Tenney Park celebration, James Shulkin, 2019

A short story about Tenney Park and the Tenney-Lapham neighborhood, told by James Shulkin.

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  • Living History Project
    Collection: Tenney Park Century Celebration
    Date: May 19, 2019
    Narrator: James Shulkin
    Length of audio: 00:08:08
    Identifier: Tenney-018
    Transcribed by: Brea Adams



    Interviewer: This is Carol Restevich [sp?] today is May 19, 2019 and we are at the Tenney Park Century Celebration in Madison and we are joined today by—

    Narrator: My name is James Shulkin, S-H-U-L-K-I-N.

    Interviewer: Great, thank you for joining us, James. What is your connection to Tenney Park or the Tenney-Lapham neighborhood?

    Narrator: Sure, so my connection actually goes back a very long time. And I’ll start the story with a little bit of information about my grandparents. So my grandparents are, were, Joseph and Marion Shulkin. And both of them were Russian immigrants, they came over to Milwaukee, at the very first part of the century. They didn’t know each other then but met, um, probably in grade school or so living in the Jewish ghetto, I imagine, of Milwaukee.

    And my grandfather Joseph, his father was a junk dealer, so I know a little bit about that history in Milwaukee, but ah, clearly very uneducated people. And, although, my grandfather was in class in grade school with Golda Meir, so that’s his--one of his--claims to fame. So my grandfather was probably the first in his family to go to college, and he came here to UW-Madison and got a degree as a pharmacist in probably 1920 or so, maybe ‘23. And then he went back to Milwaukee and they had a drug store for a very long time, in the inner city of Milwaukee. Well, the drug store business wasn’t particularly very good and the story was because he didn’t really know how to run a drug store and gave away so much food and medicines for free that they couldn’t really make a go of it.

    So he applied for a job at, ah, with the federal government to be a pharmacist and he got a job here in Madison at what was then the Veteran’s Administration Hospital, which was located what is now on Northport Drive, and, I think it was then like the central--central, center facility of that area there, so that was the very first VA hospital. And of course, that predates the current veteran’s hospital down on University Avenue on campus.

    So he was the first director of pharmacy at the Veterans Administration and in order to be close to his work, because I don’t ever recall him driving a car, I think he needed to be on the bus line. And so they bought a house on Sherman Avenue right here in the neighborhood. It’s, the address of the house is 2002 Sherman Avenue. And I always remembered that number, but, I’m always heartened to see as I drive by that house still, that the same house numbers on that same little sign are still on that house, even though they bought that house, built that house, probably in 1954-55, those house numbers are still there.

    And if you know where that is, 2002 is approximately where--across the street from Bus’s Tavern, which is also, as I recall, part of that neighborhood for that many years. So my grandparents lived at 2002 Sherman Avenue for many, many years, and then he of course was moved over to the Veteran’s Hospital on University Avenue.

    My grandmother was very active in local politics, somewhat. I remember that she was always volunteering for the polling day, for the voting day. She would always help to, uh, enroll voters and make sure people got to vote. So I think, their, their background being Russian immigrants they felt very strongly about, ah protecting the rights of the individuals helping them to vote and she was very active in causes like that.

    So let’s see, my, my experience with Tenney Park though, I remember when I was probably about eight years old, she, I was visiting them, and I wanted to go fishing so she took me, allowed me to go fishing here at Tenney Park. And, the one time she did allow me to go fishing I remember falling into the river. So that’s my first memory and probably, probably best memory of Tenney Park.

    So coincidentally just some other things interesting things about my grandparent, grandparents. Joseph Shulkin had a son, two sons, my father but also my Uncle Mark. Mark became a physician and moved down to Philadelphia after meeting a beautiful young woman here on campus. And their son David became a physician also. And David did very well in terms of hospital administration and running hospitals and large systems and so Joseph Shulkin’s grandson, David, became the Undersecretary for Medical Affairs at the Veteran’s Administration at the federal level under President Obama. And then later when, Obama, um, couldn’t run again, and President Trump was elected, he was having a difficult time finding someone to serve as Secretary of the VA, so Joseph Shulkin’s son, his son, grandson, became the Secretary of the Veterans Administration on the federal level. So, those are the roots back to 2002 Sherman Avenue.

    Interviewer: That’s fantastic. And, if you don’t mind me asking, and certainly if you’d prefer not to speak about this, you have that right, but, um, was there a religious affiliation—did your family belong to any particular temples or organizations in town?

    Narrator: Um, I believe they belonged to Beth—Beth El, Temple Beth El.

    Interviewer: Okay

    Narrator: But, um, my, my grandfather died in ‘74, um, and in fact I recall him passing away at the VA Hospital, because he was a veteran also.

    Interviewer: Okay

    Narrator: Um, and then my grandmother moved shortly to Milwaukee in about, probably about 1978, ‘79. So.

    Interviewer: And, um, may I ask what branch of service your grandfather served in the military?

    Narrator: Um, I think he was in the Army. There is a photograph of him dressed in a military uniform and it seems to be an army uniform.

    Interviewer: Do you know if he was a pharmacist in the military as well?

    Narrator: I, I don’t know--

    Interviewer: Okay--

    Narrator: No.

    Interviewer: Well, your family sounds incredible [laughter].

    Narrator: I, I do know that there's a, a copy--and I checked that out at Memorial Library once--of his dissertation that he had to write as he finished college, and it was about naturopathic medicines in Russia, from Russia. So, in those days, there’s a term called a “felcher”, which is someone who gathers medicines, herbal plants, and things, and uses them to help, heal people, and he wrote his dissertation about that experience and that activity. So that’s all we know.

    Interviewer: That sounds fascinating.

    Narrator: Yep.

    Interviewer: Well, since you’ve seen this neighborhood and this park throughout your life--

    Narrator: Yes.

    Interviewer: Do you have any perceptions about how, ah, the park and the neighborhood have changed or stayed the same?

    Narrator: Um, well I think, it’s certainly much better-used now than it probably was in the past. And I really think Tenney Park is sort of ah--it’s sort of the heartbeat of the Eastside, because, there’s so much activity and so much life and vibrancy because of the water and the river and I think people just kind of naturally come to Tenney Park and see it as, as kind of the heartbeat, the soul of the Eastside, which I think is a really nice thing for a piece of property to be.

    Interviewer: Absolutely. Is there anything else you’d like to add, James?

    Narrator: Um, I think that’s all I have, so…

    Interviewer: Thank you

    Narrator: Thank you