Violet Spevack, who penned the Cleveland Jewish News “Cavalcade” column for 50 years, celebrated her 105th birthday July 15.
She was born to Bertha and Abel Goldhammer in Denver. When Violet’s father died of the Spanish Flu in 1922 when she was only 5 years old, her mother came to Cleveland with her older brother, Leonard, and her younger sister, Gertrude Winer. They settled in the Glenville area.
For almost all her life, Spevack pursued her love of writing – from the time she wrote about her brother at Camp Wise when she was in junior high to her “Raised Eyebrows” column in the Glenville High School “Torch.” She continued to hone her skills writing her column, “Green’s Pastures” named after the beloved Rabbi Alan S. Green at Temple Emanu El, where she and husband, David Spevack, were founding members.
Spevack’s initial column appeared in the CJN on March 5, 1965. At her retirement at age 98, it was recognized as the longest running column written by a single person.
In her weekly column, Spevack chronicled the events of the Jewish community, covering social events, reporting on family occasions or class reunions, writing profiles on prominent leaders, and interviews with entertainers, dignitaries and religious leaders. She interviewed Luciano Pavarotti, Eddy Fisher, Joan Rivers, Bella Abzug, Cokie Roberts, Richard Dreyfuss and Madeleine Albrecht as well as Borscht Belt comics Milton Berle, Buddy Hackett and Henny Youngman.
Spevack told her daughter, Bonnie Chisling, her all-time favorite entertainment hero was George Burns, because he was such a decent man and her all-time favorite businessman in Cleveland was Sam Miller, former co-chairman of Forest City Enterprises because he helped everyone.
Some names appeared in her column many times like vic gelb, Rena Blumberg, Morry Sayre and Al Grey. She loved people and it was evident in her writing as she “effervesced,”one of her favorite words about this entertainer or that dynamic speaker.
She became known as the Vi-Vi-Vacious Violet and could be seen at every Jewish happening. When covering an event, Spevack worked the crowd and the crowd worked Spevack. Some times, she had more than one event scheduled in one day and she had to coordinate the times to cover them.
Spevack wrote her column on a manual Smith Corona typewriter.
She talked about the old Jewish neighborhoods of Glenville, where she grew up, and about the Kinsman Boys. Beyond her journalistic endeavors, Spevack was first a Jewish educator beginning at the Old Jewish Center on East 105th Street and continuing to Temple Emanu El, where she was a teacher and educator. She went beyond teaching to a program supervisor using her skills to write original plays, many of which were published by the Reform movement.
She was a sought-out leader of numerous trips to Israel and other foreign locations, each time adding the personal touch to her trip by visiting personal friends and local families. One time while touring Israel, she visited an Arab family. As a community chaplain for the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, she and with her husband conducted services at Manor Care Nursing Home and interfaith seders for various denominations in the Greater Cleveland area.
Spevack has been honored by numerous organizations, including the Cleveland Jewish News Foundation, Israel Bonds, Hadassah and Jewish National Fund. She was inducted twice to the Glenville Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Press Club of Cleveland Journalism Hall of Fame in 2013.
The Cleveland Jewish Publication Company has an editorial internship named for her, which is supported by funds raised in her honor through the Cleveland Jewish News Foundation.
She was married 73 years to David, whom she met on her way to a Hadassah convention in Toledo. He died in 2013 at age 101. They have three children: Bonnie (Michael) Chisling, Dina Spevack and Jeffrey (Beverly) Spevack. She has four grandchildren: Mark (Stephanie) Chisling, Brian (Pamela) Chisling, Anne Spevack (Christoph Neyer) and Sam Spevack; and five great-grandchildren.