The JCC has served Columbus’ Jewish community since 1913, when Joseph Schonthal provided meeting rooms to all segments of the Jewish community at 355 South Washington Avenue. The primary function of the center was to help in the integration and settlement of the wave of immigrants coming from Eastern Europe, Russia and Lithuania, and as a center for youth activities.
“Pop” Schonthal himself was an immigrant, born in Austria, and a scrap metal dealer by trade. He came to Columbus in 1891 and was a manager for the Kinkade & Liggett elevator company before establishing the Joseph Schonthal Iron Company in 1903. (He also served as president of Temple Israel from 1903 until his death in 1929.)
In 1918, Schonthal expanded his vision by purchasing the old Hoster Brewery Mansion on East Rich Street, which he named the Schonthal Center. In addition, he also established the Jewish Infants Home of Ohio, located next door to the Schonthal Center. (One of the orphans who lived in the home, Milton Rice, was later adopted by Leo Yassenoff and his wife, Betty Luptonn, who had worked as the head nurse.)
In 1927, Schonthal purchased 25 acres of land in Union County to establish one of the first Jewish summer camps in the area – Camp Schonthal, located near Magnetic Springs. In 1949 – 20 years after Schonthal’s death – the property was sold and the monies raised from the sale went toward the building of the new Jewish Community Center on College Avenue.
A few years prior, in 1935, the United Jewish Fund (the forerunner of the Columbus Jewish Federation) earmarked funds to build a Jewish Community Center. A groundbreaking was held in 1949, and the new center’s cornerstone was laid during a ceremony on Oct. 30, 1949, over which Joseph S. Summer, grandson of Pops Schonthal, presided.
Built for $650,000 the “new” Jewish Center contained an auditorium, bowling alley, basketball courts, a swimming pool, classrooms and a sauna. Its location, just south of Livingston Avenue, recognized the movement of the Jewish community from the “Driving Park” district into the east side of Columbus and the nearby suburban enclave of Bexley. The passing of the years brought additional milestones: the summer day camp site at Hoover Reservoir was aquired as a gift from Millard Cummins in 1965 and an outdoor swimming pool complex opened in 1966.
The son of another Jewish immigrant to Columbus would play prominently in the JCC’s history. The aforementioned Leo Yassenoff, the son of a Russian immigrant, settled in Columbus as a teenager in 1912 and attended The Ohio State University – playing on the Buckeye’s offensive line for two seasons, 1914-15. After graduating from OSU in 1916, he served in the 116th Aerial Squadron during World War I, and co-founded the F&Y Construction Company in 1919. Among other projects, his company built drive-in theaters, including the Riverside, Eastside and CCC Auto Theaters.
A philanthropist in life, Yassenoff left a considerable portion of his assets to the Jewish Center when he died in 1971. Groundbreaking for a more modern facility at 1125 College Ave., built on the same site as the 1949 structure, was held in May 1981.
The doors to the newly constructed Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus opened on Jan. 6, 1983, and a dedication ceremony honoring Leo Yassenoff was held on Oct. 2, 1983. A few years later, an Early Childhood Education wing was added to serve the community’s preschool population.
Since then, the JCC began operating facilities in Dublin and New Albany, as the Jewish community has grown and expanded. In 1996, the JCC opened an Early Childhood Education program in Dublin with 20 children. The JCC continues to rent its Dublin facility from St. Andrew’s Church at 1985 Swansford Rd.
Two years later, the JCC expanded its Early Childhood Education program to New Albany, with classrooms located in the educational wing of Temple Beth Shalom and later in the former New Albany Elementary School.
In fall 2007, the JCC dedicated the Zusman Center, located behind the JCC, in honor of philanthropists Larry and Leonore Zusman. The Zusman Center, used primarily for the JCC’s Summer Camp and Kaleidoscope After-School programs, features a beautiful multi-purpose great room, changing and restrooms, a nurse’s office, and an art room with a kiln. A few weeks prior, the JCC opened its Sprayground, a water playground for children to cool off with buckets, spray jets and fountains during the summer.
Groundbreaking was held on Oct. 5, 2008, for a new 43,000 square feet, $4.5 million facility, located at 150 E. Granville St., in New Albany. The new Northeast Jewish Community Center serves children from 6 weeks old to pre-Kindergarten in the JCC’s New Albany Early Childhood Education program, as well as children from Kindergarten through 5th grades at the Columbus Jewish Day School. The facility was dedicated on Aug. 23, 2009, with a ceremony that included a “Torah Walk” from the New Albany Elementary School building to the new building.
Groundbreaking for a 16,000 square foot expansion of the College Avenue facility took place on December 6, 2012. The recently completed construction will increase the current fitness, sports, and community gathering space for youth and adults. For more information on contributing to the JCC Capital Campaign: Linking the Generations, please contact JCC Executive Director Carol Folkerth at (614) 559-6223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.