Eva Landecker Menkin: 1923-2014

Eva Landecker Menkin
Courtesy Photo

Eva Mirjam Zacharias von Fritsch Fuchs Landecker Menkin was born in Berlin on June 26, 1923. Her many names are just one indicator of her extraordinary life.

Eva welcomed friends and relatives from around the world to her Riviera home, nicknamed the Menkin Motel, with warm hospitality, wonderful food, and great conversation. A loving and understanding mother and grandmother, she was the loving wife to two men, each for more than 30 years. An avid tennis player and patron of art, classical music, and opera, Eva was also an accomplished gardener and an insightful observer of human affairs, a pioneering therapist, an avid reader, and an accomplished author, speaker, and thinker.

Born Eva Mirjam Zacharias, she was the daughter of Tamara (Té) Gornitsky and Kurt Zacharias, Jewish intellectuals in the avant-garde scene of Roaring Twenties Berlin, but whose marriage ended shortly after her birth. Eva attended elementary school in Spain after her mother married a German baron, Freiherr von Fritsch, who had rejected his family’s elevated status for life in an art colony on the island of Ibiza. When that marriage also failed, Eva returned to Berlin into the care of her grandparents. Thankfully, Té believed, much earlier than most, that Germany was a dangerous place for both herself and Eva and, after fighting a nasty battle to recover custody, moved with Eva to Paris.

When Eva was 10, her mother married Henry Fuchs, who, although also a German Jew, had acquired American citizenship and sponsored their emigration to the U.S. After a terrible ocean crossing, Té and Henry were married on Ellis Island. He was a wonderful man who adopted Eva and remained married to her mother, and close to Eva’s family, until his death 52 years later.

At 14, Eva met her future husband Fred Landecker, also a Jewish immigrant from Germany. At 19, after Fred was drafted into the U.S. Army, Eva left school at the University of Michigan to visit him in California, and they were married in the women’s lounge of the Army USO. While Fred was fighting overseas, Eva worked in Medford, Oregon, and then at the Pentagon for the last two years of WWII. When Fred finally returned home, they chose to live in California, and they soon bought their first home on the GI Bill.

Shortly after the war, Eva took a daring solo trip to Argentina to meet her biological father and her 10-year-old half-brother, René. For the next 65 years, despite the distance from Buenos Aires to Santa Barbara, René and Eva acted like the closest of siblings, meeting regularly and creating deep relationships with each other’s spouses, children, and friends.

In the late 1940s, Henry convinced Fred to start a company to pioneer a new process for improving the durability of metal aircraft panels (shot peening). Eva was the original support staff, doing everything needed to help get the start-up off the ground. As the Metal Improvement Company became a success, opening facilities across the country and then internationally, it and the Landecker family moved their headquarters to New Jersey.

In 1948, Eva and Fred adopted Judy, born three months prematurely, weighing only one pound, 12 ounces. Three years later, Eva was shocked to learn, after an operation, that she was already pregnant with David. Six years later, Anita was born, and after three more years, Peter arrived.

While raising four children, Eva continually wrote books, stories, and poetry. In the late 1960s, she began working for Rutgers University, developing an innovative program about successful aging. Fascinated with the subject, she completed her BA and MA degrees through Goddard College in Vermont. At age 50, she began a successful career as a marriage and family therapist that defined the next 30 years of her life. After moving to Santa Barbara in 1975, Eva coauthored Aging Is a Lifelong Affair with psychiatrist Ben Weininger and later wrote about her youth in A Moving Experience. After she retired from private practice, she continued counseling as a volunteer at Garden Court and at the Homeless Women’s Clinic until just weeks before her death.

In 1974, Eva married David “Bud” Menkin, and together they nurtured a blended family of Bud’s two sons and Eva’s four children. Eva became “Ema” to her 11 grandchildren, René’s kids, and their friends. Each was lovingly shaped and supported by their generous and engaging spirit and their love of the gardens, beautiful mountain views, family barbeques, and the swimming pool at their home on Mission Ridge Road. Bud succumbed to complications from Parkinson’s disease in 2007 after more than 30 happy years together.

Eva was an accomplished tennis player and played at least twice a week until just a month before her death, from complications of kidney cancer. She would have turned 91 this week but never looked or acted her age. She lived her life fully every day, and she inspired her family and many friends to do the same.


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