Sam Zeiden, 1918-2016


Sam Zeiden, z"l

Sam Zeiden, z”l

Eulogies for Sam Zeiden

These eulogies were delivered  on June 10 for Sam Zeiden,  at Greenwood Memorial Cemetery, in a service officated by Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal of Tifereth Israel Synagogue.  Sam died June 8 at the age of 97.

By Donald H. Harrison

Sam Zeiden on his 90th birthday, surrounded by , clockwise from left, Harry Jacobson-Beyer, David Harrison, Shor Masori, Sandi Masori

Sam Zeiden on his 97th birthday party Oct. 11, 2015, surrounded by , clockwise from left, Harry Jacobson-Beyer, David Harrison, Shor Masori, Sandi Masori

SAN DIEGO –From the time he was a boy, Sam Zeiden was a tinkerer.  His big brother Lou had a pharmacy where Sam helped out.  In a back room was a renter with a small radio shop.  Sam spent more time with the renter than with his brother.  He learned how to make radios, and after a while was assembling one of the first televisions – you perhaps remember the early kind, great big cabinet, tiny little screen.  He parlayed this knowledge into a job with Zenith Radio, and from there went to the Bendix Corporation, and finally to Hughes Aircraft, where he worked on a variety of defense and space exploration projects.  Some of Sam’s work went to the moon with the Apollo missions.  His colleagues celebrated Sam as an expediter.  Assigned to the purchasing department, he not only could persuade vendors to make deliveries on time; he also could check the plans and drawing of Hughes’ engineers, and spot any errors before the items went into production.  Carl tells a story of when engineers with academic degrees were puzzling over a schematic, wondering why a test had gone wrong.  Self-taught Sam leaned over the table, looked for a few seconds, and put his finger on a certain spot on the plans spread before him.  “There’s your problem, right there,” he said.  And he was right!  He also could expedite production by suggesting substitute parts when a designated part was unavailable.

If you ever visited Sam’s home at the Ocean Hills Country Club, you would see how much he loved gadgets.  Every few steps, you’d find another push button toy he had purchased, waiting to sing or dance for you, make strange noises, or carry on. “I liked that,” enthused Sky, his second oldest great-grandchild.  “It was pretty cool!”   Carl followed in his father’s footsteps and at Halloween his house has been turned into a haunted house. For Sam’s grandchildren – Sandi, David, Heather and Edward —  and later for his great-grandchildren – Shor, Sky, Brian and Sara – and even for his children in law,  and grandchildren in law – Don, Barbara, Shahar, and Cathy – Sam’s  home seemed  a storehouse of mysterious treasures. His grandchildren referred to him as “Sam The Fix It Man.” He could fix anything, and he taught his children to do the same.  I have to admit it, a bit shamed faced, that when there’s a mechanical problem around our house, Nancy, not me, is the one who knows how to take care of it.  She’s still teaching me how to screw in a light bulb, or run a clothes dryer.

In the early days of TV, Sam was often called upon by actors, and directors and producers who lived near his successive homes in Van Nuys and Brentwood, to fix their home TV sets.  One of his customers, who invited Sam and his family up to his ranch, was Roy Rogers.  Nancy will never forget meeting Roy’s horse Trigger!

Sam was born on October 13, 1918 in Detroit.  His father was Edward “Yiddel” Zeiden and his mother the former Jenny Zovod.  Unfortunately, Jenny died very young, and she communicated to young Sammy her fear of hospitals as places where people go to die.  That was one of the reasons Sam preferred to have home hospice care; he was a fighter—my daughter Sandi called him the “energizer bunny”—and he was not interested in giving death any advantage over him.  When he did die at age 97 on June 8th, it was in his sleep.  His son Carl and daughter in law Barbara were close by.  Only a few days before Nancy, and I, along with Sandi and her two sons, Shor and Sky all had dinner with Sam at a Thai restaurant to celebrate Nancy’s birthday.  He ate with a good appetite and enjoyed the get-together.  Nancy made other visits to her beloved dad in the following last four days.

