25 years of Tour de Fun

Tour de Fun

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

This month will mark a very special anniversary for one notable St. Louis tradition as the annual Tour de Fun celebrates its 25th year.

“That’s kind of a big milestone for us,” said Marianne Chervitz, family center supervisor at the Helene Mirowitz Center for Jewish Community Life. “As always, it is planned by an all-dad committee. That’s stayed consistent from the very beginning.”

This year’s festivities, planned for Aug. 30, will range from pony rides to a petting zoo. It also will bring back some old favorites, among them hot rods, construction equipment and emergency vehicles.

“Last year, because of Ferguson and some other things, there were no vehicles,”  Chervitz said. “That’s something that Tour De Fun has always prided itself on, that we have all of these vehicles for the children to explore.

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“An Army tank is actually coming. There’s a club coming with a Lionel train display for the kids to check out.”

Adults are likely to enjoy chair massages offered by Missouri Baptist Hospital while kids get sunscreen and sunglasses. A kosher ice cream truck will satisfy those with a sweet tooth, and jugglers and magicians will entertain those waiting in line for events.

Chervitz said summer heat shouldn’t be a problem.

“Last year, I think it was in the high 90s. That makes it difficult to bring the little kids out, and people are leery of signing up because of the heat,” she said. “So this year, we got two big fan misters, like you would find at outdoor venues, to keep kids cool. They can run through them and cool down.”

Another water station also has been added.

A new ride will be available for older children, and sports challenges in soccer, basketball and beanbags will be offered, as well as Frisbee golf, another  addition.

An annual raffle has been expanded to include at least a dozen items from jewelry to music lessons to birthday party packages.

Family Fan Club members who pay $150 to help sponsor the event will get 20 free raffle tickets. For other attendees, the cost is $10 per child in advance or $15 at the door.

Proceeds will go to benefit scholarships for early childhood and youth programs at the JCC. 

And attendees will know they have attended the event’s silver anniversary.

“It’s very exciting,” Chervitz said. “Not a lot of programs in the community have that kind of longevity. I think it is that we found something that the families really look forward to every year. The dads have their chance to shine and get involved. The combination of that has really been the key to our success.”

Fun from the beginning

Marci Mayer Eisen, director of the Millstone Institute at the Jewish Federation, helped put together early Tours de Fun while promoting JCC programming in west St. Louis County. She wanted to find a way to connect with fathers of young children, as well as provide activities for kids of preschool age and younger, something she said was a rarity at the time.

“Now there are lots but, 25 years ago, if you had a 2- or 3-year-old or even a 5-year-old, there wasn’t a lot to do as far as events,” she said.

The original idea was to stage a simple tricycle rally, but others on the committee urged her to think bigger.

“The first year we hoped for 50 kids, and we got 200,” Eisen said. “Every year, for a number of years, the committee would grow, and the scope of the event would grow until it became this really big event.”

Last year, more than 300 people attended, though Chervitz said the turnout was held down because it was so hot. She expects more than 500 this year.

Eisen credits the event’s success to the energy and creativity of the fathers involved.

“For men who have busy careers and young children, this is a really nice [event],” she said. “It has helped to grow leadership, and a number of the dads have gone on to play significant roles in the Jewish community.”

Michael Poscover, a United Hebrew congregant from Chesterfield, said many friendships grew from organizing the event. 

“It was a committee of dads who would come together every couple of weeks and not just work on the program but (participate in) social events that went on fairly often,” he said. “We actually had a whole basketball group that played every week or two.”

As the event matured, organizers marketed it more and more to the general community, Poscover said. The event was so professionally done that many people were surprised to find it was a volunteer effort. Poscover said it reinforced his pride in the Jewish community.

“You had Reform, Conservative and Orthodox all working hand in hand, people from University City to Wildwood to Chesterfield, from all over St. Louis, coming together,” he said.

Networking beyond the event

David Kaiser of Chesterfield, who was chairman of the event for a year, said, “It was a lot of hard work by a lot of dads who understand the importance of a good family outing. It is just a testament to our community.”

He recalled how much his three sons enjoyed the rock climbing wall and big trucks. The dads also benefited.

“It was our first taste of working with the JCC, and many of us have stayed on to become chairpeople on different committees or board members,” said Kaiser, a United Hebrew congregant. “It was a great entry spot.”

Creighton Cohn of Olivette said that for little children, Tour De Fun was a vast improvement over amusement parks, carnivals or state fairs.

“It was always, ‘Sorry, you are too short for this. Sorry, you are too short for that,’ ” Cohn said of other venues. “At Tour De Fun, it is perfect for that age of child.”

He said his 12-year-old daughter still volunteers for the event. Meanwhile, everyone enjoys at least one aspect of the gathering.

“I’m a car guy, and I love the vehicles,” Cohn said.

Tour De Fun, chaired by local dads Eric Berger and Josh Kalachek, will take place from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 30, at the JCC Staenberg Family Complex, 2 Millstone Campus Drive.

For more information, visit tourdefun.com or call 314-442-3454.