A final, personal farewell to community icon
By Jane Williams
La Habra Journal
The Journal editor was gracious enough to let me write an article about the Paul Goldenberg I knew. He’s the man who paid the ridiculous sum of $3,000 for a Golden Retriever puppy at the Boys and Girl Club auction eight years ago and turned around and told them to give the puppy to me because I had admired her. Thus, The Queen came into our lives much to the former publisher’s dismay.
Paul could be brusque, he could talk your ear off while hanging on to your arm to make sure you paid attention. If he didn’t know you very well, but he knew you intended to ask for money, he could make you really work for it. All the same he was very generous to those who could not ask him directly.
When Paul’s TV was incredibly successful he decided it was time to give scholarships to the local high school graduates. He talked to the people at Sonora and La Habra Highs. He had decided he would give out five scholarships of $500, as I recall, at each school but more than that applied. So the counselors told him to pick the five he wanted at each. He refused to do so. He didn’t want to turn down anyone so he wrote checks to cover all those who applied.
That only had to happen twice before the students at both schools caught on and more applied. The last few years he did it, he was giving out 15 scholarships at each school and it was the counselors who limited the applications.
August 13, was a sad day for La Habra when Paul Goldenberg died. A real original, Paul was born in 1928. His Eastern European Jewish parents raised him in the Dorsey High neighborhood where he completed his high school work in time to enter UCLA at the age of 16. Years later, Dorsey High presented him with a letterman’s jacket that he proudly wore to any number of events.
In 1964 he moved his appliance and TV store to La Habra from Hollywood. Paul, his son Doug, and his wife settled in La Habra Heights above Hacienda Golf Club’s fairways. He later bought a “beach house” in Newport Beach, but the Heights house was always his home.
Paul fell in love with Hollywood and the movies as a child. When Mitsubishi introduced big screen TVs for home use, Paul bet people would want one for their home and be willing to pay for it. He also bet people would be willing to come to La Habra if he promised same day delivery and installation. While Paul was thrilled to watch his favorite classical movies on the big screen, most of his customers wanted to watch sports on that big screen.
One Super Bowl Sunday the news helicopters circled the store on Harbor filming the lines of prospective buyers. Then his ad agency came up with the line for Paul to say, “I am the King.” And he truly was as far as Mitsubishi was concerned.
Even before that when the store still carried appliances, Bank of America was more than willing to send an employee to pick up the store’s daily deposit and that person was Silvia Gomez Jenn.
“One of my fondest memories of Paul is that he had a close group of Paul’s TV employees and friends meet at the store.” Silvia recounted. “We climbed into a limo, drove to John Wayne Airport, and boarded the Lear Jet he chartered, and all 10 of us flew to San Francisco. He took us to Fisherman’s Wharf where we were wined and dined. On our way back, he had champagne and cake served so everyone could celebrate my 21st birthday in the air. I will never forget the celebration…it was so Paul’s style.”
“I knew Paul for 38 years,” she said. “He was not only a friend to me but to my family, friends and the organizations I volunteered for and supported. Most importantly he taught me to believe in myself as a strong woman. Paul was family and it was an honor and privilege to also call him a friend.”
Silvia’s son Gregory Jenn was very young when cancer struck his father, Robin. They were all living in San Diego and Robin was being treated at Scripps. Many nights Paul would drive down to see if there was some way he could help. When Scripps exhausted their treatments, Paul sought and got the help of City of Hope. While Robin was there, Paul was disturbed that patients had to go outside on the sidewalk to get to their chemo therapy treatments.
When Robin lost his fight with cancer, Paul conferred with Silvia and then City of Hope and had a walkway built between buildings in Robin’s memory.
“Paulie became a father figure and mentor to me since my own father’s passing,” Greg Jenn explained. “He was always there with great support and lots of advice. I personally feel honored to attend the university he was so proud of attending for a week. I will never forget his teaching and will continue my education to honor this great man.”
Greg also recalls that Paul would tell me over and over again while dining at Marie Callenders, “You know Gregory, I attended two of the finest universities. At the age of 16, I attended UCLA for two straight weeks. Then, in my forties, I attended Notre Dame for 1 straight week.” Paul would then add he didn’t understand why students take four years to graduate. He was so smart he was able to absorb all the knowledge he needed within a matter of weeks.”
“Once I was accepted and decided to attend Notre Dame, Paul would constantly remind me of how proud he was that I was attending his ‘alma mater.’”
La Habra Mayor Pro Tem James Gomez recalled Paul calling him and asking if he could donate anonymously when he learned that Calvary Chapel planned to feed the people in the community who had no place to go for Thanksgiving. “He didn’t want anyone to know he had given the money,” Gomez explained. “From then on as the holiday drew near a check would just arrive.”
One evening Paul spent at least 30 minutes telling the publisher he didn’t wish to be known as The King. He wanted people to think of the good deeds he had made possible by helping others, like the women he helped go to medical school or the victims of Alzheimer’s who now live unrestrained at the Jewish Old Folks’ Home.
My husband and I sat with Richard Ziman after Paul’s funeral and heard the story of how, when asked for a donation to build the Alzheimers’ wing, Paul said “I’ll think about it” and then called back later and said “I figure if I pay for half and you pay the other half, we’ve go it done.” Ziman’s only comment was, “That wasn’t what I had in mind.”
The wing is designed in a circle so those who feel compelled to walk, which many do, may do so as long as they wish. Paul would tell you the wing was badly needed, both he and Ziman could afford to make it happen, so they did.
Now my own memories of Paul are varied. On October 3, 2001 he called me, and said, “You might want to drop by the store in an hour. We’re going to be having a special visitor, but don’t bring your camera. They’ll probably confiscate it. And it would be nice if you put some make-up on.“ So I did and I stuck my camera in the car just in case.
It was around 10 a.m. when I walked into the store and all the employees were dressed up and looking spiffy. Paul was as nervous as a bride’s mother when I got there and promptly chewed me out, “Where’s your camera?” To which I replied, “You told me not to bring it so I left it in the car.” “Go get it!” he ordered. “You know who’s coming, don’t you?”
It was not hard to guess. For years Paul was one of the Friends of Bill. Several times a year he and others would meet with President Clinton and tell him how things looked in their part of the country. All of them were major contributors to his campaign and after he left office, to Clinton’s foundation.
Within the hour three SUV’s pulled into the parking lot, secret service men and one woman jumped out and check the surroundings and went through the different areas of the store. One employee and I stayed outside where I asked an agent if it was okay if I took photos. He said I could, so I began to shoot. Then the last SUV pulled in and Paul was there to greet the visitor.
Clinton might have been out of office but he was still campaigning. He headed directly for the employee and the photographer to say hello and shake their hands. Then Paul was able to steer him into the store where all the employees and their relatives were waiting to meet him.
I was fortunate enough to get a front page photo at one point when President Clinton and Paul stopped to look at a group of photos of both of them throughout the years of Clinton’s presidency.
Paul was a very complex character who definitely marched to the beat of a drum he alone might be hearing.
He was not a saint nor an angel. But if a story of someone in need moved him, he would do what he could to help, particularly if she was young and cute, like the young lady he overheard telling someone she was going to have to drop out of college because she no longer had a car.
He called a local used car dealer near his store and ask him to set aside the best used car on his lot for about $6,000, took the young lady over there and made the purchase in her name. That was vintage Paul. With such a lasting impact on the community, my husband and I are not the only ones who are going to miss him.