As a young motherless boy in Louisville, Kentucky, and with his father at work, Sam was largely raised by his siblings: his brother Lou, the pharmacist; his sister Rose Jacobson, who later was a mainstay of the Jewish Federation in Louisville; and sister Fannie Kent, who is buried in this cemetery in the same section where two of Tifereth Israel Synagogue’s former rabbis – Monroe Levens and Aaron Gold, may their memories be a blessing—also are buried.

While working at the pharmacy Sam made friends with one of Lou’s regular customers – Victor Mature – who later went on to become a movie actor.  A body builder, Mature played Samson in the movie “Samson and Delilah.”   Part of Sam’s boyhood also was spent at a military style boarding school, but that life didn’t particularly appeal to him.

In January and February of 1937, the Ohio River had a tremendous flood, inundating many sections of Louisville.  Sam had to be rescued by row boat from the second floor of his house.  You’d think such an experience would be traumatic, but Sam gloried in telling about it.  You see, as the result of his home being flooded, it was decided to send him to Chicago to stay with relatives on his mother’s side.  The house in which he was staying had several steps leading up to it, and teenagers near his age liked to assemble there.  One very attractive young lady asked if anyone happened to have the funny pages of the newspaper.  Sam immediately volunteered to fetch the section from inside the house.  As he handed the comics to her, their eyes met, and something in his heart sparked.  He asked a male friend to introduce them, and Sydel soon fell for Sam too.  The friend said, ‘That’s the last time I’ll ever introduce my girlfriend to another guy.”

World War II came and Uncle Sam wanted Sydel’s Fiancé Sam.  So, Sam went into the signal corps – where he learned how to zoom a car backwards into a tight parking space – and then received word that he was being discharged to return to his job at Zenith Radio, where his civilian skills were deemed essential for the war effort.  Sam had very mixed emotions about this – all the men in his unit, he said, later were killed in World War II action.  Why had his life been spared?

Sam and Sydel were married in 1942 at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago, and their honeymoon took them to Hot Springs, Arkansas.  It was a storybook wedding.

After the war, Sam and Sydel moved to Arizona, where Sam’s brother Lou had moved for the climate.  But Sam and Sydel didn’t like the dryness and the heat, so moved on to Los Angeles, where Sydel’s brother Harold was building a career for himself as Location Manager for Columbia Studios.  After a while Lou followed his younger brother out to the coast.

In 1948, Nancy was born, and in 1952, Carl followed.  Growing up, Carl found that Sam was a “kind, energetic, intuitive and helpful parent, who always wanted to please people, and have peace in the family.”   Nancy said: “Mom carried the whip.  She was the fiery Hungarian.”  Carl says he learned from Sam “ethics, integrity, and the courage to fix things even if he had never done it before. Nancy says her dad, would have made anyone “a perfect husband or a wife,” happy to do domestic chores, long before house husbands became fashionable.  He loved gardening, stitchery, and was such a good cook, he one day made daughter in law Barbara a baked Alaska—and it was delicious—though he never had prepared the dessert delicacy before.

After the children were old enough to care for themselves, Sydel went to work at Hughes Aircraft, in a different division from Sam.  But they would go to work together, have lunch together, go home together, and they often walked hand in hand.  It was a recipe for a marriage that lasted 62 years until Sydel’s death in 2003.

Their last ten years together were spent in San Diego County, at the Ocean Hills Country Club where residents have to be at least 55 to purchase a home.  In retirement, Sam busied himself with the many clubs there – the Yiddish Club, the Woodworking Club, the Computer Club and the Gardening Club, among them.

Happiness for Sam meant being with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, as well as with their varied pets.  Barbara said “dogs and cats would follow him around” and he could pick up a crying baby, and it would immediately stop and start cooing.

Our son David introduced his future wife Cathy to Sam and Sydel at an early stage in their dating relationship.  After David and Cathy’s marriage, a special, very strong friendship and affection developed between Sam and Cathy.  After Sam became a widower, Cathy frequently invited him to their home for dinner.  As the years went by, Brian and Sara also developed a strong love for their great-grandpa, whom they called “Papa.”  They would run to the door whenever he arrived, happily calling out “Papa! Papa!  Papa is here!”

