JCC breaks ground on renovation


Community leaders gathered on Monday for a groundbreaking ceremony, marking the start of the $37 million planned transformation of the Jewish Community Center on the I.E. Millstone Campus.

“Today is the beginning of a new J,” said Michael Staenberg, chair of the JCC Board of Directors, and co-chair of the JCC Capital Campaign, along with Marilyn Fox and Todd Siwak. “We’re going to update what we have and make it better,” he said.

Advertisement: The Grande at Chesterfield

Earlier this year, the JCC announced a $49 million capital campaign, spearheaded by a $15 million donation from Staenberg. The capital campaign will fund the planned $37 million overhaul of the JCC in Creve Coeur, approximately $3 million in renovations at the JCC’s Marilyn Fox Building in Chesterfield, $2 million for the JCC’s residential camp, Camp Sabra, as well as helping to fund the JCC’s capital endowment.

About 200 people attended the groundbreaking ceremony, which was held on a field just west of the JCC’s Susan B. Jacobs Early Childhood Education Building. County Executive Charlie Dooley presented a proclamation honoring the JCC groundbreaking.

Lynn Wittels, president and chief executive officer of the JCC, thanked the donors and the community for their support of the JCC.

“I only hope that when we look back at this time we can say we not only did good work, but we had a little bit of fun along the way. More importantly, I hope you will always recognize the mark you’re making of the J and on our entire community,” she told the audience.

Wittels singled out the contributions of Isadore E. Millstone and Michael Staenberg. “It sounds clich é, but what can I say about Michael [Staenberg] that hasn’t already been said? He is indeed a truly incredible asset to the J and the entire St. Louis community. Michael has given us his time, his expertise, his resources and his passion,” she said.

“It’s no secret that he has made the single largest gift in the history of the St. Louis Jewish community, but it’s his commitment to doing this project the right way that I will always respect and value,” Wittels continued.

Regarding Millstone, who bought the original 122 acres of land for the Jewish Community Campus which now bears his name, wittels said, “He defines the ideals of our Jewish community and does so with a style and grace that is uncompromised. He is truly a visionary, blending the wisdom of history with the youthful exuberance of what the future can bring.”

“Mr. Millstone, I hope we’re doing you proud,” Wittels said.

Millstone spoke to the audience, recalling the days when he purchased the land on which the JCC now stands. “There was nothing here but a cornfield,” Millstone said.

Millstone praised the initiative of Jewish community leaders and benefactors in creating and supporting institutions like the JCC.

“Things like this don’t happen…without individuals like Mike Staenberg, Marilyn Fox, or Todd Siwak,” Millstone said.

“Mike [Staenberg], 50 years from now, when he’s 100 years old, is going to look back and say, ‘was that a good investment?’ I can tell you from my own experience, that it was a good investment, probably the best investment I have ever made,” he said.

Sheila Greenbaum, president of Jewish Federation said the “new JCC will be the anchor of this vibrant campus.”

“When Mr. Millstone conceived of this campus and acquired the land, it changed the face of the community profoundly. And the new JCC project likewise has the power to profoundly shape our community and the lives of Jews in the next 30 to 40 years and beyond,” Greenbaum said.

“The JCC is a powerful tool to reach out and engage and grow the next generation of Jews,” she continued. “While we celebrate the facility, it is the Jewish people that it will impact.”

The final result, according to JCC officials will be a new 90,000-square-foot fitness and wellness facility that will face Schuetz Road, and a renovated Carlyn H. Wohl building, which will house a new performing arts and banquet center, cultural, artistic and educational programs and administrative offices and meeting rooms.

Although several of the speakers noted the importance of Staenberg’s contribution to the capital campaign in making the renovations and new building possible, Staenberg remained humble.

“I don’t want to take the credit, because really it belongs to everybody out there who has given money and given time and who have worked over the years, making this place what it is,” Staenberg said.

He closed his talk with an invitation for the audience to come together once the work is completed. “I will see you all in 22 months at the ribbon cutting,” Staenberg said.