Sam Menszer, one of the most well-known and highly regarded members of New Orleans’ “Greatest Generation,” died on June 22, 2019, following a brief illness. He was 96.
A New Orleans native born just two days after Mardi Gras, Menszer easily integrated into the fabric of the city, enjoying the best of its remarkable music and food offerings. A highly vocal and visible member of the New Orleans Jewish community, he was often seen participating in special community events at the Jewish Community Center and was a major fan of L.S.U. and the various sports franchises that have thrived in the city throughout his lifetime.
His early days were spent in and around Menszer’s, the successful family department store in Gretna operated by his parents. It was there that he learned the value of earning a living and being successful in business. Unlike many stores in the Jim Crow era, Menszer’s permitted men, women and children of all races to enter their business. In an interview in 2016 with WWNO radio, Menszer recalled that one-third of their trade was with members of the African-American community and that there were never any racist incidents at the store, which opened in 1937 and above which the family lived. Unlike many area locations, which bore signs for separate male and female and white and colored restrooms and water fountains, Menszer’s had a restroom and water fountain for any and all who needed to use them.
Before the store closed in 1962, Menszer had built up the shoe department there and never hesitated to assist all customers regardless of race, sometimes getting on his knees to make sure the footwear fit correctly for his customers. “This I believe was the first instance of integration in the New Orleans area,” Menszer recounted in the radio interview. “We never talked about it. We never advertised it, didn’t brag about it, didn’t list our position – apolozize about it. We just did it.”
Menszer began attending Louisiana State University in 1939 and became a devoted Tiger fan while joining the predominantly Jewish fraternity Phi Epsilon Pi as a student there. He made many lifelong friends there, enjoying college life while studying for an Electrical Engineering degree as the United States entered into World War II. Following his graduation, he was employed as a vital member of the war production force at the Westinghouse Electric Co. in East Pittsburg, PA. Later he worked for the Bureau of Ships attached to the Department of the Navy in Washington, D.C. and then worked at the David Taylor Model Basin in nearby Carderock, MD.
A proud patriot, Menszer joined the U.S. Navy, serving his country with distinction. It was during this time that he met the love of his life, Elaine Fine, a beauty who had been born in Rosedale, MS. and raised on Long Island, N.Y. Smitten for life, the two were inseparable and completed each other spiritually and metaphysically. A few years later, the pair moved to New Orleans where Sam plunged into his family’s successful retail and real estate businesses.
Always active in the Jewish community, they were regular attendees at Chevra Thilim Synagogue, not far from the home they established on nearby Octavia Street. Their home was always open to family, friends and others they met in their local dealings. The Menszers became famous for holding regular parties at their residence and elsewhere at which they invited disparate members of New Orleans society to have them mix and enjoy each other’s company. Sam unabashedly reveled in his wife’s emergence as a leading artist of the city.
Blessed with three sons who all became Bar Mitzvahs at Chevra Thilim, they later joined Touro Synagogue. Sam was active in many Jewish community concerns and continually supported his wife’s artistic endeavors and her volunteer work with the National Council of Jewish Women and the local chapter of Women for Brandeis University.
He was friendly to a fault and often held many opinions, which he shared openly with all who were within easy reach of his firm handshake and ever-present smile. He always treasured the many friendships he made in life and lived proudly as a dedicated member of the New Orleans Jewish community.
Menszer was predeceased by his wife of more than 60 years in 2010 and his son Kenneth, in 1984. He is survived by his remaining sons John and Dr. Gary (Eugenie) Menszer, five grandchildren and one great-grandson.
A graveside service was held on Wednesday, June 26, 2019 at 9:30 a.m. at Hebrew Rest Cemetery No. 3, 2100 Pelopidas Street, corner Frenchmen St. Rabbi Todd Silverman officiated. A memorial service followed at 11:00 am in the Forgottsen Chapel of Touro Synagogue, 4238 St. Charles Ave.
A shiva minyan was held on Thursday evening, June 27, at 7:30 p.m. at the Uptown home of his son John Menszer.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations are suggested to be made to Touro Synagogue or the charity of your choice. Arrangements were by Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home.