Gloria Schusterman Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Gloria Schusterman

Daughter of Edward Jacobson, Kansas City Businessman; U.S. Army Associate, Business Partner, and Friend of Harry S. Truman.

West Palm Beach, Florida
March 24, 2010
by Ray Geselbracht

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript]

This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened March 24, 2010
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript]

Oral History Interview with
Gloria Schusterman

West Palm Beach, Florida
March 24, 2010
by Ray Geselbracht


GESELBRACHT: It is March 24th, 2010 and I am Ray Geselbracht of the Harry S. Truman Library. I am here with Gloria Schusterman in her home in West Palm Beach, Florida. Could you talk a little bit about the family background of your father and your mother and where they were from?

SCHUSTERMAN: My father’s family came from Russia. My father’s father was one of three brothers, all of whom escaped from the Russian Army. They were so afraid they would be caught and returned, that when they reached Ellis Island they took different names, went different directions and my side of the family has lost contact with the other two brothers and their families.

Our family history is very hard to trace on my father’s side. After my grandfather married, the family lived in New York for two years until my dad was two years old. And then, since my grandmother Jacobson was in ill health, her doctor advised that they move out of New York, away from all the car fumes, and get into the Midwest where there was fresher air, supposedly. They moved to Leavenworth, Kansas. They didn’t live there very long, not more than a few years, and then they moved down to Kansas City.

GESELBRACHT: Was there a relative in Leavenworth that drew your grandfather and grandmother there?

SCHUSTERMAN: Yes, I think it was my grandmother’s sister. I’m not certain about that.

GESELBRACHT: Was there a strong sense of family in your home when you were growing up?


GESELBRACHT: And was there a sense of a multi-generational family?

SCHUSTERMAN: Yes. My dad couldn’t afford to buy his own home. After he and Harry lost the store, they each went to live with their in-laws. So, I grew up in my grandparent’s house—my mother’s parents—until the age of about 15, and that’s when my dad was able to buy his own home. This was about 1945. By that time my grandfather was gone, but my grandmother came to live with us in our house. So I was always aware of the past generation of our family. I was very close to my grandmother.


GESELBRACHT: Was your mother’s family more important to you than your father’s family?

SCHUSTERMAN: Yes, because of course I lived with my mother’s parents for so long.

GESELBRACHT: Just to establish some chronology, Eddie Jacobson was born in 1891. Harry Truman, who we’ll be talking about also, was born in 1884, so he was seven years older than your father. And you were born in 1930, is that correct?


GESELBRACHT: So your first memories will be in the mid- to late-1930s.

SCHUSTERMAN: Right, mid-1930s.

GESELBRACHT: How did your parents meet?

SCHUSTERMAN: Well, my mother had two sisters, both older, and a brother. My dad dated one of the elder sisters first, but then started dating my mother, the little sister. And so that’s how they met.

GESELBRACHT: Was the story of how they met told very often in your family?

SCHUSTERMAN: I don’t remember that it was.

GESELBRACHT: What are some of the earliest memories that you have of your father?

SCHUSTERMAN: Well, the earliest I guess—I used to sit on his lap a lot and I’d grab the nose off of his face and hold my finger up and say, “Here it is,” and that sort of thing. And of course my dad was bald, and we would tease him about that and he’d say, “Oh, I forgot to put my hair on this morning.” Things like that. (laughter) And also, of course, he would take me fishing.

GESELBRACHT: Would you talk a little bit about your early memories of your father and fishing?

SCHUSTERMAN: When I was six years old, that was in 1936, we had a heat wave, a terrible heat wave in Kansas City. My grandfather died in July, and we decided to get out of Kansas City for a while. It was terribly hot. We left in three cars—family, mostly family—and one car full of friends, and we made a caravan and drove north to Minnesota. We rented a great big family house. It was like a farm, but it was on a lake. And my dad would take me down early in the morning and we would dig in the garden and catch our bait, catch worms. And then he’d take me down to the dock, and we would fish.

GESELBRACHT: Did you and he fish very often in following years?


SCHUSTERMAN: Well, whenever we had a chance. We had friends who had a home on Lake Lotawana near Kansas City, and we’d visit them frequently and that was an opportunity to fish.

GESELBRACHT: If I were to divide all fathers into two categories, those who are strict, require good, responsible behavior from their children and want their children to achieve something important in life, and, second, those who are somewhat relaxed with their children, let them for the most part do what they want to do, and most of all, want their children to be happy in life. Which category would your father fall in?

SCHUSTERMAN: The second category. My dad was very easygoing. Even when he was living with his in-laws, I never heard him say a cross word in our home. And I also never heard a cuss word from his mouth. (laughter) He was very relaxed and easygoing.

GESELBRACHT: If you had to pick one or the other, would you say your father was an admirable man, or a loveable man?

SCHUSTERMAN: Both. I admired him greatly.

GESELBRACHT: Did your mother have the same kind of personality that your father had?

SCHUSTERMAN: She was a little stricter, but easygoing also, I think. But she, yes, she was a little more forceful.

GESELBRACHT: Was your father a shy and private man or an outgoing, sociable one?

SCHUSTERMAN: He was outgoing and sociable. My family had a lot of friends and they were good friends. I called them usually my “aunt” and “uncle.”

GESELBRACHT: So you had a lot of aunts and uncles?

SCHUSTERMAN: A lot of them. (laughter)

GESELBRACHT: Usually, although someone can have a lot of friends, only a few of these friends are really close friends. Sometimes a person has only one really close friendship? Who were your father’s closest friends? Did he have a best friend?

