WILKES-BARRE —Lois Gelb is looking forward to participating in many of the programs she ran for 31 years at the Jewish Community Center.
Gelb, 70, of Kingston, retired Friday from her position as Senior Adult Program Director at the JCC, and now she intends to enjoy concerts, trips, lectures, classes and everything else she helped create during her tenure.
She will also spend quality time with, as she says, the love of her life — her husband Bob — whom she’s been married to for 48 years. They have three children and six grandchildren.
The Jewish Community Alliance of Northeastern PA will honor Gelb at a luncheon Thursday at the JCC.
Gelb said she’s embarrassed by the event, saying it’s not needed.
“I don’t need to be honored,” she said. “This is something I’ve enjoyed for 31 years. The people here are my family.”
After teaching school, Gelb went to work at Jewish Family Service where she ran the kosher meals on wheels program.
“They needed outreach for the elderly,” she said.
Not long after that, Gelb started helping Jewish Russian immigrants who were given asylum. She helped them find their way in the United States by locating housing and offering information on what was available to them.
“It was a big adjustment for them,” Gelb said. “If we went to the supermarket, they would want to buy 100 pounds of potatoes because where they came from, they were never sure what would be available day to day.”
Gelb grew up in Nanticoke, graduating in 1961, the year the basketball team won the state championship.
“We still have summer get-togethers that Bill James coordinates,” she said.
Gelb went to Wilkes College (the name at the time) and earned her bachelor of science degree in elementary education.
Over the years at the JCC, Gelb has offered programs for senior citizens from excursions to far off places to Yiddish classes to crafts, musical programs, athletic events, lectures and much more.
“The goal was to keep seniors active and involved,” she said. “I think we’ve done that. That’s what exemplifies what the JCC means to me.”
Gelb said she never felt that she was dealing with strangers. She said deciding to retire was a difficult decision.
“Retirement isn’t easy for anyone,” she said. “But the good thing — the big difference — is that now I will be a customer. I still plan on coming to the JCC and participating in all the wonderful activities.”
Gelb said she couldn’t have done anything without the large number of volunteers that were there for her every day.
“You could never do a job like this by yourself,” she said.
When asked why she is retiring now, Gelb said a friend gave her advice.
“I asked how I would know when to retire,” Gelb said. “And she told me, ‘You just know.’ I knew it was time.”
Gelb got emotional several times when talking about her decision. She said she knows the JCC will continue the programs for seniors.
“You always have to keep learning and experiencing new things,” she said. “Once you stop learning, that’s when you start to go downhill.”