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Jewish Journal: Auction house employee is going … going … not gone

by Kylie Ora Lobell
Posted on Sep. 16, 2015 at 1:36 pm

Ruth Weinberg, 93, has worked at the Abell Auction Company since 1943. She continues to drive to and from work.

Ruth Weinberg, 93, has worked at the Abell Auction Company since 1943. She continues to drive to and from work.

Ruth Weinberg got a secretarial job at the Abell Auction Co. in 1943. Seventy-two years later, she still goes into the office every Thursday to answer phones, work on the computer and talk to bidders from that day’s auction. 

The 93-year-old Cheviot Hills resident said she never found another job because she likes the company — which she described as “haimish” — and the work is interesting, especially seeing the high-end items that are auctioned.

“It’s like having a birthday party everyday,” she said in a cheery tone. “Merchandise that you’d normally see in a museum comes in here for auction. You get to see it firsthand. It’s fun to be here.” 

A native Angeleno, Weinberg was born at White Memorial Medical Center in East Los Angeles. Her grandfather was president of Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights, where her grandmother was highly involved as well, serving as president of the congregation’s women’s group. 

After earning a bachelor’s degree in general studies from UCLA, Weinberg took a secretarial course at night in order to prepare herself for the working world. 

“Years back, you had to learn how to use an adding machine and typewriter and all of that,” she said. “I had to know some shorthand.” 

Weinberg’s cousin, who had married into the Abell family, set Weinberg up with an interview at the company. She got the job, and would work side by side with the bookkeeper at the auction house, which was located in the West Adams neighborhood before it was burned down in the 1992 riots. 

Now, the company, which was established in 1916, has more than 20 employees and is located in Commerce, 16 miles from Cheviot Hills. Aside from the addition of extra employees, Weinberg said that computers have changed how the company is run. 

“The computers are supposedly making things easier, but they’ve since had to bring more people into the firm just to [oversee the computers],” she said. “Instead of there being two of us in the office, there are now six. We didn’t have a computer back then to do anything, either.”  

In addition to working every Thursday, Weinberg goes in for the quarterly auctions, which feature sales on high-end merchandise. Over her seven decades of service at the auction house, Weinberg has taken home some goodies of her own. She doesn’t have a favorite style or era; she treasures all of the belongings she found at auction. 

“Basically, my house is vintage Abell,” she said. “I like everything in it. Nothing stands out more than anything else to me.”

Although Weinberg was trained to be a secretary, she said she always took on a variety of responsibilities at the company, and has done just about every task there. The only thing she never tried was auctioneering itself, and that was simply because she didn’t have a desire to do it, she said. 

When she goes to work nowadays, she spends a good seven hours in the office. “I don’t walk out just because the auction is over,” she said. “I’ll do whatever needs to be done.”

While Abell has been the only employer she’s ever had, her service there has not been uninterrupted. Weinberg took a break when her late husband, Jack, returned from his job as a medic during World War II and they had children together. She also took time off when her husband, to whom she was married for 43 years, became ill at the end of his life.

The company’s current executive vice president, Howard Zellman, said employees look up to Weinberg. 

“As a fourth-generation Los Angeles business, we value the tremendous contributions made to our community and company by Ruth and those of her generation. … Ruth’s dedication to Abell Auction is an inspiration to all of our staff and clientele,” he said.

When she’s not at Abell, Weinberg likes to go to the theater, the movies and the Skirball Cultural Center, where she’s been volunteering for 20 years. There she schedules other volunteers and makes sure that someone is working the food cart when it’s open. 

“I like what Skirball offers, and their exhibits are absolutely fantastic,” she said. “Their rock ’n’ roll exhibit now is tremendous. Whatever they do, they do very well.” 

Weinberg also keeps busy by spending time with her three children, as well as her granddaughter. Family, she said, has always brought her the most joy in life. 

“I see my family when we can all get together,” she said. “Years back, when everybody was still with us, was the best time of all. We’d get together all the time, and not just on the holidays.” 

Most people who are Weinberg’s age are retired, but she said that possibility has in no way crossed her mind. 

“It’s a privilege to be an employee at Abell,” she said. “And it’s too much fun to go to work and be busy and doing things. I never wanted to just sit at home and do nothing. No way.”