Joseph Iken, 91; past commander of Mo. Jewish War Veterans group

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Joseph Iken, past commander of the Jewish War Veterans USA Missouri Dept., a retired pharmacist and a lifetime member of Shaare Zedek Synagogue/Kol Rinah, died Wednesday, Feb. 25., just a few days short of his 92nd birthday.  He was a longtime resident of St. Louis.

Mr. Iken was born in St. Louis on March 16, 1923, the youngest of six children of Ben and Celia Isaacson Iken. His father had been a blacksmith in Russia before immigrating to St. Louis, and was a grocer in St. Louis.  The family-owned grocery store was located above the family’s apartment on Division Street. When Joseph Iken was 5, the family moved to 4554 Page Avenue. The apartment and store were four doors down from the old location of Shaare Zedek, which his parents joined and with which Joseph Iken was a member for 87 years.

Mr. Iken married his wife of 68 years, Julia Silberman Iken, at Shaare Zedek. Mr. Iken was named Man of the Year by the Shaare Zedek Men’s Club, and he held several leadership positions with the congregation during his many decades of active membership.

Mr. Iken attended Riddick Elementary School and Soldan High School, from which he graduated in January 1941. Because he could not start college until September of that year, he enrolled in the Rubican Business School, where he took typing and business school classes, according to his son, Harvey Iken of St. Louis, and to information compiled by his longtime friend Sima Needleman.

Mr. Iken entered the St. Louis College of Pharmacy in the fall of 1942, where he and other Jewish students started a Jewish fraternity since Jews were not admitted to the existing fraternities at the school.  During his first year of college, he worked in his brother’s grocery store on weekends. There he met Julia Silberman, who was a telephone order clerk at the store. He offered her a ride home one evening and that was the start of their courtship.

Mr. Iken told Needleman that he credited his wife for their long marriage. “I tell everybody,” he said, “that I’ve lived my whole married life from a refrigerator magnet:  ‘When at first you don’t succeed, ask your wife how you should have done it in the first place.’ ”

In March 1943, Mr. Iken’s studies were interrupted when the U.S. Army called him to active duty during World War II. The army was in need of engineers and sent Mr. Iken to DePaul University in Illinois to learn engineering.  He was then transferred to the Army Signal Corps, where he learned how to repair telephone switches. 

“Dad was preparing to ship out to the South Pacific, when he had a chest X-ray which showed that he had tuberculosis, and would become deathly ill if sent to the tropical jungles of the South Pacific,” Harvey Iken told the Light.  He was sent to a Veterans Administration hospital in Excelsior Springs, and completed his service stateside, being honorably discharged in 1945.

In 1955, Mr. Iken bought a Rexall Pharmacy on 18th Street and Lafayette Avenue and renamed it Joseph’s Rexall Drugs. He worked there for 36 years until his retirement. Though his hours were long, he always found time to attend his children’s athletic events and to travel with his wife and children across on several cross-country vacations.

Mr. Iken was elected commander of the Jewish War Veterans USA Missouri Dept., and also was a past president of the JWV Memorial Center.  He and his longtime fellow JWV volunteer Ralph Shower were active each year with the annual JWV Memorial Day program.  “Joe was an outstanding leader of the local JWV,” Ralph Shower said to the Light.

Funeral services for Mr. Iken were held at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery, where Rabbis Mark Fasman (Emeritus) and Noah Arnow officiated.

In addition to Mr. Iken’s wife, Julia Silberman Iken, survivors include: sons Harvey Iken (Dorit Daphna) of St. Louis; Ronald Iken (Debby) of Natick, Mass.; Lawrence Iken (Elaine) of St. Louis; Richard J. Iken of Jefferson City, Mo.; and a daughter, Linda Iken D’Agrosa (David), of St. Louis.  Another son, David Iken, predeceased Mr. Iken. Also surviving are 20 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.