JCC membership up after opening of new Staenberg Complex


You say you’ve noticed a few new faces around the Jewish Community Center’s Staenberg Family Complex?

Make that hundreds of new faces.


“In May and June alone, between both buildings we’ve had between 800 and 900 new members join,” said Lynn Wittels, president and chief executive officer. At the end of June, the total number of JCC members was 11,490.

“I have not done the demographics yet, but I see new faces, families and individuals, that fit in every category: Young and old, white and not and Jewish and not.” What do the new members have in common? “They walk in and their jaws drop to the ground,” Wittels said, laughing.

The “wow” factor is a tribute to the 95,000-square-foot Staenberg Family Complex, which opened May 4, the day after a public celebration was held at the building. “People tell me that they love how they feel when they walk in,” said Wittels. “They love the ambiance. They say it’s inviting, that they feel comfortable.”

Some new members transferred from premium fitness clubs elsewhere in the metropolitan area, Wittels said. Some were intrigued by the construction process. “The J is close to our home, and watching the building go up increased the excitement,” said Kelly Galvin, 39. “I joined right after it opened, and I got a friend to join, and then another friend in the neighborhood joined – it’s been a domino effect.”

Galvin, who works for a firm that investigates mortgages, said she has tried “a little bit of everything.” She takes two or three group exercise classes each week, uses the machines in the fitness center, walks the elevated track and has attended yoga and spinning classes.

Some new members joined at the urging of friends. “Our neighbors Mitch and Becky Jacobs are J members, and they invited us to come look,” said Bill Wirz, owner of Foot Solutions in Creve Coeur. Wirz and his wife, Hannah, did just that, and in June they bought a family membership.

“We needed to get back in shape,” said Wirz, who lives in Olivette. “The J is convenient to home, the facility is fantastic and the classes are part of the membership. Plus, we were looking for a place with a pool, where we could take the kids.”

Wirz, 42, turns out to be a big “kid.” His favorite thing is the big water slide in the adult pool. “I was a lifeguard in college,” he said, “and our slide was not as fast as the one at the J.” When asked what he liked best, Zach Wirz, 6, whispered sotto voce to his dad: “The kids’ slide – and the pool.”

Sheri Ball, the aquatic office manager, said the multi-purpose pools have brought in a lot of new members. “It’s a beautiful facility, and people love it, especially the families,” she said. “People just pour in – on Memorial Day weekend, we were filled to capacity.”

Ajai Rana’s children enjoy the pool (and the Wii) but he is sold on the fitness center. “I’m using the gym, especially the treadmill and the weights,” he said. “It’s been a good experience for me – I’ve dropped five pounds.”

Some of that weight may have melted, as Rana also uses the steam room and sauna three or four days a week after his workouts. Rana and his wife, Urmila, signed up for a family membership in mid-June. They live in Creve Coeur, where he works for Monsanto.

“Our new members absolutely love the new fitness center,” said Todd Wolff, a floor attendant who greets people and helps them become acquainted with the machines. “There is a great family atmosphere here, and a lot of energy. Last week I took two men on a tour, and one said that the locker room reminded him of a locker room in a country club.”

Thomasina and Robert Worth, a retired couple from Overland, joined the J in May. “My husband’s doctor suggested that a warm water pool might help his arthritis,” said Thomasina Worth. “We saw the sign out front for the grand opening, and we liked the presentation.”

After completing therapy, Robert plans to attend the Arthritis Foundation water exercise class. “I like to do what I call ‘playing’ in the pool,” said Thomasina, “and I’m also walking on the track and lifting weights.” She retired as a clinical analyst at St. Mary’s Health Center; he retired from McDonnell Douglas, where he worked in quality assurance inspections.

“We like the atmosphere at the J,” said Thomasina. “People are nice.” Maybe that’s because so many members – new and old – take advantage of the massage and spa services, which include Swedish relaxation massage, aromatherapy massage, deep tissue massage, sports massage and chair massage.

“Massages are booking up really fast,” said Stacey Schwadron, massage desk attendant. “Sometimes, it’s hard to get in.” She reported that during the Mother’s Day/Father’s Day promotion, the department sold more than 600 gift certificates. “In the past, we’d sell maybe one-third as many.”

The Staenberg Family Complex was Phase 3 of a long-term project. Renovation of Camp Sabra at the Lake of the Ozarks and the Marilyn Fox Building in Chesterfield were Phases 1 and 2. Phase 4 (also known as Phase 2 of the I. E. Millstone Campus) is underway on the site of the old building.

Wittels offered a verbal “sneak peek” into the new site, which likely will be called the Arts & Education Building. Due to be completed in February, the building will house a center for Jewish Family Life, adult day services, a “black box” theater (a new home for the New Jewish Theatre), early childhood services, a kosher and catering kitchen, a NORC (Naturally Occuring Retirement Community)/Adult Lounge and meeting and conference rooms.

“We are creating a new brand, and that new brand is about excellence. People now think of the J differently,” said Wittels. “This agency is forever indebted to Carol and Michael Staenberg. He made it his mission to make sure that this agency gets back on sound financial footing and will be here to serve the community for generations to come” (Michael Staenberg is also a member of the Jewish Light Board of Trustees.)

Not everyone is happy about the changes at the JCC; especially some longtime members. “There is always an adjustment any time you make a change, and the new J is different from the old place,” said Wittels. “Still, I have been remarkably impressed with the response from people who have difficulty accepting change. So many have acknowledged that for the J to be successful, we have to appeal to everybody.”

Summing up, Wittels said, “We changed the paradigm of what a community resource could be, and should be. To those who question whether this was a good investment, I challenge anyone to come here any day of the week, to see kids and adults and seniors — people of all abilities — coming together to build community.”