Source: News-Journal, February 2, 1950

Ben Oppenheim (1863-1950)

Ben Oppenheim's Death Occurred Tuesday Night
Took Prominent Part in Community Service for Nearly 75 Years
The retail business district will be closed during the funeral services for Ben Oppenheim from 1:30 to 3:00 o'clock Friday afternoon.

Ben Oppenheim, one of North Manchester's most prominent merchants for nearly three-quarters of a century, died about 11:30 Tuesday night in the St. Joseph Hospital at Fort Wayne. He had been active until about five weeks ago when he was taken ill. After a few days he was taken to the Fort Wayne hospital where he remained for not quite four weeks. In addition to his business interests, Mr. Oppenheim was actively interested in all civic projects and had a part in every civic movement for the betterment of North Manchester since the 'nineties.

He was a member of the Jewish synagogue at Fort Wayne, a fifty-year member of the Masonic Lodge, and an active member of the Kiwanis Club. The latter organization awarded Mr. Oppenheim its Star of Service in 1943 and a community dinner was held in his honor. At that dinner President Otho Winger of Manchester College remarked that Ben Oppenheim loved life and lived it to its fullest.

Benjamin Oppenheim was born September 22, 1862, the son of Jacob and Pauline Goldman Oppenheim. The family lived for a time at Detroit, then two years at Paw Paw, Michigan, coming to North Manchester in 1876. Mr. Oppenheim married Miss Nettie Kahn at Wabash in 1893. She died in 1926, and their only son, Jean J. Oppenheim, died March 30, 1949. Survivors include two sisters, Miss Fannie Oppenheim and Mrs. Ida Flonacher, a brother, Isaac Oppenheim, two grandchildren, Mrs. Albert Eisenstein and Philip Oppenheim, and two great grand children.

The body was taken by Bender and Son to the family residence at 206 West Second Street Wednesday afternoon, and friends may call at the home. Funeral services will be held in the home Friday afternoon at 2:00 o'clock with Rabbi Frederick Doppelt of Fort Wayne officiating, assisted by the Rev. R.H. Miller of North Manchester. Burial will be in the Jewish Cemetery at Wabash.

Ben Oppenheim's story is the typically American one of the boy who at seven found it necessary to sell newspapers and do other odd jobs to add to the family income. The father was an itinerant peddler away for weeks at a time, traveling through Michigan and Wisconsin and south in other mid-western states. An attempt to settle down was made by opening a store at Paw Paw Michigan, but after two years another start was made at North Manchester with a stock estimated as being worth not more than $200.

Ben was then 14 years old and had to take a man's job in the store, then located on the site of the present Lavengood Cafe. The father was in poor health and died after about three years. The young merchant then became the sole support of the family and the virtual father of his brother and sisters. There were Ike, Anna and Etta (both now dead), Ida and Fannie. Ben slept in the store nights but went home for breakfast to see his mother, a habit he never broke even after he was married and had a separate home of his own.

From the smallest store, Oppenheim's had a steady growth, outliving all earlier competitors and gradually becoming North Manchester's largest department store. As he succeeded in his own business, Ben Oppenheim became counselor for younger men and took his place among the leading citizens. His years in business covered the growth of North Manchester from a country village with unpaved streets and no sidewalks to a modern town of beautiful streets and the latest conveniences. He thus had a part in bringing the telephone, the electric light, paved streets and other public utilities to the community.

Along with a full line of experiences Ben Oppenheim accumulated a wealth of anecdotes of the early days, his memory was such that he became a dependable source of material for historical research. He was present, for instance, the night the world's first electric street light was turned on at Wabash, and could describe the amazement of the thousands of people when they saw night turned into day around the court house. He remembered that night particularly because that was the occasion of his meeting for the first time the young lade, Miss Nettie Kahn, who later became his wife.