Nathan Joseph Yablon (1927-2018)
We miss our kind, loving Nat Yablon: husband to “Buby,” father of two, grandfather of five, brother of one, friend to many, music lover, news junkie like his mother and a son, WWII Naval Veteran, professional baseball player, and life insurance broker. Nat died peacefully May 14, 2018, in Houston, TX, at age 91. He missed his goal of living to 100 by just 9%. But we know he is merely on vacation until we meet again in Heaven.
Nat lived the true American love story. His dad’s family risked everything for a better life by escaping war-torn Poland in the 1920s. His dad, Max Yablon, the son of a Polish Rabbi, was shot while in the Polish Army and became a New York tailor and textile union representative. His mom’s family did the same by escaping the Russian Bolshevik Revolution. His mom, Anne Yablon, was a professional Russian opera singer, news junkie, and daughter of an industrialist. Max and Anne migrated to Paris, France, where they met, married, and later gave birth to Nat on April 26, 1927.
Immigrating to America through Ellis Island
Always wanting better for their children, the Yablons immigrated through Ellis Island to Brooklyn, NY, where Nat’s sister, Lillian Yablon, was born. At Ellis Island the family name “Jablonovsky” was shortened to “Yablon.” Nat graduated high school early just like his oldest grandchild, Natalie Yablon. And being a true patriot, 17-year-old Nat volunteered for active duty in the U.S. Navy in WWII to beat the Nazis and similar fascists that ran his family out of eastern Europe and threatened his new homeland.
He often said he was a proud American—no hyphens needed—despite being an Eastern European Jewish immigrant not welcomed in some circles. And though some relatives who immigrated here never learned English and his parents’ natural languages were Yiddish, Polish, and Russian, Nat and his parents spoke impeccable English. He often corrected his young children when they said “y’all” instead of “you” or “you all.”
Baseball Was Very, Very Good to Frenchy (and Cynthia)
Nat did not make his high school baseball team, but he perfected his baseball skills in the Navy. After the war, he took a train across America and tried out for professional baseball when the majors had just 16 teams instead of the current 30 teams. For seven years, he landed spots with the Peoria Chiefs, the Macon Peaches, and others who were affiliates of the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, Washington Senators, and Cleveland Indians. The press called him “Frenchy,” which stuck with our wonderful Georgia relatives. For his career statistics, see https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=yablon001nat#.
While in Macon, Georgia, Frenchy gained fame and long-lasting love. As for fame, he pitched against Hall of Famer Hammerin’ Hank Aaron who was in Jacksonville in the Sally League. Frenchy would laugh and say, “I threw ’em (baseballs), and Hank would knock ’em over the fence.” Decades later, son Mark got Frenchy and Hank together at a baseball card show. Hank was the homerun king. Both players reminisced and autographed a comparison essay on them that Mark had written in school.
But it was in Macon where Nat found everlasting love on a blind date: a Georgia peach named Cynthia Powell. Cynthia’s younger sister Evelyn needed to double date with Cynthia—Cynthia had the car. So Nat, who did not party according to Cynthia, was hanging out at The Macon Hotel where the players stayed after a game and was an easy setup for a last-minute double-date.
But not so fast. It took six weeks before Nat could land their first kiss. Cynthia was a proper Primitive Baptist with strict rules. Nat may have been a carpetbagger from the north, but he was no fool. So he followed her lead.
He was traded to Peoria in 1953, which ended their courtship. After the 1954 season, Nat left baseball because he felt she would never marry a poor ball player. He took a job at DJ’s Clothing Store in New York. Meanwhile, Cynthia earned her Bachelor of Arts in sociology from Mercer University about the same time.
Love Letters and a Wedding—His Only Wedding
“After Nat retired from baseball, he sent me a letter saying he left baseball and was going to settle down,” Cynthia said. “But I thought he was getting married to someone else. It was like a Dear John letter, so I thought.”
Rather than impetuously responding, Cynthia coyly wrote she had joined the Navy and would go to Officer Candidate School in Newport, RI. A Southern Belle who waits to be asked, she let Nat invite her to visit by saying she would be in New York City. So he invited her to visit. After more than a year apart, she spent the weekend with Nat and his family. Nat wasted no time that weekend: he proposed; she accepted.
Did Cynthia join the Navy as an excuse to see her heartthrob? He did affectionately call her his “groupie of one.” Or was it just a coincidence that OCS happened to be so close to Nat?
Back in the day, there was no social media, no email, and no free long-distance. So people occasionally wrote letters. But Nat wrote his mom daily when he was away. Cynthia thought, “Any man who is attentive enough to write his mom every day is good enough for me.” After their reunion, Nat wrote Cynthia love letters daily.
More delays. Being the deep south in 1956, they could not find a church or a synagogue to marry in. They also could not find a rabbi or a traditional preacher to officiate. So Cynthia’s minister friend, William Saloom, married them in Macon’s Sidney Lanier Cottage. But, thankfully, both sets of parents welcomed the marriage. Nat and Cynthia frolicked through 61 years of wedded bliss.
