The J, A Favorite Place Where Everyone Knows Your Name
MEMBER SPOTLIGHT PHYLLIS STRAUSS
Phyllis Strauss and her family have been members of the Lawrence Family JCC for decades, back to when the JCC was located on 54th Street. Growing up, Phyllis’ early memories of the J were summer days spent at the pool with her six siblings. She reflected, “When the J first opened, we would go to the pool every single day in the summer. It was our community.”
Attending Camp Jaycee was among the highlights of our youth. When asked if she has a favorite camp memory (other than the Camp Jaycee songs she can still recall!), Phyllis remembers going to Disneyland and doing overnights, but mostly playing with her friends. She met her dear friend at camp, Sharon Ellis, who remained her best friend until Sharon passed away at the young age of 50.
As she and her siblings grew they also participated on the swim team, which provided a much-needed energy release. Phyllis later worked as a lifeguard and a water safety instructor. She was 14 back then but fibbed that she was 16 to be eligible to work. “They didn’t check IDs at the time,” she chuckled. At about the same time, her brothers also played in basketball leagues at the J. One brother, Joel Kramer, even went on to play at San Diego State and in the NBA for the Phoenix Suns!
After Phyllis reached adulthood, she continued her parents’ tradition of making the JCC a family affair. Phyllis’ children went to preschool at the JCC, and then both became lifeguards at the J (but without the age-fibbing part). Remarkably, Phyllis’ son even met his wife at the J!
“Even during quarantine, I’ve made new friends at the J because we all swim at the same time. And literally, if someone doesn’t come, somebody will call and check on them. Everybody becomes part of your family and you don’t get that in other places.” — Phyllis Strauss
Currently, Phyllis enjoys swimming every morning and personal training and has worked with her trainer, Mike, for the past 18 years. She jokes that she visits the gym “when she feels like it,” and enjoys special events like the San Diego International Jewish Film Festival. Phyllis’ husband, Mark, takes classes, but Phyllis is “not a class-taking person.” However, now that she’s retired she can see herself taking classes in the future. But she wants to be in person, as she isn’t interested in online classes. “As long as everyone is vaccinated, I’ll feel comfortable,” she said.
Phyllis also speaks highly of the way the J has handled the pandemic, and the support she feels. “The staff is doing a fabulous job. I can’t imagine dealing with what they’ve had to do during the pandemic. That’s the biggest kudos ever,” she added, “even during quarantine, I’ve made new friends at the J because we all swim at the same time. And literally, if someone doesn’t come, somebody will call and check on them. Everybody becomes part of your family and you don’t get that in other places. I’ve never felt that anywhere else I’ve tried. Every morning, I tell the lifeguards or whoever’s working, ‘thank you.’ Because truly, they’ve saved me.“
While it wasn’t Phyllis’ decision to originally join the J as a child, she has chosen to stay. “It’s my favorite place in the entire world. The JCC feels like home. Do you know that TV show where everyone knows your name? That’s what the JCC is to me.”