JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Eulogizer is a new column (soon-to-be blog) that highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read previous columns here.
Milton Levine, ant farm creator
Milton Levine, who turned a childhood memory of industrious ants into the novelty toy Uncle Milton’s Ant Farm, then used it to build a multimillion-dollar business, died Jan. 16 at 97.
Levine and his brother-in-law were running a small mail-order business in the mid-1950s selling, among other things, plastic shrunken heads to hang on rearview mirrors and “spud” guns that fired potato pellets. Levine was at a Fourth of July picnic in southern California in 1956 when he saw a parade of ants and remembered his time on an uncle’s farm, where he collected ants in jars.
Today’s product is essentially unchanged from the 1956 original, which cost $1.98. The ants themselves came separately, and were gathered by ant rustlers paid a penny apiece for red harvester ants from the Mojave Desert. Toy historian Tim Walsh, who interviewed Levine for the 2010 documentary "Toyland," said the ant farms "stoked the curiosity" of budding scientists. Levine said people can learn from ants.
“They work day and night; they look out for the common good and never procrastinate," he said, adding, "I found out their most amazing feat yet: They put three kids through college."
In his 1970 book “Uncle Milton’s Ant Facts and Fantasies," Levine wrote that he believed “ants are truly socialist. After all, their life is truly a communal one." The company sent representatives to Moscow to explore selling ant farms in the Soviet Union in 1989.
Levine was born in Pittsburgh to immigrants from Russia, where his father started a chain of dry cleaners. Levine led an Army bridge-building platoon that operated in France and Germany in World War II, and met his future wife, Mauricette, to whom he was married for 65 years, at a USO club in Normandy.
Along with the ant farms, his toy company marketed frog and butterfly habitats, planetariums and Star Wars-themed products. Levine’s son, Steve, was running the privately held business when it was sold in 2010 to the private-equity firm Transom Capital Group, which valued the company at between $30 million and $40 million.
Beverly Coleman, mother of former senator
Beverly Coleman, the mother of former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and seven other children, died Jan. 24 in her hometown of Manalapan, N.J., at 84.
"Jewish mothers are the dominating force," Norm Coleman said. "I marveled at all that it took to nurture eight kids, the love and patience. I don’t know if I am that patient."
Coleman said his mother lost her sight and the use of her hands in recent years, and was unable to read and crochet, two of her favorite activities.
“She taught me the powers of perseverance and love, and not to complain," he said. "You lose your mom and you’re like a little kid. Your mommy is gone."
Coleman, who lost his Senate seat in 2008 to Democrat Al Franken, said his mother would be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., where her husband, World War II veteran Norman Coleman Sr., is buried. Beverly and Norman Coleman raised their eight children in New York City.
Ed Koch: Blog tells what his tombstone will say
Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch in a recent blog made a point of telling readers what will be on his tombstone: “On my tombstone, which awaits me at the Trinity Church nondenominational cemetery at 155th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, I had inscribed the last words of Daniel Pearl — uttered at his publicly viewed murder — which were, ‘My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am Jewish.’ I believe those words should be part of the annual services on the Jewish High Holiday of Yom Kippur, and should be repeated by the congregants.”
It’s a touching tribute to Pearl and shows Koch is a proud Jew. But it makes The Eulogizer wonder why he plans to be buried in Trinity Church’s cemetery on Riverside Drive. Is it because Koch — a New Yorker through and through — cannot bear leaving Manhattan even in death? It is the only remaining active cemetery in Manhattan, and is the final resting place of celebrities, former mayors and other notables, some of them Jews.