JCC Honoring Stu Greene for 35 years of dedication
By Stacey Dresner
SPRINGFIELD – Stu Greene has spent his career stressing the importance of physical fitness to the members of the Springfield Jewish Community Center as director of health and physical education. His work at the JCC has also included serving as beloved head coach of the Cudas swim team and head coach of the JCC’s Maccabi team.
In April, Greene, 66, retired from his longtime post at the JCC and on the evening of Sunday, June 2, members of the community will come together to honor Greene at a tribute dinner at Chez Josef. But that afternoon, a more casual tribute is planned, one that is right up Greene’s alley. Hundreds of JCC members, former Maccabi athletes and JCC swim team members will converge on the JCC for a day of outdoor fun and family activities, swimming and games – a fitting tribute to someone who has dedicated his life to physical fitness and the JCC.
“We really wanted to make the day be ‘Stu-style’ and really have it be what he would like,” said Margie Smith, co–chair of the celebration. “He is a very casual person and we all laugh about how we have never seen him in a suit. But we really want this to be a reflection of him where people can come from all over – kids and their parents – and check in and say ‘Hi’ and see how he is doing and talk about all of their memories. “He has given his heart and soul and blood, sweat and tears to this community for an awfully long time and has seen generations come through the JCC.”
Michael Paysnick, executive director of the JCC, has worked with Stu for nearly 25 years.
“In my career I’ve had the opportunity to work with many great professionals; I’ve never worked with anyone who loved his constituency or work more and imparted so many important life lessons,” Paysnick said. “No matter what challenges Stu faced in his work, the foremost consideration was how to best help one grow as a person emotionally, intellectually and physically.”
While Greene has been a Springfield fixture for the past 35 years, he is actually a native of West Hartford, Conn. After graduating from high school in 1965, he went into the U.S. Army, serving in the Vietnam War as an artillery officer. When he got out of the Army, he came back home and went to the University of Connecticut planning to become a lawyer. For two years he was a business major, but also got a job at the Greater Hartford Jewish Community Center (now the Mandell JCC).
“I was so bored working in the phys ed department at the Hartford JCC that I asked them if I could start a swim team and they said, sure,” he recalled.
He started coaching swimming at the Hartford JCC that winter of 1969 – 70, “and it blossomed right away. I had 70 kids the first year and many more than that later and I enjoyed coaching so much that I decided to change majors. I transferred into the school of education – physical education. I think I would have gone that other route if I hadn’t had that experience coaching at the Hartford JCC. But I found what I wanted to do.”
Greene stayed in West Hartford serving as the JCC’s assistant director of the physical education department until January of 1975 when he took the job as director of the phys ed department in Springfield.
When Greene arrived at the Springfield JCC, the building, which did not yet have a fitness center, opened at 9 a.m. The first thing he did was to start a running/fitness class at 7 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays called “The Early Birds.” Around 35 people – mostly men – would show up to exercise with Stu before going off to work.
“The Early Birds took right off. It was patterned after the program that my co-worker Bernie Wolf started at the Hartford JCC and it blossomed in Springfield. We ended up having a wonderful time with that.”
Betsy Bertuzzi’s father was a member of those first Early Birds. Bertuzzi is a co-chair of the event honoring Greene, along with Margie Smith.
“Stu has been a mentor to me and a close friend,” said Bertuzzi, who met Greene when she was a junior camp counselor at the JCC’s summer camp in Wilbraham as a teen and he ran the waterfront and aquatics program. As an adult, Greene taught Bertuzzi’s children to swim. But his influence went beyond athletics.
“What he cared about and what he instilled, whether at summer camp or the Maccabi Games, is making good choices in life,” Bertuzzi said. “With the kids, he always worked on character for their whole life, not just in sports.”
Over the years, Greene brought new fitness classes and children’s phys ed programming to the JCC, supervised the aquatics department, and the wellness and fitness departments, and coached the swim team.
”He is a great person to work with. He is very easy-going and always has a smile on his face,” Smith said. “He has just given so much to the community but also my family, from knowing him as a teenager to my own kids – my daughter was on the swim team for many years so I knew him as a parent,” Smith said. “He just always greets you it is like he is greeting a long-lost friend. He is always interested in whatever is going on in your life and he is like that with everybody. He has really touched all ages of the community, the entire lifecycle.”
In 2002, Greene he organized the Maccabi Games in Springfield in less than 15 months. After that, he was asked to serve on the Continental Board of the Maccabi Games. As a member of the Continental Board, he traveled to many other communities to help them plan their own Maccabi Games. In 2011, he served as games director of the Maccabis when they were held in Springfield again.
“We hosted kids from all around the world in 2002 and 2011 and that has been a marvelous part of my job and I was lucky enough to be the delegation head from Springfield from the beginning, from 1993 to last year,” Greene said.
Greene said that the Maccabis are about more than just sports.
“Jewish kids can get together whether it is BBYO or AZA or Hillel. But what happens at the Maccabi Games is “Big Tent Judaism,’ he said. “It is the most inclusive that we can be and it reaches kids that can’t be reached almost any other way. You could have never set foot in a synagogue or a Jewish teen program, or a JCC for that matter, but if you have an interest in sports whether individual or team, it gives that extra draw. It gives kids a contact with Judaism that some kids have never had.
“At the games they blossom, they understand how wonderful it is to be Jewish, how wonderful it is to be part of our history and culture. Every part of it is shown to them in such a positive way that it changes lives.”
The secret to his success at the JCC and his love for his work for 35 years, he says, is keeping the passion.
“I never lost my passion for any of the parts of the job…absolutely, during swim season, that’s my favorite thing, and during Maccabi, that’s my favorite thing, and during sports camp, that is my favorite thing. No matter what you are doing you have to have that same level of commitment and passion, especially when you are working with kids…you can’t fake being a teacher or coach. If you don’t love doing it, they are going to know and they are not going to respond the same way they would if it is your passion. And I never had to fake it, thank goodness.”
Greene said that he plans to spend more time with his family in retirement, including his wife, Vicky, their children Jennifer and Russell, and their grandson, Ari. A Civil War buff, Greene will also continue to teach the popular history classes he has taught at the JCC for so long.
“Will we miss him? You bet.,” Paysnick said. “They don’t make his model anymore unfortunately. We do plan in seeing him regularly in the pool and continuing to teach his history classes. At the same time, change is good, and we also look forward to welcoming a new health and wellness director soon who will make his or her own mark on our community.”