Thursday, October 11, 2012 | return to: lifecycles, deaths



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Fritzi L. Benesch

Fritzi Lehmann Benesch, a longtime San Francisco resident and co-founder of the nationally recognized women’s clothing and manufacturing company, Fritzi of California, passed away peacefully at her home on September 19, 2012. She was 90 years old.

For most of the last year of her life, Fritzi awed family members and friends by her courageous display of gusto, bravado, and joie de vivre despite a diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer in early September 2011. Indeed, rather than succumbing to the disease within months (as predicted), Fritzi enthusiastically attended the ballet, theater, art films, and opera screenings; eagerly went to restaurants, farmer’s markets, and a nearby beach with friends and relatives; religiously read newspapers, novels and cookbooks; and tested out tempting recipes.

gdeaths_mugA native of Stralsund (then in East Germany), Fritzi, who was Jewish, suffered anti-Semitism while still a child. She was forced to leave school at age 15.

In 1939, Fritzi and her parents escaped the Nazis and fled to London to await approval to immigrate to San Francisco, where they had relatives. Since World War II broke out six weeks after they arrived, the family remained in Great Britain until the end of the war.

While in London, Fritzi spent many nights in cramped bomb shelters and endured air raids. During the days, she worked various clothing industry jobs, learning the business from the ground up. Meanwhile, Fritzi — who arrived in London knowing little English — frequented a movie house that played English-speaking films to master the language.

In 1946, a year after the war ended, Fritzi, then 25, immigrated to San Francisco with her parents. She began working for Trudy of California, a children’s clothing manufacturer.

There, Fritzi met Ernest (“Ernie”) Benesch, a Czechoslovakian-born immigrant and United States Army veteran, who had just returned from a tour of duty in the Pacific. Fritzi and Ernie were engaged within three weeks and married three months later.

Two years later, the couple took their modest life savings to found their own women’s apparel company, Fritzi of California, named after Fritzi, who was “the talent” behind the business. She designed the clothing line and monitored quality. Ernie was in charge of sales.

Operating out of a small loft on Mission Street, the dedicated couple worked tirelessly (15 or more hours a day) to produce high-style clothes at low cost, often earning only $.10 per blouse.

During their first year in operation, Fritzi of California nearly went out of business, but Fritzi and Ernie ignored advice to quit and clung to their visions of success. Instead, the company grossed $25,000 in its first year.

Fritzi of California continued to grow steadily and gain popularity for its affordable prices and quality clothing. In 1952, their acclaimed “Fritzi Blouse” — which featured a trademark stiff collar — put the company on the map. Fritzi designs then became a fixture in San Francisco’s most popular department stores, and company sales soared.

Sensitive to the challenges of immigrants like themselves, Fritzi and Ernie made a point to hire European refugees, a number of whom stayed for decades. The Jewish Family and Children’s Services once presented Fritzi of California with an award for its commitment to the immigrant population.

As Fritzi of California grew and became profitable, Fritzi and Ernie never took large salaries. Instead, they reinvested in the business and purchased real estate, mostly in the then-unpopular areas south of Market Street in San Francisco.

Although German was her native tongue, Fritzi had a special appreciation for the English language. Soon after arriving in the Bay Area, she took classes with then-San Francisco State College English professor Samuel Ichiye Hayakawa (before he became the college’s president and later, a U.S. senator). Almost until the day she died, Fritzi took pride and glee in finding grammatical errors in newspapers and books, a pastime she shared with her daughter, Connie.

Loved ones and friends respected Fritzi as a creative, cultured, brave, generous, accomplished, fashionable, liberated woman ahead of her time. For instance, unlike most women of her generation, Fritzi was a working mom raising two daughters.

Fritzi was a big fan of opera, theater, and ballet, and she was committed to leading a healthy lifestyle. Likewise, she was an exercise enthusiast, who adored swimming long distances and taking rigorous walks. When younger, she also often played tennis and went skiing.

Fritzi is survived by her loving daughter, Connie; her sister-in-law, Inge Lehman; and her loyal nieces, Yvonne Hunter, Debbie Lucchesi, and Linda Philbin, and their families.

Special thanks to the dedicated nurses, Olivia Rayos, Vilma Magtoto, Maricel Coquia, and Glenda Pereyra, for their devotion and kindness to Fritzi during the last months of her life.

A private memorial service was held on September 21, 2012 at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, and a private scattering of her cremains will be held in mid-October off the coast of San Francisco.

Contributions in Fritzi’s memory may be made to the San Francisco Opera Association, the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties, or the charity of your choice.

Sinai Memorial Chapel

Reba Ginsburg

Reba Ginsburg, 88, a longtime Piedmont resident, died peacefully on October 6, 2012, following a one-week hospitalization for an illness. Reba attended Piedmont High School, Stanford University, and University of California Berkeley. She was married to the late Benjamin Altwarg who died in 1963, and then to the late Morris Ginsburg who died in 2008. Reba was known as a woman with a deep passionate love of her family, a close bond with her sisters, and a strong relationship with her friends. She was a frequent mahjong player with friends and family. Reba loved going to the movies all her life and was an avid reader who read many books each month. Reba talked daily with her children, her sisters, and often with her grandchildren.

Reba Ginsburg is survived by her daughter, Sharon Gordon (Ted); by her son, Daniel Altwarg (Carol); by grandchildren Matthew Gordon (Iris), Darcy Altwarg, and Brian Altwarg; by her great-grandchild Madison Gordon; by her sisters Lois Arnold and Janet Gordon (Murray), and by many nieces, nephews, and cousins.

Reba’s father started the longtime Oakland business, C. Markus Hardware. Her son, Daniel, and grandson, Brian now run the successor store, which is Markus Supply-Ace Hardware near Jack London Square. Reba was a member of Temple Sinai in Oakland since 1952.

Funeral services have been held. In Reba’s memory, donations may be made to Temple Sinai, 2808 Summit St., Oakland, CA 94609; American Lung Association, 424 Pendleton Way, Oakland, CA 94621; or to your favorite charity.

Sinai Memorial Chapel

Lipman, Ruth passed away peacefully at Zen Hospice at the age of 91 on October 3, 2012. A native of San Francisco, beloved wife of Jack Lipman (deceased), loving mother of Julie (& David) Bernard, devoted grandmother of Nicholas Bernard. Ruth so enjoyed traveling, fine food, entertaining her many friends, maj jorg and her grandson.

Memorial service previously held. Contributions to Zen Hospice Project or Congregation Emanu-El.

Sinai Memorial Chapel

Pauline “Polly” Owen

In San Mateo, CA, Oct. 1, 2012 at age 97; beloved wife of the late Colonel William Owen; loving mother of Bill (Carol) Owen, Jennlea (Joel) Weiss and Allan (Linda) Owen; adoring grandmother of Jamie and Corie Owen, Colin Steiner and Jessica Weiss. A longtime member of Congregation Beth Israel Judea, having served on its Sisterhood for many years.

The family requests that donations be made to Mills-Peninsula’s Dorothy E. Schneider Cancer Center, 100 S. San Mateo Drive, San Mateo, CA 94401 or to your favorite charity.

Sinai Memorial Chapel


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