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A Day for Celebration at the New Demakes Family YMCA in Lynn

May 7, 2021 : The Daily Item, by Steve Krause

LYNN — Tom Demakes wasn’t keen at first on having the new YMCA in Lynn named for his family.

But, said Kathleen Walsh, CEO of the YMCA of the Metro North, which includes Lynn, Demakes, CEO of Old Neighborhood Foods on Waterhill Street, warmed up to it. 

And so Friday represented the culmination of a 10-year, $31 million project when the ribbon was finally cut for the Demakes Family YMCA on Neptune Boulevard. 

“Today is a celebration of working together,” said Walsh, alluding to the amount of people who were involved in trying to understand how tax credits worked, to planning the construction (she gave special credit to Community Development director James Marsh, who came up with the site for the new building), to the contractors and construction workers.

State Sen. Brendan Crighton of Lynn reflected that when the project was in its infancy and germinating in former CEO Bruce Macdonald’s mind, he was a city councilor. By the time it was completed, Crighton had gone from the council to becoming a state representative, and then a senator.

“When I first started going to the Y, I saw it as just a place to work out and play sports,” said Crighton, who played football at Classical. “But later, when I went into public service, and started working for Mayor McGee (when he was in the state senate), I realized the whole other side to it, and its importance to the community.”

Also attending Friday was Mayor Thomas M. McGee; City Councilors Brian LaPierre, Brian Field, Darren Cyr and Fred Hogan; state Reps. Peter Capano, Daniel Cahill and Donald Wong; Lynn School Superintendent Patrick Tutwiler; and Dan Rivera, former mayor of Lawrence and currently president and CEO of MassDevelopment. 

Keeping to the celebratory mood of the day, the “Y Academy Early Learning Singers” performed a children’s version of the popular Village People song “YMCA.” 

The new building, right next to the old YMCA that went up in 1973, has state-of-the-art cardiovascular and strength training equipment; a new gym with a track above (one of two walking and running tracks); two pools, one for lap swimming and one for simply splashing around (the water is warmer in the smaller pool, says branch director Andrea Baez), a healthy-food cafeteria with a kitchen that will be used for classes on how to cook healthy meals; computer rooms; and exercise rooms. 

“And,” said Walsh, “the other building will be turned into a state-of-the-art youth center, and the roof of the new building will be used for a garden, and a place where people can go to relax, reflect and rejuvenate.”

Demakes grew up on Franklin Street, and has emerged as one of the city’s top philanthropists since 2010, when he came on board to help build the Girls Inc. headquarters on High Street. Then, he got involved in the construction of the KIPP Academy campus in the Highlands, and again the refurbished high school in the old J.B. Blood Building. 

He has been a prime mover in the three-part renovation of the Boys & Girls Club on North Common Street.

“Other than throwing a coat of paint on it, nothing had been done to that building in years,” he said. 

Demakes has chosen to direct his money toward organizations that cater to youth.

“If you want to make America great, then you have to educate children,” he said.
“I love this city,” he said. “I love the opportunities it presents. I love how it gave Greeks, Italians, Irish, Poles a chance to thrive when I was young, and now I want to be able to help the next generation of immigrants do what we did.”

He sees the new YMCA as an important step. But both he and McGee warned that a building is one thing. The people in it are something else. 

“It isn’t just a building,” said McGee, who has been associated with the YMCA since the facility was on the corner of Market and Tremont streets. “It is a community. And it is the result of a strong public-private partnership.”

“More important than the building,” Demakes said, “is that we use it to reach children, elderly, and others.”

He said it helps immeasurably that the new building is in the middle of a block of schools such as St. Mary’s, KIPP and Lynn Vocational Technical Institute. 

“We are in a position to make a tremendous impact, and that’s really the least I, and my family, can do,” he said.