David and I met Ralph and Dorothy Kaufman in 1992, when we moved into our home in Lighthouse Point. For many years, they lived across the street from us during the winter months. They had a lovely waterfront home, which they had owned since the 1970s, where they came to take a break from their primary residence on Central Park West in Manhattan. David and I enjoyed spending time with Ralph and Dorothy and we always knew winter had arrived when they moved into their house across the street. Both Ralph’s and Dorothy’s families were in the toy business. Dorothy’s maiden name was Marx, as in Louis Marx and Company, also known as Marx Brothers Toys, which was owned by her dad and uncle (the Marx brothers). Ralph worked for his family’s toy company, K B Toys, also known as Kay Bee Toys (K B was an abbreviation of Kaufman Brothers, who were Ralph’s father and uncle). Needless to say, Ralph and Dorothy were wealthy people who, in addition to their homes in Manhattan and Lighthouse Point, owned homes in Ralph’s hometown of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and in Westchester County, New York. As part of his job in the toy business, Ralph traveled worldwide, including frequent trips to Japan, where many of his company’s toys were manufactured. He spoke fluent Japanese and so far, he is the only person I’ve ever met who could speak Japanese. Ralph had many interesting and funny stories to tell. And, Dorothy was an interesting person too. Once, when David and I were visiting them, I noticed a psychology textbook authored by a famous and pioneering psychologist, Edward L. Thorndike, sitting on the coffee table. I picked up the book and asked Dorothy why it was featured prominently in her living room. She smiled and exclaimed, “He was my professor when I attended Columbia University. I was one of the first women who graduated from Columbia with a psychology degree.” I don’t know about you, but I was thrilled beyond belief to find out about this! Dorothy’s brother, Arthur, visited Ralph and Dorothy several times over the years when we were their neighbors. Arthur was an attorney in Manhattan, who had lots of great stories of his own. David and I were lucky to have lunch with him at “his club,” which turned out to be the amazing and prestigious University Club of Manhattan. Sadly, Dorothy passed away a short time after she and Ralph sold their Florida home to move to an assisted living facility near Washington, DC, near their daughter and we never saw her again. We visited Ralph once in the dining room at the assisted living facility (which was as close to a palace as any assisted living facility could be!) during a work related trip to Washington. He passed away a few years ago and both he, and Dorothy, remain in our lives in several items we got from their home in the estate sale following their decision not to return to Florida. Thanks for the education, memories, and fun times, Ralph and Dorothy!
I think one aspect of writing these blog posts has been to take time to consider how many people we’ve randomly met, somewhere or another, throughout life. Some of these connections have created unique, life long bonds though they may have started in very simple ways. When we bought the house back in 1992, much work was needed. I will always remember our first meeting with Ralph. Melissa and I, along with several friends and family, were working hard thinning out the jungle in our back yard. It was hot, sweaty work, and this elderly man showed up with a little chair and “plopped” himself down in the yard to chat. While we sweated. He was happy and pleasant and he didn’t break a sweat supervising us! The connection grew from there and into some fascinating conversations over dinners at interesting restaurants. We met the family on a few of these dinners. Their daughter and son-in-law were fascinating as well, thus we expanded our minds and world further. Ralph, for a long time operated a money losing business during his time in Florida. He had a prolific grapefruit tree in his front yard and he spent much time and money shipping fruit to friends and family “back up north.” I can’t imagine how much he spent on sharing some bits of Florida so generously. Speaking of sharing, we learned from his daughter that she was very popular because her Dad always had toys to share. It is fascinating to consider how the post WWII toy world evolved with plastic toys made in Japan. Ralph’s stories of his annual visits to the manufacturing plants were amazing. It took 4 to 5 days to get there from New York, with stops on the west coast of the U.S.A., and Hawaii, if not more. My favorite memory of Ralph was when we took him and Dorothy to dinner at the Tower Club in Ft. Lauderdale. Our favorite server at the Tower Club, Kia, is a beautiful Japanese woman. Ralph took one look at her and started a conversation in Japanese. I don’t know who was more surprised, us, or Kia, that this 80+ year old guy from New York (obvious by his accent) was able to converse fluently in such a challenging language! From Ralph, we also learned another bit of history. During WWII, as a Jewish person enlisted in the U.S. Army, he was assigned to a unit with Black soldiers. The Army thought this was the appropriate way to handle minority soldiers. Ralph did just fine in that environment in his leadership of his unit, but it was interesting to learn this detail about those times. All of this, and some other similar posts, have a common point: you just never know with whom you will cross paths. Life stories take time to learn and learning them is a very enriching part of life. It sometimes makes me wonder what stories I’ve missed by not getting to know people better.