JCC gears up for ’12 Senior Olympics

Wendell Roehrs competes in the triple jump event during the 32nd Annual Senior Olympics. File photo: Mike Sherwin


Participation in the 33rd Annual St. Louis Senior Olympics spans the generations from the Baby Boomers to the Greatest Generation, ranging from hordes of 50-year-olds who finally reached the qualifying age to pairings of parents and their grown children to a woman who is just two months shy of her 98th birthday.

More than 1,200 athletes will take part, with 85 events scheduled May 24-29 in 13 different venues. The opening ceremony, which will take place at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, May 24 in the Staenberg Family Complex gymnasium at the Jewish Community Center, will include a tap exhibition featuring 100 dancers under the direction of Marcene Tockman as well as several speeches. No competitions will be held Sunday, May 27, the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. (For a complete schedule, see stlouisseniorolympics.org).

“The St. Louis Senior Olympics is a great thing, and everybody who is able should do it,” said Alvin Wolff Jr., this year’s chair and a senior athlete himself who plays squash and cycles. “I have an excellent committee of about 20 people, and work ing on this event has been a great experience.” Wolff, 57, a lawyer, lives in Creve Coeur. “One thing’s for sure — the Senior Olympics is always a very well-attended event.”

Erich Dahl of Maryland Heights will be there, taking part in seven events, “as long as nothing happens to stop me,” he said 10 days ago. Dahl, 92, a retired chef, has participated in Senior Olympics events in five states. One room in his home is filled with hundreds of ribbons, medals and trophies, many of them won at events in St. Louis, where he has competed since 1986. “There isn’t room for any more,” he said, laughing.

A member at Congregation Shaare Emeth, Dahl is a big proponent of physical fitness. “I wish I could convince more people to take part in the Senior Olympics,” he said. “Most people my age have quit exercising, and you should never quit, unless you have to.” Dahl added that if necessary, he will make room for more medals on his walls. 

George Ruh of Ballwin most appreciates the camaraderie of the Senior Olympics. “It’s a wonderful social event,” said Ruh, who described his age as “close to 70.” A retired high school teacher, coach, principal and college instructor, Ruh noted that he has made many friends in the 18 years he has taken part.

This year, Ruh is competing in 29 events. “I signed up for a lot — badminton, horseshoes and more,” he said. “I’m like a little kid in a candy shop. I like to do it all.” In addition to competing, Ruh also will work as a volunteer, including serving as event director for the softball homerun derby. His wife, Janette Ruh, is volunteering too, helping out in the office. 

The Ruhs have six grown children and 14 grandchildren, ranging in age from 5 to 19, and all of them live in the St. Louis area. “I’ve talked my triplet grandsons into volunteering for the Senior Olympics this year,” Ruh said. “I am that dedicated – I want to keep this event going.” The boys — Jonathan, Ryan and J.C. DeMuri — are 17.  Ruh has urged another grandson — Brian Loomis, 14 — to help with the shot put. 

The efforts of the 300 volunteers do not go unnoticed. “The Senior Olympics is a big undertaking, and the volunteers make this event a success,” said Phil Ruben, supervisor of sports, recreation and aquatics at the JCC and also director of the Senior Olympics for the second consecutive year. “Volunteers handle everything from registration to running tournaments to measuring throws to counting scores.”

Ruben has been involved with the event for eight years. “Everything is going really well this year,” he said. “We got started earlier, and we have great sponsor support.” The title sponsor is US Bank and more than two dozen other sponsors are on board. 

New events this year include a nine-mile cycling race, a Frisbee toss, a football punt and kick, a soccer kick and a game called BulletBall, which can be played standing or sitting. 

Daisy Wilson, 97, will compete in BulletBall, and she also registered for shuffleboard and bocce. Wilson is one of 72 seniors living in 11 facilities operated by the St. Louis Housing Authority who will take part in the games.

“We’ve been bringing people to the Senior Olympics for 12 years,” said Marvin Bostic, manager of elderly and disabled services for the St. Louis Housing Authority. 

“We want our seniors to stay active, and the games have been a great tool. Our residents love it.” 

Asked about Wilson, Bostic said, “Miss Daisy was especially eager to take part this year — she’s a real bundle of energy. I’m proud of her.”