I Sit And Look Out: Father-in-law was a self-made man

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My father-in-law, Dr. Charles Radack, and former U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan never met, but there was what might be called an intersection once, and that is what leads me to write about two poor American kids who made it in their lives. Only in America.

Charles Radack and Pat Moynihan will be the subjects of this and the next two columns. Dad was the youngest of nine children of a Jewish tenant dairy farmer in Poland. When the automatic milking machine arrived, small farmers with large families were surplus. An older brother had come to the United States in the late 19th century. In the early 20th century, the rest of the Radack family came here.

Life was not easy, but Dad made it through school and got his dental license in 1917. He served as an officer in World War I. His dental career spanned 52 years, most of it in offices on Grand Avenue near Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst. He and his wife, Sophie Koenigsberg, had three children: my wife, Elaine; her sister, Nancy Strauss; and her brother Alan, who became a dentist and taught dentistry at Tufts University.

Dad was a longtime member of the Elks and our wedding reception was at the Elks Club on Queens Boulevard, not far from his office.

During the Great Depression, Dad frequently accepted barter for his services from his patients. After my mother-in-law died, Dad continued to live in their Jackson Heights apartment. He led a good social life. We would see him most weekends and finally persuaded him to move in with us. He had what I called his own suite in our house on Park Lane South in Richmond Hill.

On his 90th birthday, I wrote to many public officials, asking them to note the event. They all sent nice notes, probably similar to many others they send every day.

But Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s was the one Dad treasured the most. It began:

Dear Dr. Radack,

Rumor has it here in Washington that you are about to celebrate an important event.

It went on in that vein. It was clearly an original and when Dad was asked what he thought about reaching 90, he replied, much in the mold of Moynihan, “I say four more years!” That had been the slogan of the Reagan re-election campaign, which ended before Dad’s birthday.

Happily, we had this remarkable man with us for five more years.

Next: Very fond memories

Updated 10:49 am, October 12, 2011
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