Moe Dinner’s rags-to-riches story would be hard to believe if it weren’t true. And the drive he harnessed to help create two American industries also powers his passion for Jewish education. Seattle Cheder will show its appreciation for his friendship and commitment at 5:30 p.m. on March 11 at its fourth annual dinner, auction and raffle in the Dome Room of the Arctic Building.
Moe was the youngest of Joseph and Esther Dinner’s seven children in Little Falls, Minn. His parents immigrated from Russia and Romania, respectively, and met in Minneapolis. He grew up in a home with outdoor plumbing and kerosene lamps. Moe remembers his father, who owned a scrap business, spending much time studying holy books. The family was not wealthy and Moe worked almost since he can remember, starting at age 7 as a newsboy, shining shoes, then moving on to other jobs through his youth.
College was out of Moe’s reach, so he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps when he graduated from high school. It was 1936 and the Great Depression held the nation in a tight grip. The CCC sent Moe to Washington.
He rose in the ranks, becoming a group leader. “I know how to handle tough men,” he says. “Just be straight with them.” Moe sent home $25 of the $30 he earned each month and saved the rest so he could go to business college. He reached that goal, graduating from Seattle Secretarial School just before the United States entered World War II.
During this time he met Myra Greenfield of Seattle. They married in 1942. Moe had been drafted in 1941 and the wedding took place while he was on leave from the Army. They later had two daughters, Barbara and Patricia. In the years after the war, Myra and Moe struggled together to establish their business. In later years Myra, who had diabetes, was in poor health and Moe lovingly saw to her care. She passed away in 1979.
The Army, like the CCC, saw Moe’s leadership abilities. He became an officer and reached the rank of captain. He led soldiers in North Africa, Sicily and Italy before shipping off to the Philippines, where he finished his tour of duty.
Moe returned home and began Dinner Stenography Service with Myra in 1946. They typed and transcribed at first. As business grew, Moe saw that many companies could attract customers by mailing advertisements directly to homes and offices. Dinner Stenography became Dinner Mail Advertising Service. Moe bought printing and labeling equipment. He capitalized on his name to attract customers with slogans like “Are you hungry for business? Come to Dinner.”
This was a new and developing industry at the time. Moe had to sell potential clients on the concept and it was important for the client to profit from the deal. “I’ve always believed in taking a little and giving a little. Always let the other guy make a buck,” he said. A merger in 1959 created Dinner and Klein, which became a commercial printing fixture in the Northwest with significant real estate holdings in Seattle’s south-of-downtown industrial area.
Pioneering a new industry might seem enough for one career, but Moe doesn’t work that way. Dinner and Klein started Sudden Printing in 1969. Sudden Printing and other quick printers that followed gave everyone access to copying and publishing services that once only large offices and companies could afford. For years Sudden Printing was the Northwest’s leading quick printer and remains a familiar and trusted name.
In 1982 the quick-printing industry’s trade association named Moe their man of the year and honored him in 1993 as an industry founder. Dinner and Klein was sold in 1983. Moe was 65, but the move hardly marked his retirement. There’s been plenty to keep him busy.
Moe is a fifth-degree black belt in karate. He took his first karate lesson in 1971 and earned his first black belt four years later. Karate promotes strength and health, he says, and it gives discipline and good values to young people. Moe treasures his karate experiences very highly. He managed the U.S. Maccabiah karate team at the 1985, ’89 and ’93 world games. He has taken Maccabiah and other amateur teams to other competitions as well. Members of his team earned gold medals. Moe himself received the Washington Karate Association Best Competitor Cup in 1976.
Finding cures for diseases is another passion. Myra’s diabetes prompted Moe to energetically support research into that illness. He helped endow a diabetes chair at the University of Washington Medical School. A karate student, the grandson of a dear friend, contracted leukemia. The young man recovered, but Moe felt compelled to take action. He played an instrumental role in establishing a local chapter of the Leukemia Society of America.
In 1982, the Jewish Education Council awarded Moe its Certificate of Appreciation for his strong, active support of Jewish schooling. “That’s the way to the future,” he says. “Jewish education really disciplines and does a job for the children. It gives them belief and value systems. I urge everybody to support Jewish Education.”
The Holocaust is one of his keen interests. In 1995, he combined his concern over Holocaust remembrance with his passion for education by making a major gift to the Washington Holocaust Education Resource Center, which provides curriculum materials and guest speakers to schools around the state. Through Holocaust studies, Washington students learn the importance of mutual respect and tolerance.
Little Falls, left behind, never left Moe’s mind. In 1981 he made a memorial to his parents and a gift to his hometown. He presented a granite bench engraved in memory of Joseph and Esther. The bench stands downtown, affording rest to weary pedestrians, near the site of his father’s shop.
Like his biblical namesake, Moses, Moe is a modest person. His many awards and certificates hang in a back room of his home. He’s proud of them, to be sure, but takes more satisfaction in the goals he has worked toward than in the recognition he has received. “I can’t take my honors to the bank,” he notes.
He earned every accomplishment through hard, unrelenting, satisfying work. At 83 he works out daily, as befits a black belt. And he has taken on a new – or renewed – interest: He visits Seattle Cheder regularly to meet with Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky and delve into some of the same Torah books that so deeply absorbed his father many years ago in Little Falls.
“My dad was very religious,” he recalls. “At the Cheder I see what I’ve always believed about Jewish education at work. I see children who are going to keep their Jewish values all their lives. They get really structured, very intense learning that’s not easy, but gives them discipline. They’ll have rounded, good lives that they’ll appreciate. Jewish education like that makes better citizens. I could have avoided a lot of mistakes with that kind of education.”
Moe has taken up the Cheder’s cause. “I believe in helping small organizations,” he explains. His donation of a $90,000 land parcel is the largest ever presented to the Cheder. “We’re astonished and very grateful,” Cheder President Sarah Parent reacts.
“The main thing is do your best,” Moe says. “I go to bed each night thinking I’ve done my best.” To register for the Menachem Mendel Seattle Cheder dinner on March 11, call 206-523-9766.