By Deb Silverthorn
Shirley Greenbaum Korenman Herman marked 99 years yesterday, a milestone brighter than the May sunshine under which she was born on May 11, 1923. Celebrating among her family, the go-getter isn’t close to giving up the pep in her step.
“It’s definitely a blessing to be here, and to celebrate this birthday — that’s for sure,” she said. “I don’t feel, act or live my age so, if there is one, maybe that’s the secret.”
A Kansas City, Missouri, native, Herman is the daughter of Frank and Goldie and sister of Fort Worth resident Jean Cooper, as well as Ruth and Florence, both of blessed memory. Born during the depression, she recalls things being tight but that her family, including her Uncle Lewis Harris who lived with the family, was filled with love. Her father sold vegetables and so the family never went hungry.
“My sister is the sweetest, best thing that ever happened to me. She’s always been determined, hard-working and I love her so dearly,” said Jean Cooper, who was married to Arvi Cooper for nearly 72 years before he died. “She has been a mentor to me all my life; really an extraordinary person.”
A Westport High School graduate, who had excelled in typing and shorthand, Herman spent a year working in a civil service position in Washington, D.C., until World War II began. Back in Kansas City, she worked for the Social Security Administration.
During a girls’ trip to Los Angeles, Herman and her friends fell in love with the city and decided to stay. They moved into an apartment near the Ambassador Hotel — with maid service — and she had a job taking shorthand for writers at Columbia Pictures. The roommates hosted a party and among the servicemen who came to visit was U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Sid Korenman, originally from New York, who was in Southern California for advanced training. He ultimately earned the rank of 2nd Lieutenant as a U.S. Air Force navigator.
“On our second date he told me my last name was going to be Korenman and he was right. We married Nov. 20, 1944, at my parents’ home,” said Herman. “We then traveled to Nebraska and South Dakota, where he was training and, while he had to go to England, I returned to Kansas City.”
When Korenman returned, the couple first lived in Kansas City and then Staten Island, New York, where she worked for Random House publishers. They had their first child, Larry, and shortly afterward the couple moved to Fort Worth, where Korenman began working with his brother-in-law Sam Weisblatt (Florence’s husband) at Sam’s Appliances, now in its 76th year in business.
After son Michael was born in Fort Worth, the family moved back to Staten Island for nine years before missing Texas life. When they returned, it was with son Phil in tow, Korenman working in the life insurance arena. In 1960, the family joined Congregation Ahavath Sholom, where the three Korenman sons had their bar mitzvahs and where Herman remains loyally connected.
Sadly, Sid Korenman passed away in 1977, at the age of 58. Herman returned to work as a court reporter for Allied Court Reporters, wanting to be sure her sons would be afforded a good education. To her, nothing was more important.
“I wanted them each to have a career where no one could fire them, they had to be in control of their own lives,” said Herman. “Education is the most important thing and all three of them are doctors. I couldn’t be prouder of my boys.”
Herman’s sons — Larry, a dentist practicing in Richardson; Michael, a retired surgeon who lives in Fort Worth and Ra’anana, Israel; and Phil, a psychiatrist in Plano — speak of their mother’s fervent support for them to attend college and become professionals, that they find a career they would hold responsibility for and that no one could take from them.
“Mom was a phenomenal typist, more than 120 words a minute, and she knew what it took to have a career, to be able to support a family, which she had to do after my Dad’s passing,” said Larry. “She absolutely believed in us and there wasn’t anything we couldn’t pursue.”
The brothers recall the sound of their mother’s fingers hitting the keyboard late at night, “like lightning,” says Phil. Herman recalled coming to her sons for a vote when there was a word in her recordings she couldn’t decipher.
“Mom has always been a very busy person and she’s always been dedicated to getting the job done, whatever that was. She’s still that way and we all aspire to be as sharp, and ‘on it,’ as she is,” said Michael. “It was also she who sent us down the road to our Jewish connection, which has always been important to her.”
In 1980, Shirley and Mose Herman were married by Rabbi Jack Izakson at Congregation Ahavath Sholom. Mose Herman’s children and hers had been friends and the couple shared 25 years before he died in 2005. Shirley was involved in B’nai B’rith Women, Jewish Women International and Hadassah, and the two enjoyed traveling.
Herman’s sons and grandchildren speak to her incredible talents in the kitchen, her freshly made — and very hot — horseradish, her chopped liver, any flavor pie and salmon croquettes among their favorites. She is a voracious reader with a sharp sense of humor and a love for a vodka martini “up” with olives and a “little dirty.” She’s ready to go wherever, however, for whatever adventure.
While she used to go bowling with Sid, she is a true mah jongg devotee; Herman used to cruise the high seas on vacations dedicated to the game, twice disembarking with trophies half her size. Her family reports losing regularly to her in games of Words with Friends, and she is a master of Wordle and Chinese checkers as well; she is also very “hip” in her viewing choices.
“She’s fiercely competitive and she doesn’t want to miss a thing,” said Phil. “No matter what we’re watching, Mom’s already there. Netflix, HBO, whatever the series or movie, she’s on it. Now there’s time for that but when we were younger, she never stopped. By day she was working but at 6 o’clock, when Dad came home from work, dinner was on the table.”
An avid exerciser, for years she’d power-walk three miles a day and attend as many of her grandchildren’s activities as possible.
Four years ago, she moved from Fort Worth to be closer to her grandchildren, then still in high school. At the Overture Plano, she enjoys the camaraderie of her neighbors, card games, mahjong, dominoes, Rummikub and almost anything to keep busy.
“You have to stay busy, your mind has to keep going,” said Herman. “Whatever it is, keep your mind and body going.”
Herman’s family tree has blossomed through her sons and daughters-in-law and their children and grandchildren: Larry and Cindy Korenman and their children, Laura (Bryan) DeLuca, Eric (Lysette) Korenman, Audra (Jacques) Ohayon, Jamison Hochster, and grandchildren, Eleanor and Camp DeLuca, Harrison Korenman, Eli, Ezra and Erica Ohayon and Avi Hochster; Michael and Etta Korenman and their children, Joey (Amy) Korenman, Adam (Corinne) Korenman and Sarah (Jay) Sinofsky, and grandchildren, Elliot, Emeline and Layla Korenman, and Lyanna, Olivia and Matilda Sinofsky; and Phil and Wendy Korenman and their children, Justin (Ashley Waychoff) Ford, Emily Korenman and Sam Korenman.
The eldest grandchild, Joey, relishes the memory of his grandmother’s blueberry pies, of which he’s certain he’s enjoyed as many as she is years old.
“Growing up, Memaw’s was the house filled with family and food, always the hub for holidays and the place we always got to stay up really late,” said Joey, who lives in Bradenton, Florida. “She’s the best and at her place we got to watch cable TV! She’d watch the same dark movies as us and she’s still following whatever is the ‘it’ of everything. Somehow, we’re all getting older, but she isn’t at all.”
As Shirley takes another step closer to 100, Ahavath Sholom’s Rabbi Andrew Bloom refers to the teachings of Pirkei Avot. “‘There are three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood and the crown of royalty, but the crown of a good name supersedes them all.’ Shirley inspires us all by the light her own crown gives off.”
May her crown continue to shine as her smile does, and may her example lead us all.
Happy Birthday Shirley Herman, and many more.