Opinon: Lazarus family’s legacy should be honored, preserved

The text accompanying photos of the demolished Lazarus Building in the Jan. 22 Independent doesn’t mention the source of the building’s name or its first occupant.
The building may have been unprepossessing and its location was a longtime irritant to promoters of the Marble Works; but its owner, Stanton Lazarus, his brother Gene and the Lazarus family were highly esteemed members of the community. Their contributions to Middlebury life should be a valued heritage, not debris of the downtown reconstruction blitz.
Eugene (“Mike”) Lazarus, 1915-2001, graduated from Middlebury High School in 1933; Stan, 1920-1998, graduated in 1939. Stan was captain of the football team and Mike was an outstanding baseball player. But far beyond their athletic prowess, the two served the town and the state throughout their lives. Their local businesses, the “five and dime,” and the Lazarus Department Store, were unique and colorful Main Street destinations. Stan’s department store carried complete wardrobe requirements for the entire family, even including tux rentals. Many parents trusted no one but Stan to fit their children’s shoes. Gene’s “five and dime” was a treasure trove whose seemingly inexhaustible inventory yielded decades-old wonders in their original wrappings at their original prices.
The citation for the Lazarus Prize for Community Service, awarded annually to a Middlebury Union High School senior, includes the following statements:
Stan Lazarus was devoted to the people of Middlebury and Vermont throughout his life. He served his community in many ways: first as the long-time proprietor of Lazarus Department Store, a Middlebury landmark for over 75 years, and later as a member of the Middlebury Planning Commission. He had a distinguished record of public service in the legislative and executive branches of state government. His attentiveness and warmth were evident to all who knew him, and his quiet, but abounding generosity helped many in the community.
Gene “Mike” Lazarus was an outstanding athlete and was inducted into the Middlebury High School Hall of Fame. He graduated from the University of Vermont and received a degree from Northeastern Law School in Boston. After service in the United States Army Medical Corps in Italy during World War II, Gene returned to Middlebury where he owned the United 5-Cent to $1 Store and helped operate the Lazarus Department Store. Gene Lazarus was elected to the town’s Board of Civil Authority many times, serving as a justice of the peace and a devoted Election Day official. He was an active volunteer on many Middlebury boards and commissions.
A joint resolution of the Vermont State House at the time of Stan’s death mentions his military service in World War II, his graduation from Washington University and his election to the Vermont State Legislature in 1960 and 1962.
Less widely known was the hospitality of the Lazarus family, probably Middlebury’s first Jewish family, to Jewish Middlebury College students in the days when an unacknowledged but very real quota often left them feeling isolated and lonely on campus. Stan and Gene’s parents, Harry and Stella, the first owners of the department store, welcomed these students to their home on North Pleasant Street with gratefully remembered Friday night dinners and holiday celebrations.
The five and dime building has been beautifully incorporated into the National Bank of Middlebury. After Stan’s death in 1998, Gene and his wife Annette made an enormously generous gift of the Lazarus house to Havurah, the Addison County Jewish Congregation, for its permanent home. The department store is gone.Such changes may be inevitable, often bittersweet, but not always bad. The preservation of memory makes all the difference. The Lazarus memory should be preserved with honor for Middlebury’s future generations.
Judy and Michael Olinick

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