The History of GFC
Greene was established in 1976 by interested parents and children to build an unforgettable religious, cultural, recreational, and emotional experience. But our story begins much earlier than that.
During the late sixties and early seventies, members of TOFTY (Texas Oklahoma Federation of Temple Youth) had nowhere to call home. The Henry S. Jacobs Camp had been recently founded in Utica Mississippi, but that was too far for Texas and Oklahoma Temple Youth Groups to travel. The URJ (Union for Reform Judaism) and NFTY (The North American Federation of Temple Youth) had already founded a number of other camps throughout the US and the families of Texas wanted in!
Our first session was held in the summer of 1976 with 50 campers. Our first director was Rabbi Solomon Kahn Kaplan z”l and he was soon joined by Rabbi Larry Jackofsky z”l as our second camp director. Camp Chairs through the years have included Edward C. Greene, Davna Brook, Arnold Miller, Michael Wolf, Michael Solka, Steve Donchin, Carol Margolis, and Mark Levine.
Read more about the history of GFC
At the turn of the 20th Century, the purpose of “Jewish” camping was to give children who were living in cramped, largely unsanitary conditions the opportunity to breathe fresh air and learn how to be “Americans” at the Fresh Air Fund Camps. This largely successful movement worked so well that many of these youth no longer understood what it meant to be Jewish. In an effort to reverse the trend, the UAHC opened its first “Jewish” camp in the early 1950’s to continue giving children the experience to explore the outdoors and to learn what it meant to be Jewish. The camps were loosely organized and operated by the NCCI and later the NAC.
In 1969, the Henry S. Jacobs Camp was founded by Jews of the Deep South to provide Jewish children from this region the same camping opportunities that existed for children in the north. While Jacobs served the children from Texas and Oklahoma, these children of TOFTY, a local NFTY region, began to chant “we want a camp!” Local UAHC leaders supported this grassroots movement and the Texas-Oklahoma Camp Committee, also known as the TOCC, was formed to raise money, secure a location, and ultimately build a camp.
Leading this initial fundraising effort were Harry Wood, Jr., Jake Gandler, and Abbye Freed of Waco; Robert Rosow of San Antonio; Swede Cersonsky and Davna Brook (as the only woman) of Houston, and Ed Greene of Dallas. According to Arnold Miller, who became a member of the TOCC in 1976, Robert Rosow directed San Antonio architect, Bernard Harris, to “draw us up a camp.” Plans were secured, but there was no funding to proceed. The TOCC worked through the Southwest Council of the UAHC to encourage the Congregations to assess each congregant family $200. Sisterhood, through the leadership of then District 22 President Delores Wilkenfeld of Houston rallied each of the member groups to raise money to stock the kitchen.
As with many fundraising efforts, the TOCC experienced its own successes and challenges. At a particularly critical point when the camp’s future was in limbo, a future camper approached her father Ed Greene, our namesake, who donated funds and saw that this dream would come to fruition. Ed went on to become the first Camp Committee Chairman as well as the President of the Southwest Council and a member of the UAHC Board of Directors.
With plans in hand and donations secured, 100 acres of land was purchased on Smith Lane from the Smith family. GFC was engineered by William Johnson from Waco at a cost of almost one million dollars. In 1976, GFC opened just in time for a second session with just under 50 children. The first director was Rabbi Solomon Kahn Kaplan who was the UAHC Regional Director and influence behind Jacobs and Greene. By its second year in 1977, there were 70 campers and by 1978, GFC grew to 148 campers, a 100% increase. Rabbi Jake (Lawrence Jackofsky) was the second director in 1978 and left to become the next UAHC Regional Director. Then in 1979, the reins were turned over to Loui Dobin who continued to be the guiding force at GFC until 2019. Rabbi Erin Mason currently serves as the Camp Director.
By 1981, GFC was debt free and it was time to expand. The next fundraising effort in the late 1980’s resulted in the Marlene Levy Wood Water Sports Facility and the Costa Activities Center. In the 1990’s, GFC was able to purchase an additional 33 acres of land to expand on one side and an additional 20 acres on the other. In 1998, the Miller Dining Hall was built and the Miller family donated over 12 acres that provided additional access. GFC now had in excess of 160 acres of land. During this time, the Plotkin Health Care Center and the first housing wing of the Rosenthal Faculty Center were completed in addition to many other projects which can be found on the Master Facilities Plan.
