A visit from the past

This past Thursday we had the honor of meeting with a group of people associated with the building’s history – Marilyn Beckham (granddaughter of Sam Kanners, of “Kanners and Patrize”), her mother Marsha (Victor Kanners’ wife, and Sam’s daughter-in-law), Bob Zukowski and Frank Lucente. Bob and Frank both worked at the building when it was Kanners and Partize.

We learned that Bob started in 1944 at age 14. He had already been working since the age of 12 shining shoes just a couple of blocks away. He told us that he could shine over 150 pairs of shoes on a Saturday – the population was that dense. Eventually, the man he worked for left the shoe shining business and he felt he needed to move to more stable employment (at age 14!), so he headed over to what was then “S. Kanners and Co.” to see if they needed a boy. Here is how he remembers the day. This piece comes from his retirement speech (The Stoker, The Poker and The Peg) given in 1991.

It’s 1944, I’m 14 years old and I attend Cass Tech High School, after school
I shine shoes on Forest & Third, but I really need a regular job. Somebody tells me
they might need a boy on 4444 Second Blvd.
It was there that I first met the “Chief”. His name was really Samuel Kanners, but my
Martin in later years affectionately renamed him “Chief”.
He was a little guy, maybe 5 ½ feet tall with a big cigar (El Producto) and an infectious
Little did I know how this meeting would affect our lives.
I asked the “Chief” if they were hiring, and if they were, I would like to fill out an
application. He did not respond to either question, instead he began to to ask me
How old are you ? fourteen I said
Where do you go to school ? Cass Tech, I replied just down the street from here.
How many kids in your family ? Seven brothers I replied.
He took a few puffs on his cigar looked up at me and said “Seven Brothers” as though he
to confirm this number.
A little smile came to his face and even at 14 yrs old I thought I detected a twinkle in his

What are you taking up in school ? the Chief asked.

Mechanical Engineering was my reply.
Whats that ? he asked. I explained that this encompassed classes in Drafting, Metallurgy,
Machine Shop
and Foundry. He seemed a little familiar with all but one of these courses.
Whats “Foundry” he asked.
I started to explain that foundry consisted of making sand molds and the pouring of molten
from a blast furnace that used coal shoveled by ___________
I did not get any further in the explanation, “Coal & Shovel” was all the Chief needed to
We’ll Try You Out, he said.
I’m ecstatic ! When do I start ?
“My boy”, he said come with me, then the Chief took me to the back room and told me to
hang up
my coat.
I put my books down , hung up my jacket and it suddenly dawned on me. What is the
And more importantly “What does it pay”. My youthfullness and inexperience really
It’s a Great Day ! I thought , up till now anyway , why ask and ruin it.
The Chief then led me down some old rickety steps to a catacomb like, dim ,dusty , steam
Furnace room full of coal.
I had no way of knowing then, but “Class was about to Begin” and the Chief did not want
me to be late.

We learned that everyone who The Chief hired started in the basement shoving coal. He called it his “Center for Continuing Education.” He often hired kids like Bob and Frank who had multiple brothers, thinking he’d have a built-in work supply. As you can tell from his retirement piece, Bob is a natural born story teller, and he told us about the time when he was first married and had been given an old clunker of a car that only turned left. He usually took the streetcar to work, but one day he missed the streetcar, so he had to take his clunker to work. It took a while, but he figured out how to get there using left turns only. He arrived before the Chief, and at some point in the morning, The Chief took him over to the parking lot and said, “Look! Someone has abandoned their car in our parking lot!” Bob had to admit that it was his car. A little later, Bob was given a pay envelope by The Chief. In it was $1,000 cash. He was told to go buy himself a car. Amazing.

We also learned that The Chief came over here from Romania when he was 5. When he was established in his business, he was continually sponsoring other immigrants, finding them work, etc. We told them that we were doing something similar with our business, helping people get established in their businesses, providing support and connections. Quite a coincidence.

Bob and Frank, along with Marilyn and Marsha, spent 2 hours telling stories like these, and had us rolling. If we didn’t have later appointments in the day, I’m sure we’d still be there right now.

When Tom and I bought the building, we sensed a wonderful spirit in it that is hard to describe. When Tom asked Marilyn to describe the spirit of the place during the 50-plus years the Kanners family was in the building, she showed us a picture of a large group at a picnic. It was the annual “Kanners and Patrize” picnic. “That’s the spirit of the place,” she said, “It was the people.”

I hope we’ll do the place proud.


Bob, center, with his brother Martin and the Chief in 1948.

Kanners group

Marsha, Marilyn, Bob and Frank today.

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