Born in Poland in 1901, Walter Field’s life spanned the entire 20th century, and he had a long, remarkable career that ranged from business and journalism to Zionism, education, and poetry.
Once arriving in Detroit, Field established the Mac-O-Lac paint manufacturing company in 1931. When asked years later how to succeed in business, he replied, “Running a business only requires common sense.”
The common-sense approach to problems he applied in the commercial arena carried into his social and intellectual interests. When he turned to writing books, he phrased his beliefs in poetic form. He developed a common-sense plan that he shaped into his 1963 book, A People’s Epic: Highlights of Jewish History in Verse. He composed his work in rhyming three-line stanzas, such as how, in early America: “Jews become soldiers, guides and mappers; Southern planters and Northern trappers; policemen, firemen, farmers and sappers.” In 1989, the book was chosen by a committee of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to be translated into Russian and sent to Jews in Russia.
Marvin Cherrin, one of Field’s many close friends and board member on the Commission for the Dissemination of Jewish History (which Field helped form), called Walter Field a “phenomenon.”
“Throughout his life, he has labored with devotion to imbue Jewish youth with a positive sense of Jewish history,” Cherrin said in 1977. Then, at age 96, Field began the Dor L’ Dor website page, chronicling the deeds of Jewish Nobel Prize laureates.
Though he embraced new technologies such as the Internet, Field did not abandon print media, having become one of the original backers of the Detroit Jewish News according to publisher Arthur Horwitz.
Walter Field was honored by the Michigan State Legislature in 1988 and received an “Eight Over Eighty” award from the Jewish Senior Life of Metropolitan Detroit. He was also, from an early age, a fervent Zionist who was a founder of the Detroit Zionist Organization and founder of the Detroit Chapter of Technion in 1942.
When Walter Field passed away in 1999, the Detroit Jewish community lost a major contributor to Jewish life. In his eulogy quoted in the Jewish News, Rabbi Irwin Groner of Congregation Shaarey Zedek cited Field as being a “man of great sensitivity who saw and felt the depth of the Jewish tradition. He had this remarkable gift for communicating his vision with passion and conviction.”
For more information:
Goldman, Dr. Bernard, “Walter Field: The Nonagenerian.” Michigan Jewish History (Fall 1997): 13-15.
“In Memoriam: Walter L. Field, 1901-1999, Entrepreneur and Man of Letters.” Michigan Jewish History (Fall 2000): 71.