I was one of those kids who got free pumpkins from Joe Greenstein. Long, long ago I was a student at Blaine Elementary School on the North Side of Minneapolis. I have a memory, or perhaps several memories compacted together, of free pumpkins being given away by a local merchant on the north side of Minneapolis.
A flat bed trailer with hundreds of pumpkins were unloaded. Kids were allowed to select one to take home. Some helpful suggestions on how much of a 'punkin' a given kid could carry must have been offered. Additional pumpkins were hauled to other schools on the North Side.
Recall that this was in the days before kids rode school buses, all or nearly all of the students at Blaine walked home.
Joe Greenstein, once known as “Pumpkin Joe” started a tradition of giving pumpkins away, and, its peak, he gave away over 10,000 a year.
Joeseph S. Greenstein was a merchant. His store at 307 Plymouth Avenue North was called The Bargain Price Market. It sold groceries, meat, produce, and flowers. Every year, starting back in the 1940s, Greenstein had "Pumpkin Day" where truck farmers from the outlying areas would haul in pumpkins that would be laid out on Plymouth Avenue, closing one lane in front of The Bargain Price Market. Local school children would come, some riding buses on a field trip, to get the free pumpkins. He did this entirely for the good of the community. He told his son Larry, that when he was a little boy the family was too poor to afford a pumpkin so he once stole one. He did not want any child to have to chose between a small deprivation or a small crime.
Pumpkin Joe, circa 1950
Later when he ran for 5th ward alderman, I remember seeing campaign buttons that were orange, with a jack-o-lantern face as the background, and the motto PUMPKIN JOE GREENSTEIN.
The North Side of Minneapolis was home to different groups over the years. In the 1800s it was mostly German immigrants, with a mixture of Scandinavians. In the early 20th century it was the center of the Jewish community, with German, Polish and Russian immigrants all represented. When I was growing up in the 1950s and into the late 60s, the neighborhood was turning over again.
Joe's political career. A major freeway was under construction, wiping out much of the business and residential areas along Plymouth Avenue. This included Greenstein's store. The last "Pumpkin Day" in 1965 was held at a "haunted house" done up for the occasion.
Joe Greenstein by all accounts served his constituents well. It was a difficult time in many ways. In addition to the literal bulldozers crashing through the Fifth Ward there were social changes that seemed equally implacable. Crime rates were rising, with the flight of the Jewish community being accelerated by a particularly gruesome double murder of a prominent couple. Housing projects were built, concentrating poverty into structures that looked like dead trees raising their limbless concrete trunks above the new highway. There were racially fueled riots in the late 60s, many surviving businesses were burnt down.
But Joe Greenstein never left the North Side. His son still lives in the family home there.
Joe Greenstein joined the Army in his mid 30s. He fought across Europe with General Patton's army, serving as an interpreter. He was a Minneapolis Alderman from 1960 to 1971, probably the most tumultuous decade the city ever had. He actually had a Molotov cocktail thrown at his house during the 1967 unrest.
A guy like Joe Greenstein did not need to give away pumpkins to get our respect.
I still look up to him as one of the most kind and generous men I knew.
Joe Greenstein as Fifth Ward Alderman. He fought for better street lighting, better schools in his ward, and he attended to his varied constituency.
May 11, 1956: A splash of color for neighborhood moms
By Ben Welter
The Bargain Price Market, 327 Plymouth Av. N., served a diverse section of north Minneapolis from the early 1940s until the neighborhood gave way to Interstate 94 in the mid-1960s. The self-proclaimed "biggest little store in the world” sold groceries, meat, produce and a wide variety of flowers.
Owner Joe Greenstein earned the nickname “Pumpkin Man” by giving away thousands of pumpkins to neighborhood children every Halloween. But his soft spot for kids was evident year round. In May 1956, a Minneapolis Star photographer spotted him handing out free plants to any who needed a little something for Mom on Mother’s Day.
Do you recognize any of the young faces in the photo below? Only one -- Harry Hooker, age 6 -- is identified in the original caption. If he looks somewhat forlorn, it's because he had just dropped the little plant he'd received. The friendly neighborhood grocer (and future Fifth Ward alderman!) is handing him a fresh one.
Joseph Greenstein, grocer at 307 Plymouth avenue N., gives a second plant to Harry Hooker, 6, 1008 O’Brien Place. Harry, a first-grader in Blaine school, had dropped his plant. Greenstein gave free plants for Mother’s day to kindergarten and first-grade pupils of St. Joseph’s parochial school and Blaine school. Neighbors call Greenstein the “pumpkin man” because he gives more than 1,000 pumpkins to children for Halloween each fall.
