More than 250 people gathered at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus June 27 for a tribute dinner to say goodbye to Carol Folkerth, who is retiring from the JCC after 35 years of service. 

JCC members – from past presidents to Columbus business leaders to national JCC leaders – throughout the evening shared their admiration for Folkerth, who has been executive director at the JCC since 2006 after holding other positions in the organization. 

Folkerth, however, wanted to focus on her own gratitude for those who’ve helped her and the JCC be successful.

“If you want people to know you are grateful, say it three times,” she said. “So thanks you, thank you, thank you. It is I, who thank you – my teachers, my mentors and my friends for allowing me to be a part of this JCC. I loved every second.” 

Rick Meizlish, who became the JCC’s board president July 1, opened with remarks and shared that a plethora of guests traveled from across the country to attend the dinner in support of Folkerth. 

“Under her guidance, we have enjoyed unparalleled growth and success,” Meizlish said. “Her inspirational leadership has not only benefited thousands of JCC community members, but the entire Jewish community. You will be sorely missed. Yet we are happy for her as she enjoys the retirement she so rightfully deserves.” 

Folkerth also heard remarks from colleagues around the country and locally whom she has worked alongside for more than three decades, including Doron Krakow, president and CEO of JCC Association of North America – the umbrella organization for JCCs on the continent. Other speakers included Joel Dinkin, CEO of Evelyn Rubenstein JCC of Houston and former Columbus JCC executive director; Larry Moses, senior adviser at The Wexner Foundation in Columbus; and Columbus JCC past presidents Jennifer Cammeyer, Lisa Newmark, Joe Sniderman and Heidi Levey. 

Before sharing a video tribute of Folkerth’s work through the years, Levey said it was Folkerth’s kindness and compassion that built community. 

“Everyone in this room, and beyond, loves being close to you,” Levey said. “You are a part of all of our families. You have been the public face of the JCC to our community, and we are so thankful of how you have led, represented the JCC and ourselves.”

Levey then explained when it comes to Folkerth, “Nobody says no – no one is too busy.”

Sniderman discussed his work with Folkerth through the years. He revealed as a member of a selection committee in 2006, he voted against her becoming the JCC’s CEO. 

“I hardly knew her,” he said. “She was a social worker. She was nice, interviewed well, knew all the right answers, but (I thought) ‘how can she run a million-dollar business? What did she know about running a 300,000-square-foot building with 300 to 400 employees?” 

However, Sniderman said Folkerth’s work as executive director ultimately changed and created JCC programs were a pleasant surprise he witnessed through the years. 

“Because my children are not here, I will admit that I was wrong,” he said jokingly. 

Krakow said he believes Folkerth’s legacy at the JCC won’t be forgotten, and her successor, Mike Klapper, will carry on her work. 

“Carol Folkerth is one of the most remarkable professionals I’ve met in this field,” Krakow said. “She leads with warmth, with character and with understanding. Communities are usually a reflection of its leader and this is a wise, warm, welcoming community. We look to Mike Klapper to raise the JCC and the community even further.” 

Toward the end of the night, Folkerth shared how she is looking forward to the next chapter of her life. She said she plans to spend more time with her husband, Jeff, and her family and dogs. She also said she will never fully leave the JCC. 

“This has never been a job for me, but more of a family business,” she said. “A diverse family who disagrees on some things, but agrees on the important things, which is taking care of each other. In this new chapter, I look forward to attending all of the parties, and not feeling like I have to take down the chairs afterwards.”

Elizabeth Randolph writes for the Columbus Jewish News from Columbus. 

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