Farewell to Lois, Jewish Book Fest, call for veterans

Ellen Futterman with Lois Caplan at the Light’s 50th anniversary gala in 2013.

To Lois, with love 

When I became editor of the Light in January 2009, I “inherited” a couple of veterans who at the time had been with the newspaper for more than 35 years. I say inherited because the word is often associated with good fortune. And good fortune indeed describes the last nine years working with Bob Cohn and Lois Caplan.

As you probably know, Lois passed away peacefully last Tuesday at her home. She was just six weeks shy of her 94th birthday, though as I write this, I can hear Lois say, “Don’t rush it. I was still 93.”

Lois seemed ageless to me, in her grace, style and beauty as well as her ability to stay current and always relevant. She made growing older seem easy, even liberating. Despite using a walker to help her get around the last few years, Lois managed to go everywhere she wanted, including to dozens of St. Louis-area theatrical and musical performances, which gave her such pleasure.

Anat Cohen at The Sheldon

Writing also gave Lois pleasure, especially being able to tell Light readers about local fundraisers and social justice events as well as to inform them about a person, or persons, doing notable work in the community. 

She seemed to know everyone. It wasn’t unusual for one of her columns to begin, “My good friend (fill in the blank),” because, in truth, she had so many good friends.

Lois was hired as the Light’s “women’s editor” in October 1963 by then-editor Geoff Fischer. “She will write a column on the significant news in the community concerning women and young ladies,” Fischer wrote, in announcing her appointment, enabling the Light “to greatly expand its treatment of social and club news and afford the women of the St. Louis Jewish community a long-awaited opportunity to keep up with the latest in the social swirl.”

I have no doubt that Lois did that and much more when she started her column. But of course times changed and Lois changed with them. An extremely bright and well-educated woman who graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude from Washington University, Lois had no trouble appealing to readers of both genders and all ages. Her tone was always conversational and friendly, yet she never stopped championing organizations and individuals she believed deserved credit for their efforts to make St. Louis a better place.

Unfortunately, Lois had some health issues during the time we worked together, including fracturing her right arm and shoulder and a heart attack. Two months after the latter, she was back to writing her column. Readers hardly had a chance to miss her.

In May of last year, I received an email from Lois saying she wanted to meet in person. What she needed to say had to be said face-to-face.

Frankly, I was more than a little nervous. I admired Lois and had come to regard her as a friend. Had I slighted her in some way? Was she hurt or angry about something?

We met at my office. Lois started tearing up before she began to talk. She hated to say this, but writing a column, even on a monthly basis, had gotten to be too much. Would I consider making her a columnist emeritus, and maybe she could contribute to the paper once in a while?

On June 5, 2016 she broke the news to readers: “I have just become columnist emeritus. So what does this mean? Not a heck of a lot except that I will not be writing a weekly column, nor will I be retired. (A dirty word.) . . . Also, and maybe more significant to you, I will be available to you to write your story.”

Lois, then well into her 90s, wrote a few more columns after that. Altogether, she contributed hundreds of columns to the Light over five decades. To say she was an institution makes her sound dated, and Lois Caplan was never dated.

The kind of news Lois covered remains vital to the Jewish Light. Please know we want to continue to hear from you about your fundraisers, charitable and social justice events, and people in the St. Louis Jewish community doing interesting and important things. Feel free to email me at [email protected]

Lois may be gone but I promise her legacy will endure. 

Book this

The St. Louis Jewish Book Festival plans to welcome two keynote speakers to the 2017 lineup: Zac Posen and Barbara Boxer. Posen, the renowned fashion designer and judge on the hit show “Project Runway,” will appear at 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15. Boxer, the former California senator from 1993-2016, takes the stage at 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 5. 

More than 30 additional authors will present their latest titles including novelists Alice Hoffman on Oct. 23 and Hallie Ephron — sister of the late Nora Ephron — on Nov. 2. Also part of the festival are news correspondent Martin Fletcher on Nov. 15 and Jeff Rossen, who delivers the “Rossen Reports” for NBC’s “Today” show, on Nov. 18.

“We are thrilled to not only have such talent during November, which is Jewish Book Month, but that so many exceptional writers will appear throughout the year. It’s a star-powered lineup with subject matter for everyone,” said Festival Director Scott Berzon. “We take joy in sharing this literary celebration with the St. Louis community.”

Nearly all of the Jewish Book Festival events, the core of which runs Nov. 5-15, take place at the J’s Staenberg Family Complex. More information can be found at stljewishbookfestival.org.

Calling Jewish war veterans

Repps Hudson, who regularly contributes articles to the Light, is volunteering with the Missouri Veterans History Project, to do interviews with veterans from World War II through the present, capturing their oral histories. The interviews usually last around 90 minutes and are video recorded. 

The resulting recordings will go to the veteran, the Library of Congress and the Missouri Historical Society archives in Columbia, Mo.

If you are a veteran, or know of someone who is and has an interesting story to tell, contact Repps at [email protected] or 314-283-9075.