In 2006, GFC kicked off its first Capital Campaign to enable the camp to meet the needs of an ever growing camper population. The results of that campaign included the Sampson Sports Complex, Lake Jake and Mankoff recreational waterfront, the Isaac Mayer Wise Eco-Village and many other projects. In 2012, GFC purchased an adjacent 120 acres from the Miller family and completed the Eco-Village on the site. And we are not finished. The on-going campaign has plans for a Performing Arts Center, Conference Center and additional housing.
With an average of 900 campers in the summer, GFC provides a warm, fun, engaging, safe and Jewish summer for the Reform children and teenagers of Texas and Oklahoma.
the history of Bruceville, TX
The site where Bruceville, Texas, stands today was first a campground for Native Americans. They would stop and get water from the spring, which was located by the creek that runs east of and parallel to the railroad. There is a Native American graveyard in the woods, approximately a quarter mile due north of Bruceville. It is easy to locate, due to the holes left by people digging for money in the Native American graves. The Native Americans of those times buried the deceased with their valuables.
In the 1800’s, the town was known as Masterville, but then the M.K. & T Railroad was built through here. Dr. Bruce, a prominent citizen, owned the land around the town and agreed to build the railroad depot, provided that the town be named after him. On March 15, 1887, the town of Masterville became Bruceville, and businesses were booming. They say it was hard to find a place to tie your horse on Saturday.
At the time, Bruceville was an exciting town of about 500 people. The town was full of businesses, including: a large general mercantile store, a grocery and dry good store, a bank, another store which sold lumber, hardware, farming implements, buggies and harnesses, and a drug store with a soda fountain. There were two cotton gins, a gristmill, oil mill, a café or two, a wagon yard, and a horse stable. The was a livery stable, where a horse and buggy could be hired or rented, a blacksmith shop, telephone office and even a hotel.
Colonel Ross owned & operated a moving picture studio on his lot behind the hotel that was the site of many picnics and town celebrations, not to mention the revivals, carnivals and political candidate debates. Politics got very fiery and some would have fistfights. George Cox, a large landowner, would have a bit too much to drink, drive into town, and curse and preach politics on the main downtown street. He could be heard all over town.
There was once an attempted bank robbery at the Bruceville Bank. Nolan Taylor, who was cashier, overpowered the robber and with Clayton Clendennin’s help, held the robber for the sheriff. Nolan had the one fired bullet made into a watch charm and wore it till the day he died.
Bruceville always had a fine basketball team. They played in Tile Mayfield’s pasture, on the hill, east of town.
Until the Great Depression, Bruceville was a busy, progressive community. But then, even though farms were still producing good crops, there were no markets. Many farmers had to get government aid. Mr. Rucker, the barber at the time, also helped with the funeral business. He used to carve a notch on his razor handle for every corpse whose hair he cut.
In 1935, there was a terrible train accident. At a treacherous bend several hundred yards from where the post office still stands, the wreck occurred, and it is still the topic of conversation to this day. Since it was during the Depression, there were many hobos and “down-and-outers” on that train, along with numerous heads of cattle. The number of human lives lost could not be determined, but it was estimated to be a total fatality. According to the postmistress, “…for several weeks after the wreck, the stench along the tracks was unbearable, until the debris and corpses were finally cleared away.” Folks began to move away, and Bruceville’s future looked a bit bleak.
Then in the early 1940’s, fire broke out on Main Street and nearly all of the stores and business establishments burned. The only building left standing was the post office, the second oldest in McLennan County, and it is still there today. No businesses were replaced and Bruceville was destined to its current small, sleepy state.
In the early 1970’s the Texas-Oklahoma Camp Commission was searching for a site to build a new camp, and they pin-pointed the map in the absolute center of Texas and Oklahoma. The spot was Bruceville. Once the dump trucks started rolling in and buses of campers followed, the local folk woke up and took notice. The Camp has been a boost to the local economy by providing jobs and bringing in business. Greene Family Camp now occupies a proud place in the ever unfolding history of Bruceville, Texas.
The mission of Greene Family Camp is to create a fun, safe, educational friend-filled environment that teaches and practices Judaism. GFC encourages personal and spiritual growth through creative programs and varied activities. Below is the mission statement most recently envisioned by our summer and full time staff.
Hineini – Here I am
– I am here to find my place and strengthen my connection to the Greene Family Camp community and the Jewish community
– I am here to make Judaism my own and explore my spirituality
– I am here to respect myself, this place, and others, putting my Jewish values into action every day.
– I am here to create the best version of myself and to help you do the same.
I am here to make the most of every day, every situation, and every relationship with the people who are here with me.
Im ein ani li mi li? U-ch sh’ani li’atzmi ma ani? Ve-im lo achshav, eymatai? If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when? (Pirkei Avot 1.14)