Foot doctors don’t always get the same respect as other physicians. During one of the longest podiatric careers in Illinois history, Dr. Harold Feder worked to change that.
He was recognized nationally for pushing to open up operating rooms to podiatrists and helping them obtain reimbursement from health insurance companies.
Dr. Feder treated thousands during 60 years as a podiatrist, starting at a time when he and other doctors with black medical bags still made house calls. He belonged to the Illinois Podiatric Medical Association for 70 years.
Another one of his associations went back even further. He was married 75 years to Selma Feder, whom he never stopped worshipping, even as dementia robbed him of memories.
“He could still look at my mom’s face and tell her how beautiful she was,” said Alvin, one of their four sons.
“Every day he would profess his love four, five, six times a day,” said his wife, who is 94. “He saw me as when we were courting, and I said ‘Honey, take your glasses off.’ And he said, ‘My eyes are good. You’re beautiful.’ ”
He died July 29 in his Lincolnwood home at 93.
Young Harold grew up in Passaic, New Jersey, the youngest of six children born to Russian immigrants. At 13, just after his bar mitzvah, his father died. He idolized Joseph Feder for his patience and kindness, and strove to be like him, according to his sons.
His mother, Eva, was too poor to support the family in the Great Depression. She sent him to Texas to live with an older sister, Miriam, who had married and settled there.
In Dallas, he made up his mind to win Selma Reisberg, a fellow student at Forest Avenue High School, whose alums include TV producer Aaron Spelling and retailer Stanley Marcus. Cute, smart and vivacious, she’d been crowned Miss Texas Young Judaea.
“He was the kind of guy who would not accept no,” she said.
“He would be waiting at her house when she would be coming home from other dates,” said another son, Robert, a Chicago media blogger and former Sun-Times TV and radio columnist.
In 1941, they married, settling in Chicago so he could study at the Illinois College of Chiropody and Orthopedics, a forerunner of the Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine. They moved into a run-down apartment on North State Street. That same week, someone looked through a window and saw Selma Feder lighting Shabbat candles.
Within days, they were evicted and told, “We don’t want Jews in this building,” she said.
The Feders found a room to rent at 69th and Sangamon. Harold Feder had to get up at 5 a.m. to take streetcars to a 7 a.m. class.
“We saved enough pennies in a month to go to the Gold Coast movie, and two straws with one 10-cent soda,” Selma Feder said. And it cost nothing to visit Bushman, the famed gorilla at Lincoln Park Zoo.
Too poor to afford textbooks, Dr. Feder took notes and borrowed classmates’ books and read in the library.
“Twenty-five years later, as I studied my anatomy, he would quote verbatim the ‘Gray’s Anatomy’ text flawlessly,” said Dr. Joel Feder, who joined his father’s practice, now known as Affiliated Podiatrists, 4211 N. Cicero.
He graduated from the Scholl College in January 1944 and served in the Army during World War II.
Dr. Feder pushed for stringent exams that were early forms of board certification, said another son in his practice, Dr. Marc Feder.
Before the efforts of Dr. Feder and other pioneers, foot doctors had to perform operations in their offices, said Dr. Michael Hriljac, executive director of the Illinois Podiatric Medical Association. “If you were doing surgery and you wanted to use the facilities of a hospital, they were closed off.”
In 1998, the American Podiatric Medical Association bestowed its highest honor on Dr. Feder for improving the profession, said Dr. James Christina, executive director of the Rockville, Maryland, group.
“Dr. Feder was a giant,” said Dr. Nancy Parsley, dean of the Scholl College, where he mentored students, provided scholarships and a study room, and served on the board. He also endowed a scholarship at Skokie Valley Agudath Jacob Synagogue, where he was a past president.
His grandchildren always looked forward to Shabbat sleepovers. And he taught them the difference between wanting things and needing things, his sons said.
It’s estimated he sold millions of dollars in Israel Bonds. As a Niles Township trustee, he helped organize the bicentennial parade for Skokie, where he and Selma Feder did most of the raising of their family.
Dr. Feder is also survived by eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Services have been held.
“Even though this is my saddest time, I can’t complain because I feel I would be sinning against God,” said his wife. “I am so grateful to God in heaven for letting us have 75 years.”