Heather shared the following thoughts about her grandpa:

I am very selective of the photos I keep and cherish and one of these photos was of grandpa holding his video camera F or so long this was attached to his shoulder, recording every memory, and meal with the family.  This was way before Facebook, Instagram and Smartphones.  I can’t remember a time when he didn’t have a camera with him.  I like to think that was passed down to both me and my brother.  He also had creative ways of making photo banners, cards and recording memories before there were even special gadgets to do this

Grandpa could fix anything.  My memories of him are always with me when I open a giant Ikea Box and need to assemble it or some other electronic gadget.  I always think, gee, I got my grandfather’s genes, his engineering background and can put something together without the schismatic or blueprints, naturally.  I took the time to look at the things he created and framed on the walls;  he had a creative side too.  I remember a book he gave me when I was little, how he took the time to alter an old catalog and add to it images of things I liked with funny sayings.  How he salvaged things, fixed them and made them new again.  I like to think that gene was passed down to me as well when I see things, alter them and make them new again.

recalled six points about his grandfather Sam.

1) “He would always tell me how to not break things, but more importantly, he would teach me how to fix them if I did.”

2) “With a video camera always glued to his hand, he taught me how to record people–especially when they were eating.”

3) He also taught Edward that “building a family and cherishing it is one of the best legacies you can leave behind.”

4) “Work hard, and rewards will follow” was one of Sam’s mottos.

5)  “Be prepared” was another.   “If you ever walked into Grandpa’s garage, you knew he was prepared for anything.  In fact, probably ten of anything.”

6)  “He found humor even in the toughest situations. I remember a time when he was in the hospital and upon first waking he said he was thirsty.  When they asked him what he wanted, he said, “It’s been a long day—I’ll have a beer!”

No doubt, he’d be pleased to learn that there will be refreshments at a reception immediately following at our home, and we’ll also have a ma’ariv service – our only brief opportunity to sit shiva before the onset of Shabbat and the Shavuot holiday.

His oldest great-grandchild, Shor, said of Sam: “Even in the worst of times, he retained his sense of humor and was always very generous and kind.”   Furthermore, said Shor, “he taught me how to make a vacuum in a straw – which I still do to this very day – and back then I thought was magical.”

Our family wishes to thank the many caregivers, nurses,  helpers, and friends like John Finley who were companions to Sam as he soldiered on notwithstanding the withering of his body and the weakening of his heart.  That he remained lucid until the end – and played a wicked game of gin rummy against any opponent – testifies to Sam’s pluck, his game fight, and his determination.


By Harry Jacobson-Beyer

My Uncle Sammy was the youngest of four siblings. My mother was the 2nd oldest and Sammy, seven years her junior, was her favorite. After Sammy took his family west in the late 40s / early 50s my mother missed him, a lot. I suspect his absence was a great loss for her.

After Uncle Sammy started working for Hughes he would travel for work often going, I think, to Buffalo, NY, and on several of those trips, over the years, he would visit us in Louisville usually after his business was concluded.

I always knew when Uncle Sammy was coming to Louisville because when my mother wanted any of us, me or either of my brothers, she called us “Sammy.” She called us “Sammy” for days before he arrived, she called us “Sammy” while he was in town, and she called us “Sammy” for one or two days after he left.

Uncle Sammy always would bring us little chotchkes from his travels, little things to delight me. Several years ago I needed a couple of business card cases. I knew I would be in San Diego and that Uncle Sammy would have just what I needed. I went with him to his second floor office/bedroom/storeroom and watched as he went through boxes and drawers. Sure enough he had what I needed but I also saw many of the little chotchkes just like the ones he used to bring us in Louisville.

My first real memory of Uncle Sammy, one where I can picture him in time and place, was the summer between my junior and senior year in high school. I was on a school sponsored trip whose ultimate destination was the Seattle World’s Fair. We stopped overnight in LA and Uncle Sammy, Aunt Sydel, Nancy and Carl picked me up at the hotel and took me to dinner.