Oct. 30, 1962: Greenstein gave away pumpkins to youngsters from the Jewish Community Center nursery school, 1701 Oak Park Av. N. (Minneapolis Star photo)
In December 1965, a Hennepin District Court jury awarded Greenstein $38,000 for the building that housed his grocery store at 327 Plymouth. "The property, consisting of a grocery and apartment building and a parking lot," the Minneapolis Star reported, "is being taken through condemnation by the state for construction of the North Ring freeway route." Greenstein had disputed the state's offer of $19,000 for the property, arguing that it was worth $75,000.(Minneapolis Star photo)
Larry Greenstein “I do music not to just make a living, but to enjoy living as much as possible.”
by mick laBriola-Camden News-11-1-11
Larry was born on the northside at Queens Avenue Maternity Home, originally located at Glenwood and Plymouth Avenues, and lived with his parents, Joe and Maria Greenstein, and his sister Rachel. The family moved to Larry’s current residence, where he has been since 1969. He lives with his wife, Jodi, and daughter, Hannah. Jodi works as a social worker in Golden Valley.
Maria, Larry’s mother, played mandolin and sang Polish and Ukrainian music around the home, which had a strong influence on Larry’s music career. Larry recalls first playing violin around age eight or ten, while attending John Hay Elementary School, once located at Penn and Oakland.
He also was taking violin lessons from Catholic nuns at St. Joseph’s Church, once located at I-94 and Plymouth Avenue. His dad, Joe, had a grocery store, the Bargain Price Market, and was known as the “Pumpkin Man. Through his generosity hundreds of free pumpkins were distributed to school kids on “Pumpkin Day” in north Minneapolis. Joe was also an Alderman in the 5th Ward. Larry pleasantly remembers taking a bus to the grocery store after school and then walking to his violin lessons at St. Joseph’s Church.
Larry continued playing music in the orchestra at John Hay Elementary, and then carried on music at Lincoln Junior High, switching to percussion, specifically the snare drum. Later, attending Shattuck Military School (St Mary’s) – a boarding school in Fairbault, MN –
Larry again switched instruments, this time to the Bass Drum. There he befriended Doug Humphrey, son of Minnesota Political Legend, Hubert H Humphrey.
In 1973 Larry earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Theater from the University of Minnesota. While attending college Larry developed his skills as a playwright, and in 1978/79 became a Jerome Foundation Resident Playwright at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis for one year.
Although Larry received critical reviews for a production of an original work entitled “The Caucus” at Chimera Theater in 1981, he decided to re-direct his continuing education to Human Services; he next earned a Masters Degree in Therapeutic Recreation.
But he kept writing plays. He has had plays produced at the Lakeshore Players (”The Trotsky Rebellion”), Storytalers Children’s Theater (”The Littlest Snowflake”), and most recently the Northfield Arts Guild (”Alternate Bass Strum,” “King of the Fiddlers,” and “Homeless TV Segment.”) In October of 2011 his play, “Alternate Bass Strum”, was also featured at the Roy Arias Theater, near Times Square in New York City.
Larry worked as a Recreational Therapist through the 1980s and 90s, touring and performing on Guitar, conducting “Sing-a-Longs” in Nursing and Group Homes and Adult Day Care Centers, as well as doing one-to-one sessions for patients. Larry also directed several Theater groups for seniors.
In 2001/02 Larry created a new business called “Fiddler To Go”, a little Celtic and Old Time Fiddle music for parties, classrooms or historical events. Larry exclaimed, “If you ever need a fiddler of ole time music give me a call.”
He has performed for events at many locations: Heritage Days and Solstice at Three Rivers Parks; Murphy’s Landing (reenactment of 1800’s settler village); Gale Wood Farm and North Mississippi Regional Park; NE Minneapolis Arts Crawl; Spring Valley Historical Society; and at Elementary and Pre-Schools, and facilities for Seniors. Larry also worked for 15 years on the Ski Patrol for Three Rivers Parks.
Larry articulates, “The kind of music I play is traditional and Celtic fiddling, not bar or club music. I feel young people should get started early. And if they’re lucky enough to do this it is very rewarding. North Minneapolis youth have access to as much music and art as possible. Not just to make a living, but to enjoy Living, as much as possible.”
Larry Greenstein has been playing fiddle since childhood. He has provided music and therapy for disabled individuals and senior adults for a number of years. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and a Masters Degree in Therapeutic Recreation. When not playing fiddle and guitar, Larry writes plays. He is a former Jerome Foundation Resident Playwright at the Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis. He has had a number of shows produced in the Twin Cities area. Larry lives with his family in Minneapolis, MN
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