Pasadena, Texas circa 1967
The clothing business sent them up and down the east coast and the south. Steins Clothing brought them to Pasadena, TX, in 1967. Soon, Nat saw industry changes that made life financially and personally challenging for the family man he was, so he again built a new career. This time as a life insurance broker. He owned and operated The Nat Yablon Insurance Agency for most of his adult life. He had great joy and success helping people plan their futures and protect against financial difficulties of losing a loved one.
With his new freedom and improving financial security, he taught his two sons and their friends baseball (although Bill was a better ballplayer and student!), love of God and family, admiration of free enterprise, and respect for country.
He also loved music, particularly Frank Sinatra, Glen Miller, and Dean Martin. We brought his old-style record-cassette player to Memorial Hermann Hospital Texas Medical Center. The kind nurses took good care of him and helped ensure he could enjoy his music during his last month on earth. As for news, he always read the Houston Chronicle and Pasadena Citizen and watched multiple news stations to get the real story.
Despite not going to college, Nat made it clear in his usual unassuming way that Bill and Mark would go to college. As Nat’s parents wanted a better life for him, Nat wanted a better life for his sons and grandchildren. Bill earned a B.S. and M.S. in electrical engineering from Texas A&M and an M.B.A. from Loyola University-Baltimore Maryland. Mark followed with a B.B.A. in business-journalism from Baylor University. Over the last few years, Nat would say he wanted to live long enough to see Mark graduate law school. Two days before Nat passed, Mark earned his J.D. from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law.
God blessed us by not taking Nat in a tragic accident or by ravaging cancer. Even his open-heart surgery for valve replacement and double by-pass, prostate cancer, back surgery, cellulitis, COPD, congestive heart failure, stints, pneumonia, and a dozen falls with nothing more than a large bump on his head didn't take him out. Looks like knowing how to slide into home plate came in handy! Parkinson's significantly affected him lately, and his April 10, 2018, bleeding stroke was the final straw.
We are thankful for Michael and Kim Beard of Wharton, TX, who connected us with their Rabbi Michael Vowell of Congregation Beth Messiah. Rabbi Michael and Kim sang Biblical songs and visited Nat in the hospital the day he died. We appreciate the loving staff who took care of Nat at Heartis Clear Lake Assisted Living Center and the friendly residents at Heartis. We are eternally grateful for longtime friends Arthur Bernhardt and Sheryl Stuchbery, the children of Nat and Cynthia’s best friends the former Sol and Joyce Bernhardt of Houston, TX. We also appreciate friend and former business associate Tony Labarre of Houston, TX. And we love our longtime Pasadena next-door neighbors Keith and Jo Newlin, DeVerde and Jan Nicklaus, and Marvin and June Trent.
Friends and family who knew Nat say he was one of the kindest, caring, and most likable and agreeable persons they ever met. His family and friends dearly miss him!
Nat is survived by his adoring wife, Cynthia Powell Yablon of Pasadena, TX; son William “Bill” Benjamin Yablon and his wife Mindy Herman of Pasadena, MD, and Mark Powell Yablon of McKinney, TX; Natalie Yablon of Dallas, TX, Taylor Kothe of Baltimore, MD, Caroline Yablon of McKinney, TX, Reagan Yablon of McKinney, TX, and Lillian “Lilly” Yablon of McKinney, TX; sister Lillian Yablon of West Hartford, CT; Cousin Rose Axelson of Delray Beach, FL; and numerous other relatives.
We are grateful for out-of-town family and friends who came to celebrate Nat’s life. Besides his sons and their immediate families, the following trekked across the country to be here: Nieces Nancy Shapiro of CT and Pat Bradley of GA; Nephews Andy Coggins and Bill Handley of GA; Sister-in-Laws Evelyn Powell Barken (who set up Nat & Cynthia’s blind date) and Willie Powell Boney (who accompanied older sister Cynthia to Nat’s home games) of GA; and family friends Don and Socorro Chamblee and their son Adam of McKinney, TX.
In lieu of flowers, feel free to donate to Nat’s favorite charities: Jewish War Veterans of the United States http://www.jwv.org/, The American Legion https://www.legion.org/, American Heart Association http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/, and Houston Area Parkinson Society https://www.hapsonline.org/.
Visitation Monday May 22, 2018, and Services Tuesday May 23, 2018
Visitation will be 5-8 pm Monday at Bradshaw-Carter Funeral Home, 1734 West Alabama Street, Houston, TX 77098. https://www.bradshawcarter.com/. Light snacks and drinks will be served.
Rabbi Michael Vowell will officiate the memorial service at 11 am Tuesday at Congregation Beth Messiah, 9001 West Airport Blvd., Houston, TX 77071. www.cbmhouston.org. Dad's favorite Jewish deli lunch will be served afterward in the fellowship hall.
Military honor guard services will be 2:15 pm Tuesday at the Veterans' Houston National Cemetery, 10410 Veterans Memorial Dr., Houston, TX 77038. www.cem.va.gov/cems/nchp/houston.asp.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
At the old ball game.