Growing Up in the City

Growing up with the American Dream

Detroit, 1936

Eugene Applebaum was born in November 1936, in Detroit, Michigan. He grew up on Broadstreet, where Jewish stores lined the streets—grocers, butchers, bakers, synagogues and Jewish schools. A majority of the community was comprised of Jewish immigrants, many of whom owned a small business. While the neighborhood was not wealthy in the usual sense, it was rich in its connectedness. It was genuine, and everyone was immersed in the community. In reminiscing, Gene spoke of his time growing up in Detroit:

“Living in Detroit, was like living in a Jewish shtetl, everybody was very close”

The All American Life

Gene lived the All-American life growing up in Detroit in the 1940s and 50s. His childhood was wonderful, idyllic even. He played baseball, enjoyed sports and went to Detroit Public Schools - Roosevelt, Durfee and Central. The kids from the neighborhood were so close that many later became business associates and community leaders right alongside Gene. Longtime friend, Eugene Driker, explained how it was growing up in Detroit:

“It was expected that you would do reasonably well in school, you would go to college, get a job and you would get married. You would have a Jewish life, an American life… but, we also wanted to have fun.”
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Gene as a kid in snow
Gene plays in the snow outside his home on Broadstreet, Detroit, 1939
Gene and Joseph
Gene with his father, Joseph Applebaum. Detroit, 1943
Small Group
Gene with his family, Detroit, 1940
Gene outside stairs
Gene outside his home on Broadstreet. Detroit, 1941

The Influence of Jewish Heritage 

Image: Gene's Bar Mitzvah Invitation, 1949

The influence of Jewish heritage left an indelible impact throughout his childhood. Growing up, Gene remembered his family listening to Rachmaninoff and Yiddish music (it wasn’t until after high school that he started listening to American Bandstand).

He spent holidays at his uncle’s and would sit with him in synagogue at B’nai David. He studied for his bar mitzvah at United Hebrew Schools and after, his mother threw him a party at the house. Gene recalled using both Yiddish and English at his bar mitzvah:

“I gave a speech both in English and in Yiddish,” Gene said. “And in Yiddish I thanked my grandmother and my grandfather. My mother was crying, yet I did not really know Yiddish',  he recounted while laughing, ‘I just memorized the speech!”.

After his bar mitzvah, Gene continued studying Hebrew and graduated from Hebrew High School. He enjoyed learning and going to synagogue. 

Gene Applebaum

Always Working, Even at a Young Age 

For most of Gene's life, he was in business. At age 12 he was the fountain and stock boy at the old Fox Drugs at Broadstreet and Elmurst. During summer vacations from Central High and from college, he sold clothing for United Shirt. He worked at Tom’s Hotel as the night clerk, he worked at Roland Drugs and he sold newspapers. His parents were always very supportive—so supportive that at 11 o’clock at night when 16-year-old Gene left the drug store to sell papers around the corner, his parents took the Broadstreet bus and then the Woodward streetcar to bring him a tuna fish sandwich. And while Gene ate, his father sold the papers.

While his parents were extremely supportive, they also made sure he would reach his full potential. Selling papers brought Gene a “fair” amount of cash in those days, so when his boss stopped calling him, he wondered why. Later, Gene saw his boss and asked why he didn’t want him to sell papers anymore. The boss told him:

“Your mother didn’t want you to get too enamored with making money. She wanted you to go to college.”

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Andrew Echt

Director, Applebaum Family Philanthropy