Marshall Rauch made a name for himself as the first Jewish senator in North Carolina. Before that he played basketball for Duke, fought in World War II, helped integrate Gastonia, and was the largest producer of Christmas ornaments in the world.

Host Frank Stasio speaks with Rauch about his legacy and how his faith played a key role in everything he did including the Christmas business.

Interview Highlights:

On growing up in Long Island during the Great Depression:

It’s nothing like it is now. [I] grew up in a little town comparable to maybe Belmont, or Mount Holly, North Carolina, at this time. It was a great place to grow up, we were one mile from the Atlantic Ocean. Lots of youngsters, lots of open fields to play pickup football or baseball on.

On participating in the lesser known sport of pigeon racing:

I was just attracted to it right away. The purpose was to raise the pigeons and then race them. We had a club and they would take the pigeon on the train, I remember, maybe 100 to 200 miles away, turn ‘em loose and then the idea was to have the first pigeon that would get back to your coop.

[It] could have been an expensive hobby. But what we did is we would go out in a park with a wooden box, a stick, and a string. You put corn under the wooden box, you keep it raised with a short stick, and you got a string on the short stick and you get far away. When the pigeon would go in there to eat the corn, pull the stick out, and you captured yourself some adult pigeons. Then we were able to buy eggs from a fella who had some really good pigeons, I mean, I believe we paid like 35 cents for pigeon egg, brought it home […] When they had eggs, you could put other eggs in there with them and they raised them. Eventually you’d get a nice flock of really good pigeons and [we] had a lot of fun with it.

On attempting to bring the one-handed-shot to his high school basketball team:

When I played basketball in High School, now you’re talking about ‘38, ‘39, and ‘40, we shot fouls underhand and set shots were with two hands. They even frowned on one-hand passing if you could have done it with two hands. And that was the way it was, we accepted that […] Stanford came to Madison Square Garden and we heard about this one-hand shooting, they were the first ones to bring it on. So we went to Madison Square Garden, watched them do it, came back and tried to do it on our own team. And the coach would have absolutely none of that…

On fighting in World War II:

They put me into the infantry after that, and I had an exceptionally fortunate career because I was in combat for about a year and a half, and thank God I never got scratched […] We went over in a big convoy, and I was on a troop ship, the George Washington. I don’t know how many thousands of us were on there, but there were a lot. And I didn’t like it down in the hole, and I was sea sick. I came up and was allowed to walk around. I go to the front and see the big guns, but they were made of wood. The guns on that troopship were made of wood. And of course that gave me great confidence.

On integrating businesses in Gaston County:

That is something that is still dear to my heart. Gastonia was just like every other small Southern city. You had two water fountains, I think it said coloured and white, and you had separate bathrooms and you couldn’t even eat in the same restaurants let alone stay in the same motel. School were not integrated. And I was asked to be Chairman of the Human Relations Committee that was going to attempt to integrate Gastonia. Well it was a great committee, we had great fellas on the committee and we were able to accomplish the integration of Gastonia without incident.

On being a Jewish man in the Christmas business:  

I’ve had my buddies tease me about that and still do. Took me a few years to get the right answer, but the answer I give [is] ‘No, I belong in the Christmas ornament business. One of our fellas started it!’

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