I didn’t see the Zeidens again till 1964 or ‘65. I was in the Navy, stationed on an aircraft carrier based in San Diego. I had the weekend off and Uncle Sammy (or more llikely Aunt Sydel) told me to take the Greyhound bus to Santa Monica and Sammy and Nancy would pick me up. I would spend the weekend, and on Sunday evening Sammy and Nancy would drive me back to Santa Monica for the return trip to San Diego. I made that excursion several times over the next three years. The Zeidens had become my west coast family.

The memories of those years are etched in my mind. I can picture the house and grounds as well as I can picture my own childhood homes. Nancy would move into Carl’s bedroom and Carl and I would sleep in Nancy’s bedroom (she had two beds and Carl did not). Thank you Carl for being so gracious.

I remember listening to Dodgers games while lounging by the pool; Uncle Sammy picking avocados off the tree in the back yard; rummaging through the collection of stuff in the garage with Uncle Sammy; and the candy everywhere. I remember Uncle Sammy baked cakes, and I remember the dinners around the table and Uncle Sammy telling me to “be more petite.” It soon became a mantra for the whole family.

After I was discharged from the Navy, I entered the University of Kentucky. The winter semester of my freshman year Nancy and Don married and I returned to LA for the wedding and oh those powder blue tuxedos were the cat’s pajamas! The next visit to LA was the summer of 1974, when Sherry and I drove cross country visiting friends and family along the way. Nancy and Don were living in San Diego by then but we stopped in LA for a few days. What a homecoming that was.

In 2002, we came to California to celebrate Uncle Sammy & Aunt Sydel’s 60th anniversary. What a party that was. In recent years we have come to California every October to celebrate Uncle Sammy’s birthday. Sherry and I often would spend a couple of days in Oceanside with Uncle Sammy. He and I would go treasure hunting at Frye’s or the three of us would run errands. Once each visit the day would culminate with dinner at Souplantation. I think Souplantation was Uncle Sammy’s favorite. And boy could he pack it in. He was always able to eat more than I could. It seemed to Sherry and me that he had a hollow leg.

Uncle Sammy is my hero. He has lived a long and happy life. After Aunt Sydel died I know much of the joy went out of his life yet, like the energizer bunny, he kept going. I tell my friends I want to be just like my Uncle Sammy. I hope to emulate my favorite uncle. I want to live long and prosper just as he did.

His love of family, of which I am proud to say I am part, knew no bounds.

Goodbye Uncle Sammy. I will miss you, but know you will always be part of me and always be close to my heart.


By Sandi Masori

When I was a kid, I thought that grandpa, or “Papa” as my kids know him, was a banker, or an accountant who liked to tinker.  I remember that everytime a lamp or something would break, mom would have us put it away to take to grandpa’s house on the next visit.  It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned he was actually an electrical engineer.  He was always full of surprises.

About a year ago, we shot some video of him talking about his life and he surprised me again when he was telling the stories of his life and all the things he’d done and lived through.  Things like the great flood in Kentucky, and being part of the team that made one of the first TV sets, and all sorts of other things.  (I’ll put the videos up online for anyone who wants to see them.)

He always loved being in the middle the action, though usually behind the lens of a video camera. When it came to making his grandchildren happy, he was always ready to do anything or try anything.  He may have kvetched about it to our parents later, but to us grandkids, he was down.  I remember when I was just a little older than Sky and I went up to LA to visit gram and gramps by myself.  I wanted sushi for dinner, so grams had gramps take me.  I don’t think he liked it very much, but he took me, and let me order all of the crazy things that I like.  “It’s something different anyway” was what he would say about going somewhere new or trying something new.

For us grandkids, he was always a generous benefactor, slipping us some money for gas here and there, taking us shopping, giving us a stack of crisp $1 and $2 bills for Hanukkah, and giving us checks that were very generous for birthdays and the like.

He was always so independent and a force of will.   Everytime his body started to decline in the past few years, and we would start to fear the worst, he would rally and the next time we saw him, he was way better.  It was like he told his body “oh no you don’t, I’m not ready, so you just keep on going”.  I think up until his strength failed him and he lost his mobility it was his will that kept his heart beating, not the doctors.

