Courageous Family Positivity Offers a Successful Life Model

Subtitle:  Flight from Anti-semitic Russian Pogroms provided courage to rebuild life in Philadelphia

Summary:  Dr. Fredrickson’s thinking on positivity forms a foundation to understand the strength, success,   and positivity of Dr. Coche’s family, fleeing Russian Pogrom violence in 1903. 

Photos property of the author, used with permission

Top photo: banner of great grandparents who owned flour mill, photos property of Judith Coche, used with permission


                                    “Dad wielded verbal language with black belt skill, 

                                             oozing quiet power, keeping us all on our toes.”

                                                                        Judith Coche, Ph.D. 2016

Do you know what has counted most in forming your identity?  Which people mean the most and why?  Which words have changed your life? Whose counsel lives inside you as your make current decisions? 

All of us require life experience to know what matters most. Meaning occurs in brief snatches of time with those we love most, creating a foundation to guide us in which path to take next. It is in the brief, precious moments when time stands still that we learn our life lessons.  For example, jumping waves with my oldest granddaughter transports me once again to my sheer delight in being held by my father’s strong arms as he lifted me by the hands high enough above the waves. I can still feel the solidity in his grasp: “You will be safe with me until you no longer need me,” was the message in his square, strong hands. This  moment of meaning shaped my  life long sense of security.  

As a girl I assumed that all girls had strong, solid Dads they could count on. But life has taught me admiration for the courage, tenacity, wisdom and great good humor that gave Dad his unique philosophy. (insert small photo of dad and me as infant)Although I was aware that religious persecution drove my family from their successful lives in Russia to a period of poverty in Philadelphia, a recent exploration of accurate Milner genealogy has provided horrifying detail in dramatic and dangerous historical events that might have wiped us out before most of us were born.  Grandfather Samuel  Milner ,  died young after bringing Dad, his oldest son, and Dad’s seven siblings through Ellis Island in 1906 to escape the “Pogroms.” Pogros”  is a Russian word meaning to wreak havoc, to demolish violently. Extensive anti-Jewish riots swept southern Russia in in waves in the years before 1917.The perpetrators of pogroms organized locally, sometimes with government and police encouragement. They raped and murdered their Jewish victims and looted their property. 

My family endured these horrors until 1905 in the city of Belo Tserkov, near Kiev  currently once again the source of bombings and street deaths in the Ukraine.  My grandmother’s father, a carpenter, had his head split open during an attack while Samuel, my grandfather,  hid his many children in the closet with rags stuffed in their mouths to dampen their crying so they would not be killed but one uncle is certain that six siblings were killed nevertheless. It sounds like a horrendous way to start life!

With the courage and positivity that is their hallmark,  my grandparents, Samuel and Mary,  left their home when my Father  Louis,  their oldest son was 9 .  They landed at Ellis Island ,  the Statue of Liberty, in  1905 with no English and no money, then went on to Philadelphia.Dad writes, “My homes and schools in the first decades in America were in slummy sections. “But his childhood was happily active until my Grandfather died suddenly in 1914 at age 48. On his deathbed he pronounced that my father , 15, and his brother Josef , 14, were to become “the men in the family” to produce sufficient income to support their Yiddish speaking mother, Mary, and their 6 younger brothers and sisters. Dad was to become a pharmacist and Joe was to take over the jewelry business from his Father, who was remembered my his sons as a good and gentle man.  In his hand-penned 8 page autobiography of 1927 my Father, wrote,  “ I had completed one year of high school. It was decreed by devoted and purposeful parents that the eldest son must cease to burden the only money earner of a large family. The axe severed sharply: a happy, busy, dreamy and athletic boyhood came to an end, pharmacy gained a recruit.”  

Gramdmom Mary came from parents, pictured above.  They were owners of a successful flour mill in the Old Country, and among “ the richest Jews in town.” They had a swimming pool and crystal chandelier in their house. Landing in the immigrant section of Philadelphia and speaking only Yiddish, Mary had the strength to be  commandingly assertive for her barely 5 feet of height. Her daughter, Bertha, reported that she was “5 foot square.” Since she could not support a family after her husband’s premature death, she decreed that her two sons must support the suddenly fatherless family of 8 .  So, after graduating Pharmacy school , Dad complied, bought a city block of land near the University of Pennsylvania, opened  a legendary Pharmacy and surgical supply store at age 22, and later was granted an honorary Doctorate by what is now called University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. In so doing, he had to give up his life dream to become a University English Professor. Instead he spent his days ministering to local University City residents and delivering surgical supplies to University of Pennsylvania physicians. Resigned to his fate, he took himself around the world before marrying late in life and fathering me, his only daughter. He was entirely devoted to my welfare and to the welfare of the huge family that grew as the 8 siblings married and had all of my 45 cousins.(insert photo of man, my Father, at 27).  His brother, my Uncle Joe, became the mover and shaker of The House of Milner on Jeweler’s Row in Philadelphia, now in its 5thgeneration of ownership. (insert small photo of antique pharmacy)

