The Jewish Community Center
The Jewish Community Center. (Courtesy of JCC Facebook)

The closing of the fitness portion of the JCC has had a profound impact on anyone who ever stepped foot into that part of the building.

I was truly caught off guard by the emotion that overcame me as I cleaned out my locker of the JCC Health Club. I never really thought of myself as a writer, but there were so many memories I just had to set them all on paper.

My life has revolved around the JCC (mostly because of the gym) and while I am sad to see this part of the building go, I know that we will experience new and just as meaningful memories with all that the JCC still has to offer.

The closing of the fitness portion of the JCC has had a profound impact on anyone who ever stepped foot into that part of the building. Decades of memories fill every wall, floor and hallway. And while it is sad that the footprint of the JCC may be changing, there will still be so much that the JCC will have to offer.

Karen Gordon
Karen Gordon

As we move ahead through these challenging times, the JCC will soon be a place to meet with friends and make new ones, take our kids to preschool and camp, learn and be entertained, celebrate simchahs and community. Our memories of what we have experienced in the gyms and the locker rooms, will only be enhanced by what will be to come.

Back in the early or mid-’70s I remember walking through the halls of the massive Jewish Community Center on Maple and Drake still under construction. My parents and I were on a tour of the new facility. I distinctly remember stopping to (try and) take a drink at a dusty water fountain, but it was not yet operational. It was the fountain near the windows to the gym. Looking down from that spot was the coolest vantage point to a gym I had ever seen. There was just so much to see from there. Who would have thought that years later, that gym would play such a huge role in my life?

I spent hours at the JCC. In the gym. In the pool. Wandering around the building. I would patiently wait until 1 p.m. on Saturday to get in. Chatted with Mildred and Fritz, well, he didn’t chat much … Ate french fries at Sperbers. Hung out in Room 333. BBYO events in Shiffman Hall.

Oddly, I pride myself on the ability to have been able to sneak into not only the Health Club, but also most other parts of the building. I have been in the stairwells to the roof. The backroom of Building Services where you could smell the stench of stale cigarettes long before you got there. Meandered up and down through different elevators on a wheelchair just to get to the pool. I have been in the building by myself at 3 a.m. I was a camper … a counselor … bus duty. I gave my first pint (of many) of blood at a JCC Red Cross event in 1984. I would play in the gym while my parents worked out in the Health Club. We’d meet for dinner in the HC dining room. Does anyone even remember there was a dining room for HC members? I thought we were so cool.

I learned to play basketball from Burt Hursche when I was about 8 or 9. I honed my skills with Greg Kelser as I got older (and better). Eventually, I became a counselor with John Long, Earl Cureton and Lindsey Hunter in their basketball camps. I was “the girl” that played countless 4 on 4 games under the famed windows.

That gym is where I blew out my knee for the first time. Spent hours trying to help Dennis Rodman shoot free throws (didn’t help). Met my first real boyfriend. Played BBG volleyball during Regional Convention. Watched countless JCC Maccabi tryouts. Fast forward to coaching my children in Kenny Goldman, celebrating birthdays and cheering them on during their RC.

Thousands of participants streamed through that gym as part of the JCC Maccabi Games and ArtsFest. It was as if I was personally escorting them through my home. I was part of the Health Club committee. It was because of that connection that my husband and I ran the snack bar at the pool for two summers. I was asked to be the Young Adult Division liaison to the JCC board in 1996 and, ultimately, became a full-fledged board member. I felt as if I got a huge promotion when I became part of the Executive Board. I was recognized by the board in 2006 as a recipient of the Susan Alterman Leadership Award. I was honored by the Michigan Jewish Sports Foundation as a Pillar of Excellence, and my plaque hangs on the walls with so many other notable Jews in our community. I have literally given my blood, sweat and tears for the JCC. I am so thankful.

Today, I emptied my locker for the last time. I was surprisingly emotional. Afterward, I worked my way down to the gym. But first, I had to take a photo with the famed KG logo written on the glass case in the stairwell going down to the gym from the baseball display. That was tagged by my Assistant Games Director Lindsey Fox in 2008. Do the math.

As I walked into the gym, so many more memories came back. I could see my mom running the track above, “kvelling” at her daughter keeping up with the guys below. I was “kvelling” that my mom was such a runner. I could see packed gyms with fans from all over the world cheering on their teens during a close Maccabi volleyball game. As I walked out of the gym, I looked up through the windows as if I was looking back on me as a young girl. That brand-new water fountain then, since replaced by touchless faucets to fill water bottles, will soon be dusty again.

Karen Gordon is a JCC Board member.

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  1. Hi

    Thanks for sharing your memories of the Health Club. I worked at the pool when it first opened around 1974 ~ ’75, as a lifeguard and swimming instructor while in I was high school then came back during the summers when I went off to MSU until I graduated. While in high school, I life guarded for open swim in the afternoon/evenings, helped Sally Prior with swim team and taught swim lessons. In the summer, I taught swim lessons for the camp kids, lifeguarded and taught private and group swim lessons. I can still picture the parents of swim students watching from the windows above the indoor pool. I got to know a lot of the health club members working at the pool, specially the regulars who came in every day to swim. The AD at the time I was there was the son of the former AD, can’t remember his name but he was a nice guy.

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