Jon Serbin would never forget the day golf great Babe Didrikson Zaharius won one of her last Ladies Professional Golf Association titles for the tournament his family founded, the Serbin Open.
The year was 1955. Serbin, a football star at Miami Beach High School, had two more years until graduation, and there were more rumblings than usual about the coming Serbin Open, to be held on Feb. 20 at the Bayshore Golf Course in Miami Beach. Admission cost $1. Proceeds were to benefit the Damon Runyon Cancer Fund.
Attention focused on Zaharius’ return to the game after a 1953 diagnoses of colon cancer. She would die from the disease in 1956 at age 45.
“The Babe had been trying to come back after her surgery and was not doing well. She was considering quitting. But because the tournament was the Serbin Open and she had a wonderful relationship with my father and uncle, who manufactured the Babe Zaharius Golf Dress, she decided to give it one more try,” Serbin recalled in a letter he wrote to the Miami Herald in 2000 in response to a story about South Florida sports in the 1950s.
“My brother and I followed her for all 18 holes on the final day. She came from behind to beat Patty Berg.”
Serbin died May 24. He was 75. He “instilled the love of sports to his children and grandchildren,” son William Serbin wrote in an email. Three generations played football at Beach High — including grandson Marlon. Another, Oscar, will play at Miami Northwestern.
Serbin, born in Cleveland and a 1961 business graduate of Harvard University, would follow his father, N. John Serbin and uncle Lewis, into Serbin Fashions Inc., the family business they started in 1944 in Cleveland and after 1951 headquartered in Miami.
Serbin Fashions would become one of Florida’s largest women’s-apparel manufacturers, with distribution to department stores like Burdines, Jordan Marsh, Saks Fifth Avenue, mom and pop stores and catalog companies. The company launched the Serbin Open tournament that ran from 1953 to 1957 at Bayshore.
In its ’50s to ’70s heyday, Serbin employed more than 500 sewing workers. The company screen-printed designs on its clothing in factories in Miami and Tennessee.
Serbin had intended to pursue a career in law, but ultimately applied his business savvy to the family business. “Computers were starting, so he started to grow the business with computer software. His father was in charge of the salespeople, and Jon took on the role of sales manager and served the larger accounts,” said his wife, Linda. “He loved that business. Family was everything to him.”
Serbin would become president and, in the company’s final years, its CEO. As the mom-and-pop stores began to disappear — as, eventually, did Jordan Marsh and Burdines — Serbin Fashions struggled, then folded in 1990.
But Serbin, Miami Beach to the core, wasn’t ready to give up on his turf. He became a real estate agent and spent about 18 years with Streamline Properties on the Beach. “He watched Miami Beach grow from a declining place. He kept telling people what Miami Beach was going to [become],” his wife said.
His slogan: “Jon knows Miami Beach.” Many friends, classmates from Nautilus Middle School and Beach High, attended his services last week, his wife said. Serbin was a member of Temple Beth Sholom‘s board of trustees.
“He was one of the sweetest, nicest gentleman that I’ve known to work in real estate,” said Streamline owner Saul Gross.
“He had a loyal following of people who adored him, and he did a lot of repeat business, particularly with people who grew up on the Beach and knew him from his early days on the Beach. Jon was scrupulously honest and had the best interest of the clients at heart,” Gross said.
In addition to his wife and son William, Serbin is survived by children Jonathan, Sherry Hope, Kara Faust and Bess Mikulenka, and seven grandchildren. Donations in his memory may be made to L’chaim Jewish Hospice Program.