SCHUSTERMAN: That’s real hard for me to say because I was young. But, yes, Harry of course was one of his best friends. And then he played poker with a group of probably eight people. They were my family’s closest friends, social friends. My father and Harry had a different kind of relationship, really, between only the two of them. And it was based on mutual admiration. I think they shared the same values—honesty and integrity. They were very close.

GESELBRACHT: Now how could you see that they were close? What were the manifestations of their friendship for you as a young person in the household?


SCHUSTERMAN: Oh, that’s hard for me to remember. (laughter) It just always was that way.

GESELBRACHT: Did you father ever say something like “He is my best friend,” or was their friendship more something you could sense without its being talked about?

SCHUSTERMAN: It was something sensed, that’s right. I don’t ever remember discussing it with my dad and him saying, “He was my best friend.” But it was always something that was there. And Harry was always either in our conversation or actually around us.

GESELBRACHT: Did you understand that there was this special friendship, even when you were very young?

SCHUSTERMAN: Yes, yes. I can tell you my first memory of Harry Truman.

GESELBRACHT: Yes, please do.

SCHUSTERMAN: I was five years old. I was what they called a “mid-year” student. In those days, you started school when you were five, or close to your fifth birthday. Well, my birthday is in February, so I started the semester in January when I was almost five, in 1935. And I was a mid-year student. After Harry was elected to the Senate, he went to Washington for the first time to find a place to live at almost exactly the time I was starting school. His plane left very early in the morning, I don’t remember whether it was six or seven, but I had to get up very early. And my dad wanted to take me to the airport because this was a big event, when Truman went to Washington for the first time. My mother said no, I had to go to school. And there was a little confrontation there about that, there was a discussion about that. My dad said, “I think this is important and she’ll remember it.” And of course I was standing there listening at the time to all that was going on, and he turned to me and he said, “You’ll remember it, won’t you?” And I said, “Of course.” (laughter) And I do remember it. We got to go to the airport very early in the morning. When my parents had been discussing my going, my mother had said, “But she has school and she can’t miss school already.” I had only been in school maybe a week. My dad said, “She’ll be smart a day later.” (laughter) So he won the argument. I was allowed to go. My sister went too, and we saw Truman off to Washington. And that was my first memory of him.

GESELBRACHT: Are there other subsequent permanent memories of Harry Truman that are particularly important to you?

SCHUSTERMAN: To me personally? As I said, I knew about him, all through the years. I don’t seem to remember anything else until I was maybe in my early teens. I kept that first memory because it was very important and I had promised to remember Harry’s leaving for Washington. When I was in my teens—I think Harry became vice-president then.

GESELBRACHT: In January 1944. You were fourteen.


SCHUSTERMAN: Fourteen—alright. I was also starting to date. One night, when we had just bought our first house—this was 1945—my father and his friends had a poker game. We had a recreation room in our basement and that’s where they played poker. And the gang came to play poker. Harry was coming too. First of all, the Secret Service men came to stake out the house. They came early in the morning, and that was impressive. They found a couple of basement windows that we had grates on that they didn’t like. And they fixed everything and got ready for the poker game. Harry was the first one to arrive, and he came in the house. Of course, my dad was proud to show him around the new house.

GESELBRACHT: Was this the house on 72nd Street?

SCHUSTERMAN: Yes. We had a little room right off of the living room, almost like a den, and that’s where my piano was. And of course, I was taking piano lessons. So, Harry saw the piano, and he said, “Who plays?” And I said, “I do.” And he said, “Well, play something for me.” I was shy and said something like “Oh, no, I couldn’t do that.” He said “Sure you can. I’ll help you. Let’s sit down together.” So we sat down together. And I got some music out of the bench and put it up on the piano. And he said “Let’s play a duet.” He said “I’ll play the right hand and you play the left hand.” And that’s what we did. (laughter) And he said that most people thought his favorite song was “The Missouri Waltz.” And he said “Frankly, it’s not. It’s not that I don’t like it, but I’m a little tired of hearing it.” And he said “So let’s not play that. Let’s just play this music.” And that’s what we did, we played the music I had put up on the piano.

GESELBRACHT: Do you remember other poker games at your parents’ house?

SCHUSTERMAN: Oh, yes. (laughter) I remember frequent poker games. The men in Battery D would take turns hosting the games, and they’d go from one house to the other, you know. So every few months they’d end up at our house.

GESELBRACHT: Did the games continue after Truman became president?

SCHUSTERMAN: No, I don’t think they did after he became president. He did come back as president when my dad bought his store on 39th and Main in Kansas City, and that was very exciting. The police blocked off the intersection from all four directions. And traffic stopped, and the press was there and they took pictures, and it was very exciting for everybody, except my mother. The Secret Service told my dad not to breathe a word about the President coming to my father’s store. So, of course, he didn’t breathe a word, not even to my mother. And afterwards I remember she kept saying, “But I’m your wife!” (laughter) My dad said, “Well, I promised them I wouldn’t say anything, so I didn’t.”

GESELBRACHT: There’s a very famous photograph of the two of them in the store, the Westport store. That must be from that same visit.


Could you describe a few of your father’s faults? This question is intended to put you in a difficult place, but I’m assuming that everybody has a few faults.

SCHUSTERMAN: Well, I’m sure they do. I’m trying to think. Of course, as I say, I was pretty young and he was my hero, my favorite dad. (laughter) I can’t think right now of any faults. I guess in my eyes he was pretty faultless. My mother, though, found a few faults, and one, of course, was his weight. He liked to eat, my dad liked to eat. And he had a hypertension problem and he should not have carried the weight t