The Way We Were: Deanna and Mike Lissner

The Way We Were: Deanna and Mike Lissner
The Lissners, late 1990s: top row: Staci and Deanna; bottom row: Suzi, Mike, and Sheri

Deanna and Mike Lissner are a Jacksonville couple who believe strongly in giving back from the bounty they’ve been blessed with. For decades, they’ve been devoting their time, talent, and treasure to their beloved Jewish community and beyond. They’ve gone from being high school sweethearts to 62 years married. They’ve brought forth children and grandchildren, instilling in them this lesson: “We need to give to others because we’re very fortunate in our lives,” Deanna said.

June 27, 1960, Mr. and Mrs. Lissner’s first dance
June 27, 1960, Mr. and Mrs. Lissner’s first dance

Deanna is a Jacksonville native, born in Riverside as Deanna Moss. She lived on Ingleside Avenue and attended Fishweir Elementary School until her family moved to Holly Lane in Southside, San Marco, and Deanna transferred to Hendricks Avenue Elementary. She became friends with the Wolfson family who lived nearby. Sometimes, Deanna and Carol Wolfson would walk to school together, Landon High. It was there in 1955, as a junior, that Deanna met Michael (Mike) Lissner, a new transfer student from New York.

In 1956, Deanna and Mike walked together down their first aisle at high school graduation. “We were very much in love as seniors,” Mike said. Wanting to be sure that this was “it,” Deanna went off to Florida Southern College in Lakeland while Mike remained behind and attended Jacksonville University, which was the new name for the former Jacksonville Junior College. “We decided we just couldn’t live without each other, and I transferred down to Florida Southern in the middle of our freshman year,” Mike said. The couple walked together down their second aisle at college graduation in 1960, Deanna holding a degree in elementary education and Mike holding one in business administration.

“Then, we walked down the real aisle,” Deanna said of their June 1960 marriage at the Jacksonville Jewish Center in Springfield at the corner of Third and Silver. At that time, there were no apartments in Southside. As a young, working couple, the Lissners lived in Arlington. Deanna taught second grade at nearby Parkland Heights Elementary. Mike entered the Moss family business, The Young Men’s Shop, a retail clothing store.

Ann Lissner, mother of Mike, as credit manager at The Young Men’s Shop
Ann Lissner, mother of Mike, as credit manager at The Young Men’s Shop
Times Union article
Times Union article

The business had been family-owned for over eight decades, begun by Deanna’s uncle in 1919. Her father joined him in the 1930s. Her husband, Mike, joined them in 1960. Mike’s mom, Ann Lissner, moved to Jacksonville in the 1970s as a widow and started working for the store as credit manager, a bookkeeper. She remained there for nearly 25 years. In the ’80s, when Deanna’s dad passed away, her mother, Betty Moss, ran the store together with Mike. Their building in downtown Jacksonville at the corner of Main and Duval Streets was taken over by the City of Jacksonville by eminent domain in 2002 to make way for the parking garage that’s across the street from the public library.

Deanna left the public school system after a couple of years so that she and Mike could start a family. In 1962, they built a house on San Bernado Drive off San Jose Boulevard and filled it with three daughters—Suzi, Sheri, and Staci—and a dachshund named Missy, who was with the Lissners for 17 years. “It was rough at times,” Mike said of living in a household surrounded by so many females. “But it was lots of fun. I love being a dad.” In 1974, the family moved across San Jose Boulevard to Cathedral Oaks, where Deanna and Mike still reside today, nearly 50 years later.

The Lissner girls attended Jacksonville Jewish Center Day School and Wolfson High School. They were involved with local Brownies and Girl Scouts troops. They attended Miss Mervyn’s dance classes on Hendricks Avenue. Mike was interested in all their activities.

In the 1970s, Deanna and Mike saw a need for another synagogue in Jacksonville, a conservative one. They joined a group of others who agreed and started Beth Shalom Congregation on Sunbeam Road. It lasted 39 years and had grown from 12 to 200+ families strong. Deanna and Mike both served stints as presidents. When Beth Shalom’s doors closed, the land and memorabilia were donated to the Jacksonville Jewish Center, making the Lissners honorary trustees.

Also in the ’70s, Deanna used her credentials in elementary education to help create a preschool, Gan Yeladim—in Hebrew meaning ‘the garden of children.’ She taught there for more than two decades before retiring. The school is still active and now located in the Jewish Community Alliance building on San Jose.

Not long after her retirement, Deanna realized, “I had to do something with children.” And as if bringing full circle her connection to the Wolfsons as a young girl, Deanna became a volunteer member of the Wolfson Auxiliary Board. Her service to the children’s hospital continues today, more than 20 years later. “Mike and I have done charity work all of our lives,” Deanna said.

400 North Main Street, Downtown Jacksonville, 2008
400 North Main Street, Downtown Jacksonville, 2008

After The Young Men’s Shop closed, Mike worked in the procurement division for the City of Jacksonville. “It was a natural for me, coming from retail,” he said. Upon retirement from employment in 2009, Mike continued his volunteer service to the community and still does. He is an active board member at River Garden Senior Services, involved with the organization since the 1980s. For a time, he was president of The Coves, an independent living community on the River Garden campus. He is proud that River Garden is a nine-time recipient of the Governor’s Gold Seal Award and that Newsweek has ranked River Garden Hebrew Home #1 in the state of Florida among America’s Best Nursing Homes in 2022. 

The Lissners are Zionistic; they believe in the state of Israel. They’ve made more than a dozen trips there and have developed close bonds with Israeli people. Their travels have taken them to a plethora of other places as well, like to France, Holland, and Italy. Pre-pandemic, they were fans of river cruises. Domestically, they’ve toured plenty of U.S. parks.

Mike and Deanna Lissner, December 31, 2021
Mike and Deanna Lissner, December 31, 2021

Back at home, Deanna and Mike enjoy cooking together and hosting family gatherings for all holidays, Jewish and otherwise. They usually have 12 to 14 people come to their home. Their two youngest daughters and their spouses live nearby and have given them two granddaughters and two grandsons. Though they miss their eldest daughter who passed away in 2016, their lives remain very full.

Deanna and Mike are still “very much in love as seniors,” just as Mike said that they were 66 years ago at Landon High. “We think alike. A lot of times, we finish each other’s sentences. I say, ‘Yes, Dear’ a lot,” Mike admitted with a chuckle. On June 27 of this year, the Lissners celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary. “We’re soulmates,” Deanna and Mike agreed simultaneously.

By Mary Wanser
Resident Community News

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