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Sam Weller

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Sam Weller 1921 ~ 2009 Prominent Salt Lake City Bookseller, Sam Weller, passed away peacefully in his sleep, in his home, on the morning of June 24, from causes associated with old age. Samuel Weller was born in Schneidemuhl, Germany, on April 23rd, 1921, to Gustav August and Margaret Martin Weller. He was the third of 12 children. The Wellers immigrated to Salt Lake City in 1925, following Gustav's conversion to Mormonism. In August 1929, shortly before the Great Depression, Gus Weller changed his used furniture into Zion's Bookstore. It was located at 14 East 100 South in downtown Salt Lake City. The oldest Weller children, including Sam, worked in the bookstore with their father. The store was moved to 28 East 100 South in 1932. It was moved again to 65 East 200 South in 1939, the same year that Gustav and Margaret Weller moved to a farm in Marion, Utah, taking their youngest children with them. Sam was among those who stayed in Salt Lake, operating the bookstore under Gus's direction. In February 1943, Sam was drafted into military service for World War II. He served in Europe and Northern Africa transporting German prisoners and later fighting in The Battle of the Bulge. Following his release from the military, Sam had hoped to use the G.I. Bill to study musical theater at Utah State University, but his father had set his mind on having Sam run the bookstore. In January 1946, Sam assumed control of the bookstore. He was 24 years old. The family business was in debt and for periods Sam slept in the bookstore, using the Deseret Gym for showers. The bookstore's scope broadened under Sam's control. He told of defending his right to sell, No Man Knows My History by Fawn Brodie and of selling banned editions of Henry Miller and D.H. Lawrence. Sam's charisma and energy, his near lifetime experience with books and a knack for picking good ones, combined with his hard work ethic, enabled the bookstore to become a profitable operation. In 1949, a common friend introduced Sam to Lila Nelson. Lila worked at the Deseret News as a secretary and she was an avid reader. When they married in 1953, she took over the finances of the bookstore, and monitored the inventory. By 1960, Zion's Bookstore was a veritable hub of cultural activity and because of Sam's large personality, many simply referred to it as, "Sam's". By that time he was recognized as one of the notable book dealers in the West, his reputation largely built on his expertise in Mormonism, Western Americana and Geology. In 1961, Zion's Bookstore moved to its current location at 254 South Main Street. The space was about a third of its present size. In 1962, Sam and Lila's son Tony was born. Late in the 1960s, at Lila's suggestion, to distinguish the bookstore from ZCMI's book department; in recognition of Sam's prominence in the community; and to capture the incidental literary coincidence of the lively character, "Sam Weller," in Charles Dickens' Pickwick Papers, the bookstore's name was changed to Sam Weller's Zion Bookstore. In 1968 Sam became a board member of the American Booksellers Association. In 1972, a fire devastated the bookstore. With Sam's intense effort and the help of hundreds of community volunteers, the bookstore re-opened on State Street within the week. In 1973, it returned to Main Street, enlarged by the addition of the mezzanine around the main floor. The bookstore was enlarged several times over the next 20 years, occupying adjacent space as it came available. Sam was a founding member of the Intermountain Booksellers Association. He was active in the Downtown Merchants Association, the Salt Lake Exchange Club and the Utah Westerners. Sam gained membership in the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America in the 1980s. Sam was a whirlwind of action within his bookstore until medical problems slowed him down in 1992. Though ordinary sense and his doctors suggested that he ought to slow his working pace, it was not something Sam knew how to do. During a year of medical ordeals, son Tony ran the bookstore. After a surprising recovery, Sam returned to work in the fast-paced style to which he was habituated. During this time, the bookstore entered a series of anti-trust lawsuits against publishers and chain stores. Following a brief illness, in January 1997, Sam suddenly lost his eyesight leading to his and Lila's retirements. He was 76. In the 1950s Sam enjoyed flying small planes. Sam played golf, even after he lost his sight. He skied and played basketball, baseball, and tennis with his friends. He was a lifelong fan of the Chicago Cubs. He enjoyed the music of George Gershwin and Irving Berlin. Sam especially loved books by Wallace Stegner, Dale Morgan, Irving Stone, Leonard Arrington, Tony Hillerman, Bernard DeVoto, B.H. Roberts, H.L. Mencken, Fawn Brodie, Juanita Brooks and Charles Kelly. He also liked Dale Carnegie and books illustrated by Arthur Rackham. The last 12 years of Sam's life were largely good. He dealt with his blindness with the aplomb with which he faced everything: he was jovial, enjoyed conversation and had a provocative sense of humor. He made jokes about his blindness. Though he slowed down, his health was mostly good until March of this year. Sam is survived by wife Lila; son and daughter-in-law Tony and Catherine; granddaughter Lila Ann; and sisters Eve Hirst, Esther Watson, Miriam Jepsen, Mary Hair and Sarah Prentiss; and numerous nieces and nephews. Sam is preceded in death by his parents and brothers Joseph, John, David and Jared; and sisters Ruth Melville and Rachel Summers. Following a private burial, a memorial for friends and associates of Sam Weller will be held in the auditorium at the Salt Lake Public Library at 231 East 400 South on Wednesday, July 1 at 3:00 p.m. It will be followed by a reception. In lieu of flowers, please direct gifts to The Lila and Sam Weller Western Americana Fund at the University of Utah J. Willard Marriott Library, 540 Arapeen Drive Suite 250, Salt Lake City, UT 84108; or, The Salt Lake Public Library at 210 E. 400 S., Salt Lake City, UT 84111.
Published in Salt Lake Tribune on June 28, 2009
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