The Capital Campaign has reached two significant achievements for the new Jewish Community Center (JCC) as its spring 2022 opening date draws closer.
The state-of-the-art facility will be named the Trager Family JCC, honoring the family that made the first major significant pledge to the campaign.
And second, the transformational project has surpassed the $42.5 million fundraising “milestone” needed to construct a modern JCC for Louisville, thanks to the Trager family’s decision to double their initial pledge from $1.5 million to $3 million.
The Jewish Community Center and Jewish Federation of Louisville made the announcement of the new name on Monday during a special pre-recorded ceremony, which included a music composition by Harry Pickens commissioned for the occasion.
The announcement came days after construction workers “topped off” the still-under-construction JCC, placing a small evergreen tree on its roof – a tradition marking completion of the steel superstructure.
“This campaign has just been amazing,” said Dr. Ralph Green, chair of the Jewish Community of Louisville (JCL) Board of Directors. “We set out on this goal years ago thinking we that we could raise this amount of money, but we were truly blown away by how quickly and passionately the Trager family, our community, JHFE and many granting organizations came forward to contribute.”
The Trager family pledge is one of over five hundred gifts from donors across the community who have already given during the campaign’s quiet and public phases of giving, making the project possible.
Sara Klein Wagner, president and CEO of the JCL, remembers meeting with Steve Trager just weeks after becoming head of the organization five plus years ago.
“Steve made it clear that we should pursue this dream,” Wagner said. “He understood that our current building had served us well and it was time to do something special for the next generation. He wanted to see action taken to move forward and when it was time to step forward with the lead gift, Steve and his entire family showed an enormous amount of faith and their example opened the door to a true community-wide effort.”
No one expected a pandemic, of course. And no one knew how it would impact fundraising.
Now they know: It didn’t.
“I think that it has affected fundraising in some circles, but as far as our capital campaign goes, we have been fortunate to have had so much support,” Green said. “We’ve had millions of dollars in commitments made since the pandemic started.”
“I think people tend to reflect on what’s really important in life during a pandemic,” he said. “A lot of people think the JCC is really important. And they’re right.”
Among those are the Trager family. Michael Trager-Kusman said their involvement and passion grew over time.
“The more passionate and stronger we felt about the project and how it would impact Louisville and our community, we were more enthusiastic about the naming opportunity,” said Trager-Kusman.
The family, which owns and operates Republic Bancorp, Inc., is admired and known in Louisville for its philanthropic support, including the family’s three generations of involvement in the JCC.
Trager-Kusman said his grandparents, Jean and Bernard Trager, enjoyed the JCC as a social club, a place to work out and even to dine. His mother and uncle, Shelley and Steve participated in athletics and social activities, and every member of his generation has enjoyed summer camp at the JCC.
He sees the JCC as a welcoming place where all of Louisville can meet.
That mission will become increasingly important in the future.
“We need to reach out to communities around us,” Trager-Kusman said. “It’s a great opportunity for the JCC to stand up and speak out for everyone. I think that’s essentially the future of the JCC in the new building.”
When it opens, the Trager Family JCC will become the featured landmark of Jewish Louisville, a point Jon Fleischaker, past chair of the JCL board, made when he presented the JCL’s initial matching fund grant request to Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence (JHFE) in 2018.
“I pointed out that Jewish Hospital, a major Jewish institution, was over; it was done; we lost that,” said Fleischaker. “and the Standard Club was no longer a Jewish institution. It was important to have a major Jewish institution that was thriving in Louisville, Kentucky, and that had to be the Federation and the JCC.”
The new JCC has been long in coming. In fact, planning for the facility began as early as 2016, when JHFE approved grants for that purpose. The grant was for planning and creating a strategic plan to determine feasibility.
A breakthrough came in 2018, when the Tragers made their initial $1.5 million pledge. JHFE then approved its cornerstone gift to the project: $10 million and up to $15 million in matching funds.
“I became confident that we could do it,” Fleischaker said.
The Capital Campaign – chaired by Jerry and Madeline Abramson, Frank and Barbara Weisberg, and Dr. Jeffrey Tuvlin – was organized that fall. At first, the goal was $40 million, but the JCL board later approved raising that level to $42.5 million, due to cost changes in labor and materials – a common occurrence.
Also in 2018, the JCL purchased the Anshei Sfard property, expanding ownership on the Dutchmans Lane campus.
Even though sufficient funds to complete the JCC are now pledged, the capital campaign is continuing to raise funds to enhance the expanded campus with features including an accessible playground and greater green space development, Green said.
That’s why other naming rights within the building are still available, under the roof of the Trager Family JCC.
Stacy Gordon-Funk, Senior Vice-President and Chief Development Officer for the JCC, will continue to lead the professional staff team and support the Capital Campaign fundraising committee, along with Wagner, in securing donations for these individual naming opportunities.
Gordon-Funk sees the support of the Trager family as key to other families stepping up and either making new commitments or increasing their current commitments.
“The Trager family has demonstrated over and over again their passion for our JCC and the entire Louisville community,” she said. “We could not be more proud to have leaders and philanthropists like the Trager family support our new JCC in such a meaningful way.”