History of Greene Family Camp
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 continues to be the guiding force at GFC.
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.