Jay Rittle Stager passed away unexpectedly on the evening of Dec. 14, 2016, in Inverness, Fla., leaving his beloved wife and partner, Devora.
Their years together were joyous each and every day.
Jay was born in Lebanon, Penn., July 19, 1934. Throughout his youth, Jay was hard-working and generous in all he did. During the latter days of WWII, he took great pride in collecting needed materials for our men and women at war. His love of cars came on early, as he worked in his father’s auto shop renovating popular models of the time.
Jay graduated from Franklin and Marshall College and pursued graduate study at Yale Divinity School. During the 1960s, he launched the American Field Service international youth exchange program in Manchester, Conn. A worldly and concerned citizen, Jay was active in local politics and the civil rights movements.
Accompanied by his young family, he spent a year as a Fulbright Scholar in Istanbul, Turkey. He taught math at Manchester High School in Connecticut, and humanities courses at the local community college there. A much-loved professor, Jay gave life to his teaching. His favorite courses included philosophy and religions of the World. His focus on experiential learning enabled his students to meet gurus, Sikhs, rabbis and others from all walks of life. Learning was always fun with Jay Stager.
Jay's main professional passion was summer camps for youth. After gaining experience in church camps in Pennsylvania and Connecticut and a fresh air camp in New York for underprivileged families, he and his wife, Shirley (Asha), purchased Med-o-lark Camp in Washington, Maine, turning it into one of the nation's first co-ed, non-denominational, inter-racial, international camps. That success was soon followed by the equally successful Hidden Valley Camp. By this time, Jay Stager had become a legend within the camping community for his innovative programs. Always true to camp protocols, no one made camp more fun than he.
Jay was deeply affected by “American’s Youngest Ambassador,” 10-year old Samantha Smith’s efforts to work toward world peace. Her untimely death moved him to establish yet another camp, World Peace Camp, which was one of the first such programs to bring Russian youth to America. With his second wife, Karen, he helped to establish one of the first private adoption programs in Russia. Through this program, they placed more than 1,000 children with American families and adopted three youngsters themselves. To work toward better integration and family success, the Stagers hosted annual gatherings of Russian adoptive families to foster a positive community.
After retiring from the camp business, Jay and Devora remained interested and active in social causes, both in Maine, and in their latest home, Beverly Hills, Fla., especially through membership in Kings Bay Rotary in Crystal River, Fla.
Throughout his long, productive life, Jay expressed that his main purpose was to help other people, and that giving of one’s self is far better than receiving. Thousands of people around the world who loved him and now feel his absence would agree that he succeeded in those goals.
Jay is survived by his loving wife Devora; his former wife Shirley (Asha); his children Leslie, Curt, Irina, Marina and Vanya (Jason); his brother, James Stager and family; and a large extended family including several grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Jay's memory to E-Nini-Hassee Outdoor Therapeutic School for Girls, 7027 E. Stagecoach Trail, Floral City, FL. 34436, 325-726-3883 or at give.eckerd.org, designate E-Nini-Hassee Scholarships, under comments please specify in memory of Jay R. Stager.