I can almost see how it went down.  Grandma (Nana to you Shor and Sky), has probably been nagging him for a while to come up and try the new buffet in heaven, and he’s been putting it off… “Nope, nope, nope, got too much to do here right now…”  and then finally, when his body was no longer taking his commands, finally saying, “All right Sydel, I’m coming, it’s something different anyway”.

Papa, I hope that you find all your favorite things up there.  Tangerine trees in full bloom, lots of gadgets for you to tinker with, New episodes of wheel of fortune to watch…  Down here, we’ll keep breaking things and thinking of you everytime they need to be repaired, or when we go to Souplantation.  You left a legacy and an energy that no one who knew you will soon forget.

I can just see the angels now saying, “ok, finally we can get some stuff done around here, if you want it done, give it to Sam”, just like your co-workers at Hughes used to do.    I hope that they have all your favorite clubs up there for you.  Good luck on your new adventure, “It’s something different anyway”.


By David Harrison

Papa was always such a wonderful and amazing presence in my life.  Growing up he was the one who could build or fix anything.  Later I would come to admire his role in helping engineer and improve many of the key technologies of the 20th century.  I loved listening to Papa and Nana’s stories of all the neighbors coming over to gather around the TV he had made with the tiny screen and the huge picture tube.

Papa was always a source of wisdom and inspiration for me and for much of my adult life, Nana and he were also my nearest family to work or home and a great source of support and comfort.  Sometimes during the years I was living in San Diego but working in North County I would also go over to visit them, but often end up just taking a nap on their couch after a long day.

Papa and Nana were also the first family members to whom I introduced my future wife, Cathy, who of course they immediately embraced and made to feel welcome.  After we moved to North County in 2004, we were blessed to see Papa even more often.  Cathy always enjoyed her dates with Papa, and we cherished our special traditions like having Valentine’s dinner and celebrating Halloween together.

Cathy says that Papa was “humorous, thoughtful, and so sweet.  Whenever he came to our house, he brought flowers.”  And when we would go to a restaurant, he would introduce Cathy to the waitress as his “girl friend” and me as his “sonny boy.”  The wait staff would say, “wait, who is whoooo?”

What Brian remembers about Papa is that he was always calm and that he liked to read stories to him.  Not only that, said Brian,  but when our family would go out for dinner with him, he would always let us pick the restaurant.”

Sara says that papa always let people have their own ideas.

We will miss you, Papa.

San Diego Jewish World’s eulogy series is sponsored by Marc and Margaret Cohen in memory of Molly Cohen, and by Inland Industries Group LP in memory of long-time San Diego Jewish community leader Marie (Mrs. Gabriel) Berg.

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4 Responses to “Sam Zeiden, 1918-2016”

  1. Mimi Pollack says:

    My condolences to all the family. Sam was a nice man! I send a big hug to you all, especially Nancy.

    –Mimi Pollack, La Mesa, California

  2. Bruce Feldman says:

    My condolences to Nancy and the entire family for the loss of Sam Zeiden. I will miss his sharp mind and quick wit. His conversations were always meaningful and thought provoking. I will never forget how he solved the Christmas tree dilemma that I faced with my children during Hanukkah. During a holiday visit at the Harrison’s in the living room there was a giant Star of David mounted on a pole and a large base for presents. Nancy, I asked, where did you buy the star. Sam made it she answered. Sam gave me permission to copy his design but if I went commercial he wanted credit. I never did but Sam’s star with lights and Hanukkah presents was a gift from him to my family that lasted longer than eight days for many, many years. Thanks Sam.
    –Bruce and Pat Feldman, Solana Beach

  3. Eileen Wingard says:

    The last time I saw Sam, at Don’s birthday celebration, he still seemed full of life, fully participating in the simcha. I will remember his creative signs, his close relationship to his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and the love and loyalty he inspired in them. Especially Nancy, his devoted,
    on the scene, daughter, spared no effort to make his life beautiful. I also recall being part of his and Sydel’s beautiful 60th anniversary celebration. He seemed to be a model husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. My condolences to the family on your great loss. Love,
    –Eileen Wingard, San Diego


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