JCC welcomes Deutsch as board chair

Jonathan Deutsch

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

A successful manufacturer and longtime board member has assumed the chairmanship at the St. Louis Jewish Community Center.

Jonathan Deutsch, 40, head of locally based, family-owned Dema Engineering Company, a global maker of chemical dispensing equipment and fluid control products, was installed in the post at the annual meeting June 1. He will lead the board after spending five years as a member.

Deutsch, a part of the JCC’s executive committee, is finishing an eight-year stint on the board of the Jewish Federation, which he will leave to assume his new duties. In the past, the Temple Israel congregant has also served on the boards of the St. Louis Hillel and the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center. He is also a past president of the Federation’s Young Professionals Division.

“He’s bright. He’s articulate. He’s passionate about the J. He really likes to hear what other people have to say so he’s going to be great at engaging other board members,” said Lynn Wittels, president and CEO of the agency. “The J is a very complex organization with lots of moving parts. I think he has a real interest in understanding how everything relates to everything else and how we can keep moving forward.”

There has been a lot of moving forward during the past few years for the JCC. Deutsch will replace Michael Staenberg, who has held the position for more than five years, an active tenure that has seen an impressive building campaign within the organization, the implementation of a strategic plan and a revamp of the JCC’s model to focus on five lines of business: fitness, early childhood education, day camping, adult day services and Judaic mission.

Recent construction efforts, which included everything from signage and landscaping on the Millstone campus to renovations at the Fox Building and Camp Sabra, were highlighted by the 2009 opening of the Staenberg Family Complex and its incorporation with the old Wohl Building, which was converted into an arts and education facility.

The result is not just a new 155,000-square-foot building, said Wittels, but also bolstered membership numbers and an organization that showed an operating surplus in 2010 for the first time in a decade. Wittels, who noted that figures are also looking good so far in 2011, said the next goal is continuing to raise the remaining $7 million to complete a $50 million capital campaign.

“We’re in a much more sound financial position than we were but we’re not out of the woods yet,” she said.

Staenberg, who has been named a lifetime member of the J, said the organization’s dramatic financial turnaround is an example of the kind of change that can be achieved with institutions in the St. Louis Jewish community.

He said he’s enjoyed his time as chair, a position he’s served in longer than any other person, but feels it’s time to hand over the job.

“It’s like winning the third Super Bowl,” said Staenberg, who plans to remain involved with various projects in the agency. “There’s no place else to go. It’s time for someone else to enjoy the opportunity.”

He believes Deutsch is the right man for the post.

“Jonathan will do a great job. He’ll take it to the next level,” he said. “I don’t think we could have picked a better person, someone more passionate, articulate and motivating.”

Deutsch is equally effusive about Staenberg.

“During the building process, he paid attention to all of the details and focused on producing not just state-of-the-art facilities but also the highest quality level in programming, marketing and customer service. That’s really positioned the J where it is today,” he said.

Deutsch said he’s optimistic about the future and looks forward to working to further the progress that’s been made.

“Our top priority is our membership in keeping our facilities and programs first-class and industry-leading,” he said. “I think we’ve done that since the Staenberg facility was opened and the Fox building was renovated. We want to continue to be the leader in Jewish programming for families with young kids all the way up to seniors.”

He said the post appealed to him and he felt confident in accepting it because everyone from the board leadership to Wittels and the professional staff are doing a great job in supporting the organization.

“I’ve always enjoyed taking on leadership positions and challenging opportunities and at the same time, this was a very enticing position because of the strength of the agency right now and the strong professional staff,” he said.

Deutsch said his hope is that members of the Jewish community become a part of the agency and see what changes have been made.

“We want to encourage those who are not members at the J or who have not been involved in programming to give us a try and use the facility,” he said.

Deutsch lives in Creve Coeur with his wife Jennifer, daughter Riley and two sons, Ethan and Tyler.