NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

June 2, 2014

Good times and bad times for the YMCA

The recent photo of the YMCA, commemorating our 250th anniversary, brought back many memories both joyful and sad to this old timer.

Seems like yesterday, I, like many other kids, made the Y our nightly destination to check out the girls, especially at the library, and many of them ended up in romances that led to marriages for a lifetime. I remember Bob Dale, the director, who ran a good ship, and the many pool and billiard games, as well as the bowling, as well as dances in the gym.

Lots of good athletes got their start at the Y, be it basketball, gymnastics or keeping in shape. One of my greatest memories was MC’ing the YH marathon from the steps of the Y, where many a young runner, including Rick Bayko and Bruce Butterworth, ran as grade-school contenders, and I also had the privilege of introducing the great Johnny Kelley, who came to town on my invitation in 1963.

All of us have fond memories of what the Y meant to us, but a tragedy in 1987 destroyed the structure and claimed a life, and my involvement in the Y went from a pleasure to a tragedy.

My dictatorship in the original Civil Defense commenced in January 1987, and I got my first taste of responding to “an incident” at 2:15 a.m., when I was asked to respond to the scene. I had no manpower or equipment and was using my own car. The scene, coming up State Street, was an inferno, with flames pouring out the windows, and the entire building engulfed.

On instructions from fire Chief Page, I was told to shelter about 15 people who were evacuated from the building and were huddled in blankets on the lawn of the Institution for Savings bank. Having not been able to reach the Red Cross or Salvation Army, I called two cab companies, and using my own car, took them all to our operating center at the high school. Having a basic facility of a bedroom with cots and a kitchen, I got them comfortable, making coffee and settling them down.

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