Date of Birth: July 24, 1899
Date of Death: December 25, 2005
Place of Birth: Chicago, Illinois
A mother and daughter brought community service, commerce, and Jewish life to the beautiful Northern Michigan resort town, Petoskey.
Irene Seraphine Goldstein Gordon was born in Chicago on July 24, 1899. She was brought to Petoskey at the age of five weeks by her aunt and uncle, Minnie and Alick Rosenthal.
Perhaps best remembered, worldwide, for her friendship with Ernest Hemingway, Irene was beloved by Petoskey’s Jewish community for her volunteer work with the Temple B’nai Israel Sisterhood, the local historical museum, and as a dance teacher. She was active with the Girls Scouts as well. Irene graduated from Petoskey High School during World War I, then enrolled in Lake Forest College in Illinois. She was known for her independence, intelligence, and athleticism.
The town of Petoskey benefited from Irene’s management of S. Rosenthal & Sons department store from 1939 to 1959. This family business began when Irene’s great-uncle by marriage, Samuel Rosenthal, arrived in Petoskey with his peddler’s cart. Praised for his high-quality merchandise, Rosenthal was urged to open a store. When he asked about settling in Petoskey, he was told, “Jews as nice as you would be welcome.”
When the store closed, it had been in business for 81 years. While successfully managing the store, Irene had been a buyer in New York. Following the closing of the store, she retired to Manhattan, while maintaining her residence in Petoskey.
Beautiful, athletic, and popular, during a holiday party on winter recess from college, she attracted the attention of the young Ernest Hemingway. Her family has a personal letter he wrote to Irene when they were both 50 years old, reiterating his affection for her. The two celebrated their 50th birthdays at Petoskey’s Perry Hotel.
In her 70s Irene skated and skied. She continued to swim in her 90s. She died at the age of 105 on Christmas Day in 2005. She is buried in Petoskey’s Greenwood Cemetery.
Like her mother, Gloria Gordon Levine was born in Chicago. Gloria attended junior high and high school in Petoskey and became an active volunteer because of her love of the community and Temple B’nai Israel, founded in 1896.
In 1947 Gloria married Eugene Levine and moved to Mt. Clemens, Michigan. Gloria was active in the local sisterhood and in ORT on the local and regional levels. She believed strongly in the organization’s mission: “to vocationally train a person to become self-sufficient.”
Jewish life in Petoskey was and still is centered on B’nai Israel, which is much busier during the summer months when vacationers attend. In the past, student rabbis came from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati in the summer months to “practice” in the pulpit. Then as now, between times, lay leaders keep the congregation active.
Petoskey Jewish life benefited from the volunteer activities of both Gloria Levine and her mother, Irene Gordon. Their involvement, along with other Petoskey Jewish women, helped sustain Jewish life in the community. Gloria summarizes her commitment this way: “I love the town and the Temple.” Irene Gordon and Gloria Levine worked to create and preserve Jewish history in northern Michigan.
Submitted and written Jeannie Weiner, in collaboration with the Levine/Gordon family