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Obituary of Zella Esrock: Longtime food columnist for St. Louis Jewish Light

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 4, 2012 - Zella Esrock, whose “love affair with food” led her to write the popular “Zella’s Place” cooking column for the St. Louis Jewish Light for 23 years, died March 26 at her home in Chesterfield. She had suffered from late stage lung cancer, family members said. She was 86 and a longtime resident of Chesterfield.

Mrs. Esrock published her “Zella’s Place” column in the Jewish Light from 1972 until 1985. The column contained well-researched and audited recipes from French cuisine to everyday fare. Her son, Allen Esrock said, “Her columns were embedded in whimsical, home spun bits of her family life, travels and activities in the St. Louis area.” He added that she also cared deeply about public service.

Esrock said that she and her husband of 65 years, Elmer Esrock, along with partners started the first integrated restaurant in St. Louis, Park-N-Eat, whose opening ribbon was cut by the singer Lena Horne. Mrs. Esrock also served as president of Temple Israel’s Sisterhood and was the first woman to serve on its board of directors. She devoted herself to other philanthropic activities, among them the Arthritis Foundation, where she was board member and co-chair of its Annual Silver Ball.

“Most of all, she loved her family deeply, especially her husband, Elmer, whom she married in 1946, in part because she was a wonderful dancer, and they never stopped dancing for 65 years,” her son said.

Present and past members of the Jewish Light staff were saddened that Mrs. Esrock died within days of Dorothy Solomon, who had been a longtime sales person for the Light. Carol Lundgren, a former executive editor of the Light said, “Zella and Dorothy. Two legends. All of us enjoyed working with both of them for so many years. I know that our readers loved her ‘Zella’s Place’ column and she took part in all of our staff holiday parties and other events.”

Zella Grosberg Esrock was born in St. Louis on July 4, 1925. Her parents were the late Barney Grosberg and Rena Goldstone Grosberg. She graduated from University City High School in 1943, and attended one year at the Washington University School of Fine Arts. After college, she was a homemaker and businessperson. She worked as the button and trimming buyer for the women’s clothing firm of Corfil Silverman, a division of Forest City Garment Co. At the urging of friends, she started her “Zella’s Place” cooking column which ran for 13 years until her retirement in 1985.

Allen Esrock said his favorites among his mother’s dishes included white brownies, beef Wellington, osso bucco and rib eye roast. He added that he was especially proud of his mother’s philanthropic and volunteer activities. “My mother represented the very best of a generation of Jewish American women who raised strong families, championed progressive social causes and participated in philanthropic efforts. ... She wore her cloak of leadership with grace, charm, humor and a red Lucy wig.”

Esrock said that one of his favorite “mom anecdotes took place at my wedding. I was a rising writer and Brandon Tartikoff was president of NBC and a good friend of ours. After a few shots of tequilla, Brandon approached me and said, ‘I may not be able to get you a writing gig, but I’d give your mom a half-hour standup routine right now.’”

Zella Esrock often wove homespun wisdom and humor into her cooking column, as in her “Zella’s guilty pleasure,” which ran on March 21, 1984. “I know I’m not doing the right thing but I can’t help myself. Instead of this sinfully rich, delicious-tasting cheesecake I’m offering today, I should be giving you succulent dishes of fresh vegetables,” she wrote.

In addition to her husband and son Allen (Ellen Ginsburg) Esrock, Mrs. Esrock is survived by a daughter, Ellen Esrock (Edward McClennen); a sister, Charlotte Schachter; a brother, Ralph Grosberg (Shirley) and four grandchildren. She was preceded in death by a brother, Elliott Grosberg, and a sister, Kali Grosberg.

Funeral services were held on March 30 at New Mount Sinai Cemetery Mausoleum.

Contributions in her memory may be made to the West County Multiple Sclerosis Center of St. Louis, 1176 Town & Country Commons, Chesterfield, Mo. 63017.

Robert A. Cohn is editor-in-chief emeritus at the St. Louis Jewish Light where this article first appeared.