Frieda and Leonard Saraga

Frieda and Leonard Saraga

Frieda Saraga of San Marco was born in Gary, Indiana and came to Jacksonville at age seven. Her parents, Rose and Max Hochman, and grandparents, Sophie and Nathan Hochman, opened a grocery store on the west side in the Woodstock area. While attending Annie Morris Elementary, John Gorrie Junior High and Robert E. Lee High School, Frieda and her brother Ralph grew up working in Hochman’s Grocery after school and on weekends. “Those were the days when you were expected to work in the family business,” recalled Frieda, “and that tradition continued when my husband and I were raising our children.”

It is a tradition that runs deep on both sides of their family. When Leonard Saraga met Frieda Hochman met, he was 17 and working after school and weekends at his parents’ store, Gateway Army-Navy Surplus downtown on Bay Street.

“Leonard’s family had recently moved here from New York and he didn’t know a lot of people, so his mother and my mother decided it would be a good idea if he met a girl in the Jewish community,” said Frieda. The matchmaking worked. Two years later, on December 24, 1950, the couple married. “We were married at the home of family friends. I was just in a suit – not a wedding gown.  We never had a silver or china list. We just had great parents who were there for us in many ways with love and caring – thank God, at the time, my parents had the grocery store, so we didn’t starve.”

When Frieda looks back at those days, she remembers “I was 17 and he was 19 when we married, and we thought we knew everything.” Thirteen months after their wedding, Paula, the first of their five children, was born. Their sons, Rubin and Scott, came next, and then twin daughters, Sharon and Marie.

Saraga_Wedding

Leonard attended the University of Florida briefly but came home to help his mother when his father      became ill, and began working for his in-laws, whose original grocery store had by then become  Hochman’s Western Wear and General Clothing Store on North Edgewood Avenue, serving the large  farming population in the Woodstock area. Leonard and Frieda attended Jones Business College and  worked at Hochman’s during the early years of their marriage, and in 1959, they opened Plaza Western  Wear at the original Phillips Mall on Phillips Highway, later changing the name to Saraga’s Western  Wear.

As the children were growing up, all of them worked in the store with their parents. “On Christmas and  Easter breaks from school, they only wished my husband was a lawyer so they could spend the holidays  like other kids,” joked Frieda, “but looking back, they learned a lot about dealing with people by working  in the business and it has helped them as they faced challenges in life.”

Thirty years ago, when the Villages of San Jose were first built, the Saraga family moved into their present home. They are active members of the Jacksonville Jewish Center and the Temple, Congregation Ahavath Chesed, both on San Jose Blvd.

Eventually, Saraga’s clothing stores expanded to three locations. “Our hope was that someday we’d retire and our sons would take over, but it wasn’t to be,” said Frieda. In 1988, Saraga’s went out of business.

Saraga_Family

The family business had put all five of their children through college and served them well, but now the Saragas were in their mid-50s and out of work. After trying several ventures, Leonard Saraga went with Target and, at 82, he continues to work as a cashier. “Leonard comes from the old school that if you’re not bringing in money, you’re not accomplishing anything,” said Frieda, adding that after their stores closed, her son Scott suggested that she begin doing HIV testing and counseling. “As the mother of three gay children, I had the compassion for that type of work,” Frieda said, noting that for the past five years she has spent her weekends working for the Department of Health at the Duval County Jail.

An advocate for gay rights and a long-time community educator with Planned Parenthood, in 1991 Frieda Saraga co-founded with Judy Higgison a weekly HIV/AIDS Support Group called Positive Attitudes of Jacksonville, Inc. and in 1992, the Saragas founded the Jacksonville Chapter of PFLAG (a national organization that provides support, education and advocacy for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons, their friends and families). In 1996, PFLAG established an annual college scholarship program for deserving youth in the LGBT community.

In 2013, Frieda Saraga was a deserving recipient of the OneJax Award. “Anything I’ve done in the community was because of my son Scott,” said Frieda. “His constant encouragement and his belief that I could do it was the catalyst.”

Sadly, Scott Saraga lost his battle with an eating disorder and passed away at age 55 in April of this year. As is the Jewish tradition, the Saraga family sat Shiva for seven days in their San Marco home, covering the mirrors and allowing others to bring food and do the daily chores.  “No parent is meant to bury their child,” said Frieda. “Leonard and I will never recover completely, but we have also never felt such an outpouring of love from friends and family.”  Marveling, especially, at the comfort given to one another by her children, Frieda noted that “being gay or not was never a question with my kids. It was simply ‘this is my brother, this is my sister.’”
Wife of 63 years, mother of five, grandmother of three (Rubin’s daughter Ashley, and sons Zachary and Jake), business woman and active community volunteer, Frieda Saraga spends her days reaching out to help others.

“We’ve walked the road and survived,” she said. “Leonard and I thought we knew everything at ages 19 and 17. We know more now. Life is a great adventure.”

By Susan Brandenburg

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (4 votes, average: 4.75 out of 5)
Loading...

You must be logged in to post a comment Login