Michael Ely Schonbach
Northampton, MA — Michael Ely Schonbach, long-time resident of Northampton, died peacefully on June 2, 2022, after a brief illness.
Michael was born in New York City on July 4, 1948, son of Leonard Schonbach and Vera Appermann Schonbach. His parents were Holocaust survivors, escaping from Germany. They became engaged in 1937, but because of Nazi restrictions were unable to wed and were then separated by the war. Leonard fled the Nazis, joined the French army, was captured, escaped, eventually getting to the US. He then became a member of the Ritchie Boys, an elite US Army intelligence unit, consisting largely of German-speaking Jewish refugees, who served in Europe. Leonard and Vera were reunited and married in England in 1944. The couple settled in New York City. Leonard was an accountant in the film industry; and Vera was a collector and dealer in a variety of quirky objects.
Michael was very proud of his father's accomplishments in WWII, and was, in many ways, like his father: soft-spoken, with remarkable reserves of intelligence and perception.
Michael grew up on West 56th Street in Manhattan, attended local New York City public schools through sixth grade and then attended and graduated from The Franklin School on West 89th Street in 1966. Michael was on the debate team at Franklin and developed a lifelong aptitude for cogently arguing an issue or telling a story.
Michael attended Brandeis University, graduating in 1970 with a degree in politics. During his senior year he attended the University of Ife in Nigeria as a Sachar Fellow of Brandeis University. While living in Nigeria was challenging, he came away with a lifelong love of African art, music, and culture.
Michael returned briefly to New York City after college, working for the City. The major outcome of that period of his life was meeting Judy Polan, a recent Barnard graduate who was to become the love of his life. They moved to Cambridge, MA, and married in August 1974.
While in Cambridge, Michael developed interests in music, learning fiddle, playing bell chimes, and consuming a broad range of music. Judy, in the meantime, continued to develop as a performer and song writer, with Michael sometimes providing accompaniment. He also continued to work on painting and drawing. Among his many insightful and entertaining drawings were caricatures of the major players in the Watergate scandal and a series of psychedelic broadsides entitled "Dear Emperor Hirohito," taken from the drive to end Japanese whaling. In the early 1970's he also began his involvement in the ice cream business, working as the late-night clean-up person at the original Steve's Ice Cream in Somerville, becoming lifelong friends with the founder, Steve Herrell, and eventually becoming a manager when Herrell's opened in Northampton. He also employed his artistic skills painting the fanciful menu signs for both these well-known Massachusetts ice cream parlors.
After moving to Northampton in 1977, Michael's longtime vocation was as a record collector and dealer. Naming his business "Still Records After All These Years," he had a world-wide following of customers who appreciated his expertise in many musical genres, particularly folk music of the British Isles. As a musician he played the piano and performed back-up violin on Judy's recordings, including on the acclaimed albums "Judy Judy Judy", "Look to the Stars", and "Dream Dances". He also shared his encyclopedic knowledge of popular music teaching classes on 1960's music at the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts High School.
Michael had a range of enthusiasms and a capacity for minutia related to his interests. These included--but certainly were not limited to--sports, with enthusiasm for the Red Sox and a lifelong passion for the Brooklyn and then Los Angeles Dodgers (not ever entirely forgiving the move). He also delighted in sharing recordings of groups and performers he discovered in his musical research.
For both Michael and Judy, their breadth of interests and openness to learning led to an enjoyment of travel in the United States, Europe, and Israel, but most frequently to Scotland and England, where they developed a collection of favorite places, inns, restaurants, historic houses, and friends.
In the words of the 1958 song by the Teddy Bears, "To know him is to love him." Michael was a kind, gentle, loyal, and caring person. His warmth, curiosity and focused interest were felt by all who met him. Michael was there for people and, in recent years was particularly devoted to caring for Judy. He also was someone with a keen sense of humor, as well as a great ability to tell a story. He left us too soon, but his family and friends are thankful for the ways in which their lives were enriched by knowing him.
In addition to his wife Judy, Michael is survived by his beloved nephew, Theo, a bevy of longtime friends, and both his and Judy's families and extended families.