By Logan C. Ritchie | email@example.com
When Donald Jaslow moved to Atlanta in 1968 as a recent graduate of the University of Alabama from Pensacola, Fla., he was looking for a substantial Jewish community.
He moved to Buford Highway, the center of Atlanta’s Jewish singles scene in 1968, and joined the Jewish Community Center’s men’s softball league. Harris Jacobs, a sports enthusiast and JCC president, took him under his wing.
“I remember his words to me when we met: Get involved. Give back,” Jaslow said. Jacobs’ spirit continues with the annual Harris Jacobs Dream Run, occurring for the 22nd time May 3. Only a heart attack and bypass surgery have kept Jaslow from participating each year.
Jaslow has remained committed to the Marcus JCC. He married Dianne and continued playing softball. His daughter, Lisa, was born in 1971, and he kick-started the JCC children’s athletic program. He was coaching soccer and basketball when his second daughter, Laurie, arrived.
While his career was taking off at General Electric, he became commissioner of the JCC softball league, led the health and physical education department, and joined the JCC board of directors.
On the weekends, Jaslow ran races and half-marathons. He has run in the Peachtree Road Race 15 times. In 1994 he learned that United Way and Coca-Cola were planning to award “the everyday guy” a chance to carry the torch for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
“Someone had to nominate you, and my wife said, ‘We should do this.’ So we sat down, and my daughter wrote the letter,” he said.
The letter detailed Jaslow’s lifelong involvement with the Jewish community and emphasis on children’s sports programs.
President Bill Clinton announced that the first two torch carriers were Oklahoma City bombing rescuers. Jaslow and his wife thought he was no longer in the running, but just days later he was in the office when he got a message from Dianne: “Guess what? You’re going to carry the torch!”
When the day came, Jaslow loaded up with the runners and stepped off the bus in a Roswell neighborhood to crowds of screaming spectators. Suddenly, he had celebrity status.
“Crowds were six people deep. Everyone wanted to take my picture. I was signing hats and shirts. All my family was there wearing shirts my niece designed that said, ‘See Don Run. See Don Carry the Olympic Torch.’ It is something I’ll never experience again.”
Amid the JCC’s move from Midtown to Dunwoody in the late 1990s, Jaslow was recognized for his leadership, guidance and passion for sports. He took on the role of vice president of the board of directors and chaired the $22 million expansion at Zaban Park.
“It doesn’t matter who you work for; the center thinks you work for them,” he joked.
Jaslow became the president of the board in 2003 with a goal to “recycle the generations” by re-engaging adults who grew up at the JCC to enroll their children in preschool, camp or sports.
“I want to keep the cycle of life going,” he said.
That is one reason he participates each year in the Harris Jacobs Dream Run. Jaslow said he recalls Jacobs as a “good old Southern boy. He was not pompous. He had the gift of gab. He never met a person who wasn’t a friend. He would be so happy and proud of all the people who are in this race from a Jewish community standpoint.”
The race follows a kid-friendly course through Dunwoody neighborhoods. The 5K road race/walk starts at 8 a.m.; a special-needs 1-mile community walk begins at 8:15 a.m.
After a heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery in 2004, Jaslow’s running has slowed to a walk. He serves on the Temple Emanu-El board, volunteers at the Georgia Aquarium and tutors third-graders in math at Hightower Elementary School. Retired from GE after 42 years, he also enjoys a round of golf.
“When I speak at the center as a former president, I tell young leadership: Do something constructive, no matter what it is. Do something for Jewish life. Don’t sit around,” Jaslow said. “I’m 70 years old, and I still want to make sure we have good Jewish heritage.”
What: Harris Jacobs Dream Run
Where: Marcus JCC, 5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody
When: 8 a.m. Sunday, May 3
Registration: $30 for 5K, $15 for 1 mile; www.atlantajcc.org
Don Jaslow is a 20-year veteran of the Harris Jacobs Dream Run.