St. Louis JCC’s Tour de Fun has provided a quality family event and leadership pipeline for 25 years.
By Marci Mayer Eisen
Jonathan Deutsch is the youngest past president of the St. Louis JCC and currently co-chair of the 2016 JCC Maccabi Games in St. Louis. Phil Frischer is on the United Hebrew Congregation board and co-chair of Jewish Federation of St. Louis’ Millstone Fellows Alumni Network. Greg Yawitz is President of Congregation Shaare Emeth and along with Jim Detusch, just started the newest Wexner Heritage Program cohort from St. Louis. What do they all have in common? Answer – They were all active on the St. Louis JCC’s Tour de Fun event committee, a program for families with young children planned by a committee of fathers, now celebrating its 25th annual event on August 30.
In 1991, I was running JCC parenting programs out of a storefront in a strip mall in Chesterfield, Missouri, in what was then a quickly growing Jewish community in the suburbs of St. Louis. Our facility was limited and I needed to draw attention to our programs, as we made plans for a future full-service facility. Since all of our committee members were young moms, I was looking for an opportunity to engage dads in JCC leadership. Six dads attended the first meeting to talk about an idea for an event geared towards families with toddlers and preschoolers. I envisioned a tricycle course with a fire engine and entertainment. Michael Stern chaired the first meeting and I remember sitting around on the child sized chairs surrounded by climbing equipment and toys. Mike Geigerman contributed his opinion that we needed a catchy name, and suggested Tour de Fun. The committee was enthusiastic and discussed ideas for different vehicles, pony rides, food, and t-shirts for all children in attendance. Back in 1991, there were limited events for young children in the community and somehow nearly 200 children and their families showed up that first year, surpassing our initial goal of just 50 children.
Most importantly, the idea for a fathers-run event caught on and over the years the committee increased and target age expanded, one year engaging nearly fifty dads and attracting over 1,000 children under the age of ten with older siblings, parents and grandparents. Highlights over the years included the Purina Dog Show, the landing of a helicopter in the middle of the event, circus performers, musicians, and lots of vehicles, from emergency vehicles and dump trucks to antique cars and Shriners’ clown cars. In the early days, we even did school bus rides around the neighborhood. In recent years, the committee added carnival rides, inflatables, Frisbee golf, multiple roaming entertainers, extensive food selections, and activity booths from different organizations throughout the community. Tour de Fun also increased the emphasis on corporate sponsorships, and will bring in nearly $15,000 this year, in addition to the entry fees, according to Marianne Chervitz, St. Louis JCC Family Center Supervisor and current staff for Tour de Fun.
While the activities changed, the purpose has stayed consistent for 25 years – providing a high quality, low cost family event, planned exclusively by fathers of young children. The camaraderie between the dads has been core to the mission, providing opportunities for the men to make new friends and business contacts, so important at this stage of their lives balancing careers and family commitments. As first intended, Tour de Fun became a leadership pipeline and it is seen as prestigious to chair the event. As I previously wrote, it is critical to provide entry points for people to first get involved in Jewish community leadership. In addition to Jonathan, Phil, Greg and Jim, hundreds of men went on to get involved in many different areas in the St. Louis Jewish community and also apply their leadership they honed at Tour de Fun in other areas of their lives.
Marianne reflected, “As a parent of teenagers who grew up going to Tour de Fun and wife of a former Tour de Fun dad, I’ve watched the event flourish over the years. This year, we are bringing back old favorites including more than thirty vehicles. Most often it’s only women who serve on committees for family programs and it’s gratifying to see dads so excited about their event. It’s good for their families and for our community.”
To learn more about Tour de Fun, visit: www.tourdefun.com
Marci Mayer Eisen is Director of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis’ Millstone Institute. She previously worked at the St. Louis JCC from 1981 – 2005.