More than 1,500 dignitaries, family members and friends gathered to celebrate the life of Murray Lender, the philanthropist and food executive whose family bagel business Lender’s Bagels is credited with nationalizing an ethnic staple, at a funeral service on Sunday in Woodbridge.
Lender, formerly of Woodbridge, died from complications of a fall in Aventura, Fla., on March 21 at the age of 81. The service took place at the Congregation B’Nai Jacob.
Rabbi Joel Levenson, who officiated at the service on Sunday, remembered Lender as having “a smile that would fill this sanctuary. He loved to make all of us happy,” Levenson said.
Throughout a service that took place on a chill, gray day, Lender was remembered for his warmth, his joy—and, frequently, his shenanigans.
His daughter Haris, one of the speakers at the event, conceded that in his later years her father would "collect" menus from the many restaurants he visited as he traveled around the world. She noted that, shortly before he died, the family announced that the next Murrary Lender project would consist of the family’s returning those menus—and that her father laughed.
'Bigger than life'
Lender was also remembered for his work ethic. As he began his recovery from a stroke he suffered 13 years ago, his son Carl recalled seeing his father in his pajamas in the early afternoon. Before that time, he said, he had never known his father owned pajamas, because, the son said, Lender was away at work when the he got up and still at work when he went to bed.
“In many ways, my brother was bigger than life,” Lender's younger brother Marvin said.
Among the elected officials present at the service were Congressman Rosa DeLauro (D-3) and Senators Joseph Lieberman and Richard Blumenthal.
In addition to his remaining brother and two of his three children, Lender was eulogized by famed forensic pathologist Cyril H. Wecht, M.D., J.D. and Dr. John Lahey, who serves as president of Quinnipiac University.
Lender held an associate degree from the Junior College of Commerce, which is today Quinnipiac University in Hamden, although he later received a doctor of humane letters and also served as a trustee at the school.
Wecht praised Lender for his lack of disingenuousness and, especially after his stroke, his absence of self-pity. Lahey, who also recalled Lender's decency, fondly thought back to the green bagels that Lender would deliver to his office on St. Patrick's Day.
Murray Issac Lender was born on Oct. 29, 1930 in New Haven. He was one of six children of Harry and Rose Braighter Lender.
Harry Lender had emigrated to this country from Lublin, Poland in 1927, moving to New Haven shortly thereafter. At first, the family lived on Oak Street—today the Oak Street Connector or Conn. 34 Expressway—before moving with its “New York Bagel Bakery” to Baldwin Street in 1934.
In the 1940’s, the family bought a summer cottage on what was called “bagel beach” in the Woodmont section of Milford. It was in Woodmont, according to Wecht, that he met Lender at the age of 13. He said that the two became fast and lifelong friends.
Today, the Murray Lender Playground occupies the site at the John C. Daniels School in New Haven where the Baldwin Street bagel bakery once stood.
After taking his associate’s degree from the Junior College of Commerce (today, Quinnipiac University), Lender served for two years in the U.S. Army before joining the family bakery business full-time in 1955, one year after it had begun freezing bagels. Eventually, the family retailed their bagels pre-sliced.
Murray, the marketing whiz in the family, served as president of Lender’s Bagels from 1974 to 1982 and chairman two years later when the family company, by then the world’s largest bagel producer, was sold to Kraft Foods. Pinnacle Foods Group bought the company in 2003.
Murray Lender was predeceased by his parents, two of his brothers—Hymen and Samuel—and his two sisters Anna and Helen. He is survived by his wife Gilda Winnick Lender of Aventura, his brother Marvin of Naples. Fla., his daughter Haris, two sons and eight grandchildren.
According to the Robert E. Shure Funeral Home, a period of mourning will be observed at 7 Country Club Drive in Woodbridge on Monday and Tuesday between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. and between 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.