Lengel: Father Passes at 97; Fleetwood Worker, Detroit Bar Owner, Holocaust Survivor

February 20, 2017, 12:55 PM by  Allan Lengel

Herman Lengel

My father, Herman Lengel, passed away on Friday, on his birthday, at age 97. Here is the eulogy I wrote for his funeral on Sunday in Oak Park.

Herman Lengel didn’t accidentally end up in Detroit, one of more soulful cities in the country. His soul was deeper than the Grand Canyon. He was full of heart, sincerity. He was extremely generous.  There was no pretentiousness, no b.s.

He was a Holocaust survivor, a tool die maker at the Fleetwood Plant in Detroit and he owned different bars at different times in the 1960s, the last one being the Strand Lounge at the corner of Grand River and 14th Street. It was around the corner from the 20 Grand Night Club where big names like the Supremes, Stevie Wonder and B.B. King performed. My father’s place had bands on the weekends and would get the spill over from the 20 Grand.

A lot kids around went to the Tigers games with their dads. My father wasn’t into baseball. So, in junior high, we bonded on Sunday mornings. He would take me out for breakfast early and then we’d go to the Strand Lounge to clean up. He carried a .38 caliber. After we entered the bar, he would go over to the bathroom doors to make sure no one had been hiding inside over night, waiting to rob him. He would draw his gun, unlock the door and kick it open with his foot. I thought, “how cool is this?”

Sometimes the janitor showed up hours late, so I’d put up all the chairs on the tables, sweep, mop and wax. On at least one occasion, I recall, he paid the janitor even though I did most of the work, then said: “My son did a lot of your work.” The janitor handed me a few dollars. 

At noon when the place opened, we’d go next door for a shoe shine at a place that also doubled as a blind pig, a place that illegally sold alcohol. Herman was on the quiet side and refined, but he mixed well with everyone. He seldom drank. He rarely swore. He was a true gentleman.

He often left a big tip at the shoe shine joint, and would say,”buy everyone a drink.” Then add: “At my place,” meaning not at the blind pig.

Afterwards, we’d go for lunch.

Loved The News

My father loved watching the news. Every night for 90 minutes he’d watch a half hour of local news, then NBC Nightly News at 6:30 and then ABC News at 7. He also read the local newspapers and was avid reader of U.S. News & World Report. I figured that’s where I got my hankering for news.

My parents lived in Florida part of the year for more than 20 years. They were snowbirds. The first time I was down there we went for the early bird dinner special at one of their favorite places. The restaurant was loud, the dishes were clanging, people were speaking in elevated tones. Some men had big “chais” around their necks and wore the “members only jackets.”

It was out of a Seinfeld episode.

When we ordered, the waitress said and “what to drink?” I said, “just water.”

My father leaned over and said “but it comes vit a drink.”

“Just water,” I repeated.

He repeated,” but it comes vit a drink.”

OK, a diet coke,’I said.

At the end of the meal, the waitress asked: “What would you like for dessert?”

“Nothing for me,” I said.

My father leaned over,” but it comes vit dessert.”

“Ok, Jello with whip cream,” I said.

Solid Democrat

My father was a solid Democrat. My mother was, for the most part, but in 2004 she was thinking of crossing over.  George W. Bush was running for re-election against Sen. John Kerry. 

Herman Lengel's journeyman tool maker card from 1954

I was living in Washington and called home. My mother started to tell me why she didn’t really like Kerry and was thinking about voting for Bush on her absentee ballot.  I tried to convince her why it would be bad idea.  After speaking to her, my father got on the phone.

“Dad,” I said. “Mom’s thinking of voting for Bush.”  He said to me, “Don’t worry, I already took care of it.”

He was fearless. And faced many challenges. Old age was one of them. In his 90s, after my mother passed, he came to the Meer apartments in West Bloomfield. But he fiercely kept his pride. For a while when he started to use his cane to walk down to the dining hall, he would hand the cane over to the caregiver just before making his entrance in the dining room.

In the past several years, we often went to lunch on the weekend. He had his favorite places, but sometimes I would try something different. One day we went to a nice Mexican restaurant. It wasn’t cheap. With tip, it was around $30 for lunch. When we were done, I asked, “How was your meal?”  He said, “You know, this is the kind of food you eat when you’re out work.”

I had the good fortune of spending a lot of time with my father after my mother passed, and I always felt the love.

He also got a lot of great care and love from the caregivers, who treated him likely family.

I know my brother already thanked them, but again I’d like to thank the caregivers: Cheryl Beckman, Audrey Johnson, Akila Powell, Denise Hawthorne, Jasmine Strickland and Helen Adams.

Also, he got great care from the Hospice nurse Alice Powell, who was also my mother’s nurse in 2011. And we also had plenty medical advice from family friend and nurse Rose Fenster.

The rest of my family, my sister, my brother, his wife, also helped regularly to care for him.

There’s an old Irish saying I’d like to share:

“Death Leaves A heartache no one can heal. Love leaves a memory no one can steal.”

My memories are of a loving father, who was supportive, generous, believed in me and set a great example of what it means to be a man.

I’ll miss you dad.

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