteen years and that Cedar Village had been a wonderful part of her life. It was also wonderful for the residents, whom they endeavored to make feel at home, and for the community for which it was a gathering place for many years.