Heart of the Community

South Shore YMCA celebrates 125 years

By John Galluzzo | Above photo by Jack Foley; Historic photos courtesy of South Shore YMCA

Quincy’s Germantown neighborhood is a world unto itself. As a peninsula, it’s geographically a dead end. And with more than 800 of its 1,000 or so addresses federal housing units supporting many families of low means, it can feel like an economic dead end as well.

Terrell Johnson knows this fact all too well. He grew up in the neighborhood and it wasn’t easy. Away from their parents at 16 and 18, Terrell and his older brother, Lovell, faced new responsibilities. Terrell was working, going to school and paying rent.

“It was a very hard struggle,” says Johnson. And that’s when things really started to get tough. His grandmother died, leaving two of his teenage cousins in need of support, so he took them in. Johnson had to budget his finances to cover the needs of twice as many people. “It was a hard hit,” he says.

The first permanent Quincy Y stood behind today’s Quincy Mutual Fire Insurance, off Washington Street, and served the community until 1955.

One year, knowing he didn’t have enough money to provide a good Christmas for his younger cousin, Johnson turned to the South Shore YMCA’s Germantown Neighborhood Center for assistance. “I was always at the neighborhood center,” he says. He’d grown up through the center’s youth programs, advancing through camp counselor and peer leadership positions. Tears still come to his eyes when he talks about how the Y and then-executive director Kathy Quigley made sure his cousin would get new clothes and other necessities that Christmas.

Stories like Johnson’s have been told for hundreds of years on the South Shore. Through no fault of their own, people find themselves in need of assistance of some kind, unsure where to turn. For the last 125 years, the South Shore YMCA has provided an open door to solutions.

The Y’s roots run deep in Quincy. Incorporating as a city in 1888, its population had more than doubled to 16,000 in 20 years. Immigrants from around the world came to work in the granite industry and the suddenly prosperous shipbuilding yard of Thomas Watson on the Fore River. Many of the young men living in the city in those days found themselves overworked, tired and in need of guidance. A cadre of Quincy’s business and spiritual leaders proposed a new association of the Young Men’s Christian Association (the first one was founded in England in 1844 and the first American association formed in Boston in 1851) to help them find their way. They met in December of 1891 to hash out the idea and by January of 1892 they signed their articles of incorporation.

Alex Clark was there. An immigrant himself, Clark hung his own shingle – Alex Clark Blacksmithing—just two years previous. Realizing the need for the community center, he went all-in on the YMCA. When he signed the founding charter, he began a family legacy.

“His son, Alexander Wendell Clark, was very involved for over 50 years as a board member and was chairman of the board during the fundraising and building of the Quincy building back in the mid-50s,” says Alex G. Clark, a present-day board member and the president of Vulcan Tools. A. Wendell Clark’s son, W. Gordon Clark, carried on the family tradition, matching his father’s longevity by volunteering for more than 50 years. Alex G. Clark joined the board in 1978 and continues to serve.

These days, the South Shore YMCA runs more than 100 programs, including preschool programs, a food pantry and wellness programs for cancer survivors that involves 60,000 people annually and raises $3 million each year for individuals and families in need.

The founders of the Quincy Y sought to enrich the lives of young men through mental stimulation, spiritual inspiration and physical exercise. Pictured are members of a 1890s -era football team.

“It’s amazing what the Y brings to needy kids and families—and everyone else,” says Paul Wahlberg, executive chef at Alma Nove and Wahlburgers in Hingham. Wahlberg and his siblings grew up in Dorchester and participated in many youth programs at their local Y on Washington Street, playing “YBA” basketball. He now makes a point to give back to the South Shore YMCA by participating in its signature “Taste of the South Shore” fundraiser each spring that helps to raise money to send kids to summer camp. “It’s paying back the Y for what they did for my family,” he says.

“It is exciting to be involved with an organization that serves the community in so many ways,” said Suzanne Stefany, chairman of the board of directors. Last year alone, the organization served over 4,000 seniors and families at its food pantry, had over 600 individuals participate in inclusion programs, served 1,400 people in medically based programs and had over 600 students each day in licensed classrooms, speaking 14 different languages. “Being able to do so much for so many through all stages of life creates a connection and real sense of community,” says Stefany.

Alex G. Clark, Jr. is now a member of the South Regional Advisory Board for the Y and represents the fifth generation of his family’s involvement. “The reward, says the elder Clark, “is seeing lives change.”

Johnson, who now serves as the assistant director of the Quincy Y’s after-school program and is the assistant director of the Y’s Quincy Day Camp, is living proof of the Y’s impact. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and is making plans for grad school and his master’s. His goal is to become a guidance counselor so he can help the next generation of kids find their way. Johnson imparts what he’s learned from his life’s lessons to the many kids that he shepherds toward adulthood. “I tell them that education is key, and to try as hard as they can. And I tell them to be a kid while they can.”

If need be, the South Shore YMCA will be there to help with the rest.


SSYMCA THROUGH THE YEARS

1892

A group of 12 men founded the Quincy YMCA. After two temporary locations, a building at 61 Washington Street in Quincy was dedicated in 1904. Referred to as Adams Academy, the building offered many community programs such as vocational training, bowling, exercise sessions, prayer meetings, and guidance to men and women who were away from home.  It housed the YMCA for the next 51 years.


1928

Camp Burgess, a summer camp for boys, opens in Sandwich. Named for Quincy resident Frank Burgess, it remains the Y’s overnight camp to this day.

 


1955

A new Y facility opens on Coddington Street.


1960

The Y opens Camp Hayward, named for longtime board president Carle Hayward, across a lake from Camp Burgess, the girls’ counterpart to the boys’ camp.


1961-1965

Emma Toussant leads the Quincy YMCA board, serving as the first female board president of any YMCA in the United States.


1981

The Quincy branch absorbs the Weymouth branch, creating the South Shore Y.


1994

The Y purchases the outdoor grounds of the former Hanover Tennis Club, opening a summer day camp, now known as Camp Gordon Clark.


1998

The Y adds the former Mill Pond Tennis Club, converting it into the Mill Pond YMCA; today’s Emilson Y branch.


2011

The Y merges with South Shore Natural Science Center in Norwell.


2011

A new Early Learning Center opens at 1075 Washington Street in Hanover.


2013

The Quincy branch opens a new, state-of-the-art facility on Coddington Street.


2017

A new corporate wellness center, ZoneWellness, opens in Norwell.

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