Together, Lou and Joe built a brotherhood as strong as any marriage. Teaming life daily on the phone, they led their siblings into full and successful lives despite the obvious odds that faced the family.  Joe was charming and quick-witted,  with a laugh and a hug on his lap always at the ready. Dad was the philosopher and humorist who trained two younger men in the family  to become pharmacists. Joe and Lou had money and wise counsel for any family member who needed help. Together they supported their Mother and functioned as the male legends of prosperity and leadership who modeled positivity in the face of potential disaster. (.insert small photo of Dad with sister bertha and his mother mary)

Shouldering his burden without complaint, Dad lived life with a sparkle in his eye, seeking every opportunity to inject the double tongue of sarcasm into mundane daily life. Dad wielded verbal language with black belt skill, oozing quiet power, keeping us all on our toes.  His daily words of advice, delivered in brief, sarcastic jolts that would bring me up short, supplying the fundamental human truths that I now pass on to clients.  His model of supporting a family after the sudden death of the male money earner, enabled me to become a financially successful single Mom after the sudden death of my first husband, who, like Dad’s Father, died before reaching age 50. Dad’s astute counsel, delivered in sarcastic, quick one liners, lives on inside me and those I counsel.  

The positivity of Dad and Uncle Joe has set the tone for my life, my marriages and my career. Positivity begets positivity. A few of Dad’s one liners::

·      When I told him I wanted to become a citizen of the world, as he had done, he said simply, “Be careful of what you want. You just might get it.” This sentence allowed me to marry a European, but only after very careful thought.

·       At 16, when I was secretly contemplating a first boyfriend, he stopped me to say casually, “Be careful whom you fall in love with because, by then, it is too late.”  These fifteen words went on every date with me and have guided my nearly 50 years of successful marriage to date.

·      As a young girl I found Mother’s pot roast dull and well remember Dad’s half-joking counsel to “put it in your mouth and step on it. “

·      As I contemplate creating solid nutritional meals for our family, I remember Dad eating the shell of the egg and the core of the apple and quipping, “It all goes to the same place.”

·       As he helped me choose a career, he advised, ““Choose teaching, secretarial work,, or take over Milner’s Apothecary,” he would advise.  “That way you can be home to take care of your children.” My career has allowed me to integrate the fascination of clinical psychology with ballet Mom duties, eager devotion to the well-being of two marriages, and recently, time with wonderful granddaughters.


Dad and I became a lifelong tag team like he and Uncle Joe. I began working in the Apothecary at age 13, and got paid 13 cents per hour to balance the cash register, help Dad with office work, type prescription labels,  and wait on clients.  At age 16, I was paid 16 cents per hour. At age 19 I quit, pursuing a career with people rather than medicines. Although, or perhaps because Dad had abandoned his own dream of creative writing and academic teaching, helped me, his only child, pursue my life dreams by funding graduate work in psychology even though he disagreed with my life choice.  When I came to him at age 25 to declare my wish to marry the brilliant Dutch-German citizen who offered me philosophical discussions, high romance, and the world adventure I hungered for, Dad smiled knowingly and funded two international marriage celebrations. As I was leaving the US to enter my new world, he looked me straight in the eyes and simply said, “Don’t forget to write.”  This was his blessing and my ticket to the world.  Dad and I remained close and admiring of one another for the balance of his long lifetime. 

Barbara Fredrickson, a psychologist and author, informs us about the life energy offered by positivity and resolve for happiness. She says, 

 “ For years, I've investigated the value of positive emotions - those pleasing yet fleeting moments of joy, serenity, gratitude, amusement, and the like… positive emotions carry far more benefits than most of us suspected…. First, when we experience a positive emotion, our vision literally expands, allowing us to make creative connections, see our oneness with others, and face our problems with clear eyes… Second, as we make a habit of seeking out these pleasing states, we change and grow, becoming better versions of ourselves, developing the tools we need to make the most out of life. Positive emotions broaden and build us as people. …

 I began experimenting with ways to inject more positivity into my own day, and into my own family life. …  I felt buoyant and alive. And this new and positive energy infused my relationships at home, at work and beyond.”

To consider: Moments of courageous positivity  define us. They shape our choices. They create new opportunities. I invite you to consider whom has mattered most to you in your life. ?  Were they positive as people? Did you appreciate their gift? I hope so!

To read :Barbara Fredreckson.  Positivity.Three Rivers Press, 2009

Norris Clark