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My Parents’ Legacy, My Library, and the Mel Rosen Biography

Wednesday, September 17, 2014 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Craig Darch wrote about how he became interested in writing the Mel Rosen biography. He is the author of From Brooklyn to the Olympics: The Hall of Fame Career of Auburn University Track Coach Mel Rosen  and has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

I graduated from high school in 1967 and got a gift from my mother and father for the accomplishment. It was Zalman Shazar’s book, Morning Stars, published by the Jewish Publication Society. Shazer, born in the Belorussian town of Mir in 1889, was eventually elected Israel’s third President. I didn’t read Morning Stars, however. I just put it with my other books. I think back then my personal library had maybe twenty or thirty 30 books, mostly sports and Jewish books.

In 1982 I completed a doctorate in special education from the University of Oregon. My wife Gabi, our son Eric, and I drove across the country to my parents’ house in Wisconsin. Once there I picked up some of my belongings to bring to our rented house in Auburn, Alabama, including books that I stored in their basement. Among those books was the still unread Morning Stars. Once I got to Auburn for my first university teaching position, I put my books neatly on my bookshelf. And there they sat.

One night I happened to pick up Zalman’s book of reminiscences about his childhood in Steibtz and began reading them. It had been 15 years since my parents had given me the book as a high school graduation gift. All the stories were good, but one stood out: “Father’s Library.” In this story Shazar lovingly tells of his father’s books and how each spring he would help him take the books and put them in the yard for a dusting off and an airing. It is a wonderful story about how books played such an important role in his life.

When I was writing From Brooklyn to the Olympics: The Hall of Fame Career of Auburn University Track Coach Mel Rosen I started my research by reading books from my personal library. I have a two thousand Jewish book collection. It is always a treat to use my library for research. I have often thought of Shazar’s story about his father’s library, and each time I use my library Shazar’s story comes to mind, and I think of how I developed a love for books and reading.

Like Shazar, my interest in books came from watching my father and mother reading Jewish books. I remember my father reading Harold Ribalow’s The Jew in American Sports. In fact, it is my father’s copy that sits on a shelf in my library. The famous Jewish boxer Barney Ross wrote the preface to the book. Another of my father’s books that can be found in my library is Robert Slater’s comprehensive volume, Great Jews in Sports. This book was a great help to me writing the Rosen biography as well and continues to sit on a shelf in my library. The forward to this volume was written by former Boston Celtics basketball coach Red Auerbach. Both of these classics are must-reading for anyone interested in Jews and sports.

I also remember seeing both my mother and father reading Irving Howe’s book, World of Our Fathers. They shared the volume. One night it would be my father with the volume, and the next night the book would be in the hands of my mother. The image of them sharing the book has never faded from my usually porous memory. Their book also sits on a shelf in my library. When I took it from its place to use as a resource for writing the Rosen biography, I opened the cover of the book and immediately noticed an inscription I had not seen before. In my mother’s beautiful handwriting the simple inscription read: “Dorothy and Will.” Yes that is how I always think of them, their love of books and the love they shared; Dorothy and Will.

Craig Darch is the Humana-Sherman-Germany Distinguished Professor of Special Education at Auburn University.

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How I Got Interested in Writing the Mel Rosen Biography

Monday, September 15, 2014 | Permalink

Craig Darch is author of From Brooklyn to the Olympics: The Hall of Fame Career of Auburn University Track Coach Mel Rosen. He will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

My interest in writing the Mel Rosen story has its roots in South Bend Indiana, where I grew up. My father and mother (actually my entire family) were avid sports fans and always talked about Jewish athletes. In their minds, if an athlete was Jewish, then his or her achievement was even more noteworthy, something to talk about and, as Jews, something to be proud of, because American Jews are always looking for Jewish sports heroes.

I vividly remember family dinners where we discussed (or argued about) the merits of a Jewish athlete. I remember my dad and his cousin Gene wistfully describing the pugilistic exploits of Benny Leonard, in their opinion the greatest of all the great Jewish fighters during the 1920s and 1930s. I can remember sitting around the television when I was about 12 years old with my brothers Mike and Lance and my dad watching basketball player Dolph Schayes, one of the few Jewish players in the National Basketball Association, playing for the Syracuse Nationals. Watching him play made the game exciting. Schayes was a warrior and fierce competitor: from February 1952 to December 1961 he played in 764 straight games. Our thinking at that time was, if Dolph Schayes could be a basketball star, then why couldn’t we? I also remember when Sandy Koufax, Los Angeles Dodger’s pitcher and Hall of Famer, and one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball history, elected not to pitch the opening game of the Dodger and Minnesota Twins world series in 1965 because it fell on Yom Kippur. And I remember my family’s pride surrounding his decision not to pitch. It was listening to the stories of Jewish athletes when I was a kid that boosted my life-long interest in Jewish sports stories.

I also remember the morning when I decided to write about Mel Rosen. Here’s the story. I am an avid jogger, and four years ago I was running my typical route on Auburn University’s campus. It was early, about 4 o’clock in the morning, and I was running near Memorial Coliseum. From a distance I saw a Greyhound bus parked next to the coliseum. The inside of the bus was lit up. The bus seemed to glow in the darkness. Curious I ran towards it. As I got closer I noticed a lone figure sitting in the front seat. It was Mel Rosen, then the retired head coach of Auburn’s track and field team, who was serving as an unpaid assistant coach. There was no one else in the bus, just Rosen, waiting to leave for a track meet. I thought to myself, how is it that an 82-year-old unpaid assistant coach can be so enthusiastic about his sport that he beats everyone to the bus at four in the morning. The look on his face seemed to say, I have traveled a long way from Brooklyn and do I have stories to tell! It was then, at that instant, I knew I had to write, From Brooklyn to the Olympics: The Hall of Fame Career of Auburn University Track Coach Mel Rosen. I’m grateful I took that jog.

Craig Darch is the Humana-Sherman-Germany Distinguished Professor of Special Education at Auburn University.

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