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Gitenstein remembered for touching lives

Dr. Seymour Gitenstein was remembered yesterday as a man who touched thousands of lives in Covington County with both sewing machines and scholarships.

Gitenstein passed away Thursday. He was 95.

Described by many as an “icon,” Gitenstein, born in 1915, was one of five children born to Israel and Rose Gitenstein. He graduated from Townsend Harris and studied piano under Creighton Allen and at the YMIIA NYC School of Music. Gitenstein arrived in Florala from New York at 17 to help his father in the family business – the Riverside Shirt and Underwear Corporation or, as it’s known to locals, the Franklin Ferguson sewing factory.

“Family was always so important to him,” said his daughter Dr. Rose Barbara “Bobby” Gitenstein. “Florala was his home and his heart.”

Gitenstein is credited with establishing Florala Memorial Hospital and as being the owner of the “sewing factory” that at one time employed more than 1,000 people.

“To him, those people were his family,” his daughter said. “They were deeply committed to him, and he to them.

Seth Hammett said he was a great admirer of Gitenstein.

“He was one of the most influential people in the county,” Hammett said. “He put a lot of meals on tables around Florala.”

Hammett, a former president of LBWCC, said Gitenstein was an early and frequent contributor to the local college.

“He took a personal interest in the college when it was established in 1969, and continued to make contributions many years thereafter,” Hammett said. “He was an early and frequent contributor to LBWCC, particularly for things that would benefit the music program. He had an intense interest in music.”

LBWCC vice president Jim Krudop said when he and current LBWCC president Herb Riedel visited Gitenstein in recent months, he insisted upon playing the piano.

“He said he wanted to show us that he still could,” Krudop said. “And he sat right down and played a classical piece.”

Both Hammett and former Florala Mayor Glen Zorn described Gitenstein’s generosity.

“He was always a pillar of the community,” Zorn said, “and he helped the community in so many ways.”

Hammett said, “He was very generous in the entire area around Florala.”

Dr. Gitenstein said her father “has also been committed to the community and the larger community, particularly through education and scholarships.” Through his foundation, Gitenstein provided college scholarships students from Florala and Paxton, Fla., high schools beginning in the mid-1950s.

Covington County Schools Superintendent and former FHS principal Terry Holley’s first encounter with Gitenstein had nothing to do with scholarships, as one might would think.

“My mother worked 26 years for Mr. Gitenstein, as a floor lady in the sewing factory,” Holley said. “I knew him early in my life. He has always been there for Florala. Can you imagine how many lives he has touched over the years?

Gitenstein

“He was truly an icon,” he said.

“My father was a man who cared deeply about the American dream, the spirit of America, and he thought that people need to have a chance to make a difference, and the best way to do that, he felt, was through education,” Dr. Gitenstein said.

Gitenstein was also a heavy patron of the arts and research to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, the disease that claimed the life of his wife, Anna, in 1988.

Gitenstein is survived by his children: Mark Henry Gitenstein, U.S. ambassador to Romania; Dr. Rose Barbara Gitenstein, president of The College of New Jersey; Susan Gitenstein Assadi, president of Gitenstein & Assadi Public Relations; and grandchildren: Rebecca Brown Gitenstein, Benjamin Brown Gitenstein, Sarah Brown Gitenstein, Pauline Hart, Sam Hart, and Hannah Lillith Assadi; great-grandchildren, Sam, Max, Eli, and Anna; and his sister, Rhoda Sumberg.

Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at Florala High School. Visitation is set for 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. Sunday at Evans Funeral Home.