On a crisp spring evening in May, we joined Zev and Renee Feder at their cozy Southwest DC townhouse to profile a long-time community leader and friend of many.
Zev is a humble but frank Southwest resident who many Southwesters may have never met, but those who have tend not to forget him. Thelma and I were grateful for the opportunity to get to know this successful coach, father, businessman, and community savant on a different level.
Growing up with limited opportunities in a project in Queens, NY, Zev and his compadres found their passion on the blacktop and concrete ball fields behind their residences. Despite his parents’ continued discouragement, Zev took every opportunity possible to play baseball, regularly getting up at 5 am to play. His early morning forays would help to inspire his lifelong passion for the sport.
One of his greatest childhood memories was when his father took him to a Brooklyn Dodgers game. He fondly remembers going to many games and being able to claim the best (available) seats at the end of the second inning, a common practice at the time but now frequently discouraged. Learning how to swing by watching television, Zev would go on to become an excellent baseball player. He played all infield positions, but often preferred second base.
At Brooklyn College he majored in Physical Education before becoming a gym teacher. Not one to shy away from a challenge, Zev accepted a Peace Corps assignment in 1973 to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso in West Africa. He taught the youth there how to play soccer in French – a sport he’d never played in a language he barely knew.
He mentioned that shortly before he departed for the Peace Corps he was lucky to have met Renee on a baseball field… At that point in the conversation, Renee quickly interrupted with a story of her own – one about an aspiring transcendental meditation teacher dancing at a bar and finding love-at-first-sight. Regardless of their feelings, however, both assumed the romantic entanglement would be short-lived.
As fate would have it, Zev quickly experienced a series of skin infections in Ouagadougou, thus becoming, as he put it, a “living Petri dish.” So, after several months Zev returned to Washington, recovered, and wed Renee in December, 1973.
Their romantic relationship would blossom into a successful business relationship. Developing an interest in court reporting, they soon went on to create their successful company, Feder Reporting. Originally living in Old Town Alexandria, they settled in Silver Spring to raise their two daughters. Fortunately for Zev, one of his daughters became a softball player. Zev immediately became his daughter Erica’s team coach and the first lesson was how to catch (sock) balls. Zev’s advice, including the proverbial “don’t swing like a girl” proved successful. Erica went on to play varsity level as a freshman in high school.
When the nest emptied, the Feders moved to Southwest. They loved it so much that they encouraged their friends to follow. Two of those friends actually provided a brief interlude to our interview when they unexpectedly dropped off a delicious homemade strawberry pie.
Zev became the Homeowner Association’s President, brought on new management, and lowered costs. Eventually he got more interested in the larger community, following up on his early adulthood when he would often go door-to-door promoting his favored politician.
At the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly (SWNA) board meetings, he was an impressively staunch contrarian. He unapologetically offered counsel or raised concerns that others hadn’t effectively considered during his tenure as District 1 Representative.
Of course, most Southwesters know Zev for his National’s columns published monthly in The Southwester, the voice of the Assembly. These entertaining yet sage columns would discern things that the baseball team could address. Ironically, several hours before our interview, Zev had been an honored guest at a National’s game. He was invited to go on the field and meet the players. The relationships and respect Zev developed in community meetings, columns, and personal conversations were inevitably the reason for the invitation.
As the evening came to a close, Zev shared some final thoughts with us:
“Redevelopment of Southwest presents a tremendous opportunity for residents to become part of a new, better neighborhood…Own something…Pick up your litter…Expect effort to improve behavior and environment.
My daughters think I have taught them to ‘swing hard’ where they have chosen to play and find things they love to put effort into. So my lawyer daughter became a public defender rather than a corporate lawyer, and my nurse practitioner daughter works at HIV/AIDS/drug rehabilitation clinics.
By Kael Anderson and Thelma D. Jones
Kael Anderson is the president of SWNA. Thelma D. Jones is a SWNA board member and breast cancer survivor.
On the morning of May 23rd, Zev Feder passed away. He will not be easily forgotten in our Southwest community. The Feder family thanks you for your love and support during this time. Please see The Southwester online for details regarding his memorial service.
Editor’s Note: “Doing Good” is The Southwester’s newest monthly column. Have someone in mind who is making an impact in our community? Please send your articles to email@example.com.