Reuben didn’t forget when local club turned him away

Editor’s Note: Following is a column written in April 2013 for the Indianapolis Business Journal by IBJ Media shareholder Mickey Maurer. It is being reprinted in remembrance of Lawrence M. Reuben.

maurer-commentary“We have, as all will agree, a free Government, where every man has a right to be equal with every other man. In this great struggle, this form of Government and every form of human right is endangered if our enemies succeed.”

—Abraham Lincoln, from the Aug. 22, 1864, speech to the One Hundred Sixty-fourth Ohio Regiment

(Note my musings on friend Larry Reuben on the occasion of the spring opening of the Riviera Club pool.)

My name is Larry Reuben. It is 1958, and I am 10 years old. I live with my mother and father and my older brother and sister at the corner of Kessler Boulevard and Illinois Street, just down the block from the Riviera Club. All the kids in the neighborhood walk or ride their bikes to the Rivi to swim — all the kids, except for me. Jews aren’t welcome.

The Riviera Club has tennis courts and a gym. Its outdoor pool is one of the largest in the country, larger than a football field — seems like there should be room for everyone.

My mother left Russia to escape the pogroms when she was about my age. She is always busy with her volunteer work, giving back to the community. My parents teach me to care about others, and I do, but I wonder why the Riviera doesn’t treat the Reuben family any better. My buddies and I get along fine, but I do feel strange and embarrassed when the other kids go swimming there and I can’t.

My name is Larry Reuben. After studying at the London School of Economics, I graduated from Indiana University in 1970. I am fresh out of law school. There was something I had been meaning to do for quite some time. The Riviera Club, sitting on the edge of a stable integrated neighborhood, now has legions of all-white members. I have heard stories. Ernie Kobets and his wife, who adopted biracial children, were denied membership, as was Gil Holmes, who retired from the Army with a chest full of medals. Community leader Mike Rodman and other African-American families met a similar fate. I scanned the roster of the Riviera Club but failed to find any fellow Jews. There may be a couple. Can this happen in 1974? Riviera insists on eyeball-to-eyeball interviews. No one wonders why.

I filed suit under Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The case was popularly referred to as zealots versus bigots. Riviera is represented by Don Tabbert, a powerful Republican on the national scene. He told me we didn’t have a chance. I am running this lawsuit on a shoestring, but I am not going to quit until I excise the evil management of this institution and open this club for everyone.

My name is Larry Reuben. I think Indianapolis has come a long way in the last 40 years. Back in 1981, I settled that Riviera case, prevailing on all fronts. Not only was the membership committee kicked to the curb, but the Riviera also had to publicize its new policy of openness to all races and begin to take in members who are qualified on an objective, transparent basis. Eyeball-to-eyeball interviews to determine race were outlawed. It was my most satisfying case. I righted the hurt suffered by a 10-year-old boy and turned the tables on the bigoted white establishment.

Mom passed away a couple of years ago and left $8 million to various central Indiana charities, including Goodwill Industries, the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention and the Humane Society. I drive by our old house on Kessler Boulevard. When I pass the Riviera now after a long career in the law, I hear the shrieks of joy from the boys and girls who are enjoying a swim at the Rivi, including Mike Rodman’s grandson. I still get a twinge.•

Maurer is a shareholder in IBJ Corp., which owns Indianapolis Business Journal and Indiana Lawyer. To comment on this column, send email to [email protected].

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