Decade after decade, Jewish Community Center has welcomed, taught and played

06/08/2014 5:29 PM

06/09/2014 12:19 AM

If people tell you they’ve been active at the Jewish Community Center for six or seven decades, don’t doubt them.

Janet Price of Overland Park planted her roots when she was just 13. She’s 80 now.

“I was in charge of the game room on Linwood, and I brought out the pingpong paddles, the checkers and other games,” she said, referring to one of the center’s previous locations. “When I was about 40, I took a job at JCC as the director of Judaic studies.”

And Price was one of the moms cheering from the bleachers when her youngsters played basketball and baseball at the center, once getting so excited she pitched herself forward four rows. Now she participates in classes and events for older adults.

About 300 members gathered at the center in Overland Park on Sunday for a reunion, reminiscing about the center’s several locations in the area and how its sports, cultural and social offerings helped shape their lives. The reunion was part of the JCC’s “100 More” celebration, commemorating the center’s 100th anniversary.

“JCC has meant a lot to me and to my children, and now to my grandchildren, too,” Price said.

The center has been at 5801 W. 115th St. in Overland Park for 25 years, and many members hold fond memories of its other locations, particularly 1600 Linwood Blvd. from 1924 to 1961 and 8201 Holmes Road from 1961 to 1984.

The center began in 1914 in the City Market area as the Young Men’s Hebrew Association — at a time when Jewish people weren’t welcome in other organizations — and for years has offered a host of sports, fitness, cultural and educational activities. Today the center has 8,500 members, and about 45 percent are not Jewish.

Singers and dancers entertained at a program Sunday in the center’s White Theatre, and speakers led the audience in recalling the good people and times at JCC.

“How many of you remember roof garden dances on Linwood Boulevard?” asked Bob DeWitt, who chaired the reunion event, to the applause of many.

Ken Sigman, center board chairman, said his six-decade connection with JCC began when he was 9, when he started to learn about boxing and fitness. But he learned much more, he said.

“Self-esteem, a sense of humility and a sense of humor,” Sigman said.

After the program, members browsed a collection of photos and memorabilia, organized by decade.

“Stan, is that you?” Joyce Zeldin of Kansas City asked her husband, pointing to a basketball team photo from 1952. He confirmed it.

“The center was our social focal point,” he said. “We played Saturday night basketball, and the girls watched us from the track above the court. Then afterward we’d go out, have milkshakes. It was good, clean fun.”

Shanny Morgenstern, chairwoman of the 100 More anniversary events, said one reason to look back Sunday was that it helps the community look forward.

“When you look at pictures from generation to generation, it’s very similar, people having a good time, making friends, celebrating together,” she said. “Today we’re thankful for the people who planted the seeds so the next 100 years can be even better.”

To reach Edward M. Eveld, call 816-234-4442 or send email to eeveld@kcstar.com.

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