Today the name Sam Gendel is mostly remembered because of the Sam Gendel Memorial Human Relations Award of the Orange County American Jewish Committee (AJC), of which Sam was a founding member. But back in the 1950s and ‘60s, he and his wife Sophie (neé Hurwitz) were in the local news all the time. They were a power couple before that was even a thing. Sam was born in 1910 in NYC to Morris (Moshe) and Becky (neé Hirsh), shortly after they arrived from Poland, and moved to Los Angeles in 1911, where his father was a produce merchant. He excelled at school and graduated from UC Berkeley before getting his medical degree from USC, where he met Sophie; she was born and raised in Sioux City, Iowa and was in LA for college. They married in 1933 and their only child, Marilyn, was born two years later. After that they were off to the races. Sam did his surgical residency at Cedars of Lebanon (now Cedars Sinai), enlisted in the army in 1940 and served in the Pacific theater; he was decorated with the Legion of Merit for exceptionally meritorious conduct. Upon returning to civilian life, the family moved to Anaheim, where Sam ran the Johnston-Gendel Clinic. He and Sophie were active in numerous organizations, including the California Medical Society, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, Children’s Home Society, Big Brothers of Orange County, and the OC Philharmonic, to name just a few! Tragically, Sam died suddenly in 1965, at just 54 years of age, of a heart attack. His funeral, conducted by Rabbi Robert Bergman at Temple Beth Sholom in Santa Ana, who said “Dr. Sam devoted his life to giving life to others,” was attended by over 800 people.
Dalia Taft, archivist of the Orange County Jewish Historical Society, highlights images from the archives every month. For more information, please visit https://www.jccoc.org/pages/oc-jewish-historical-society. You can also contact Dalia at email@example.com or at (949) 435-3400, ext. 360. The Orange County Jewish Historical Society is a program of the Merage Jewish Community Center and is funded by the Jewish Community Foundation Orange County.