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Published: Saturday, 1/28/2012

Mitchell Liberman, 1915-2012: Flutist was founding member of symphony

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Mitchell Liberman, a flutist and founding member of what became the Toledo Symphony, died Wednesday in San Ramon Regional Medical Center, San Ramon, Calif. He was 96 and had pneumonia.

From 1954 to 1973, he owned Bill's Men's and Boys' clothing store in Fostoria.

He moved from Sylvania to California 20 years ago after his wife, Ruth, died, son Howard said. He played flute until he was 90. He lived the last 18 months in an assisted living community.

Mr. Liberman was listed as "second flautist" of "a larger and greatly improved" predecessor to the Toledo Symphony in a November 18, 1940, Blade preview of the season opener, which was to feature violinist Yehudi Menuhin.

The current symphony dates its start from the 1943 founding of the Friends of Music, which incorporated eight years later as the Toledo Orchestra Association.

"He was principal flutist when I first joined the orchestra [in 1956]," said Bob Bell, a percussionist and Toledo Symphony president emeritus and chief artistic officer. "He was a laid-back sort of person and was well respected as a player."

Flutist Marjorie Szor joined the symphony in 1955, but she already knew Mr. Liberman from the Music Under the Stars series at the Toledo Zoo in which they both played.

"The orchestra at that time was just beginning to become professional," said Ms. Szor, who played second flute in the orchestra until 2004. "He was dependable and responsible, very friendly and warm and welcoming when I joined."

He was born April 13, 1915, in Toledo to Rose and Hyman Liberman. His father owned a clothing store. His mother made sure her children had music lessons.

He went to Scott High School, a member of the 1932 class that dubbed itself "riches to rags," because they were freshmen in the roaring 20s and graduated in the Great Depression. He returned to Toledo for the 65-year reunion. He attended the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., but completed his education at the University of Toledo, where he taught. He also gave private lessons.

Toledo was a stop for most touring spectacles, from Broadway musicals to ice shows, and they hired locals for their orchestras.

"He was the No. 1 flute guy in the union," his son said. "He would play at the circus or the Ice Capades. The ballet from New York would come to the Paramount Theater, and he played in the orchestra."

Still, to make a living most Toledo musicians needed a day job. He managed the men's clothing department at Sears Roebuck and Co. downtown. In 1954, he saw an opportunity and bought an established clothing store in Fostoria -- a boomtown in those postwar years, his son said. His business boomed too, which in part was a reflection of the era. Back to school meant dressing up, his son said. Men wore suits to church. Men and boys bought new outfits for Easter.

"He hired good people, and they stuck with him," his son said. "He knew how to treat a customer, and he always respected people."

By the late 1950s, he left the Toledo Symphony, and the family moved to Fostoria, where he played in the national championship VFW Band.

He was a stateside Army veteran of World War II.

He married the former Ruth Dorf in 1937. She died in January, 1992.

Surviving are his daughter, Anita Silver, son, Howard Liberman, sisters, Irene Goodman and Ann Kent, four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Services will be at 10 a.m. Monday in Historic Woodlawn Cemetery, Toledo. Arrangements are by the Robert H. Wick/Wisniewski Funeral Home.

The family suggests tributes to the Toledo Symphony or the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living, Danville, Calif.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.



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