By Tim Gardner
During the Williams YMCA’s Annual Celebration June 28 honoring its capital donors, its Chief Executive Officer Trey Oakley declared it “one of the most cutting-edge YMCAs anywhere” and a special tribute was given to Linville resident and longtime entrepreneur John Blackburn for his efforts on the Y’s behalf.
The event primarily focused as an appreciation event for the donors of the YMCA’s Indoor Athletics Facility that bears Blackburn’s name and where the ceremony was held. Oakley told the approximately 100 present that the Blackburn Facility is one of the Y’s most popular features and that it is a key reason why probably more people used the YMCA and participated in its programs in 2017 than ever before in its eleven-year history.
The John M. Blackburn Indoor Athletic Facility and the Paul and Susie O’Connell Fieldhouse (the latter named for Beech Mountain residents), opened in December 2017. The $2,000,000.00 dollar project includes two full-size gymnasiums with composite vinyl flooring for basketball, volleyball, indoor soccer and pickleball as well as four batting cages, three golf simulators, indoor turf and a functional fitness option in the 6,000 square-foot, adjacent O’Connell Fieldhouse, which features Astroturf, rubber and concrete floor surfaces.
Blackburn was given loud and long-lasting applause by his fellow colleagues and major donors at the Annual Celebration for his work promoting the YMCA.
Oakley had glowing comments about Blackburn, who also has been recognized as an official Avery County Legend. Blackburn has long assisted with various goodwill causes in the county.
“John Blackburn is a pillar of our community and has done countless good deeds for it for many years through various ways,” Oakley said. “If there’s a need, John is eager to help and he does so while deflecting the spotlight from himself. The YMCA was honored to name the Indoor Athletics Facility after him. He’s been crucial to the YMCA’s founding and operation.”
Oakley also gave those present a testimonial about growing up as “Y kid” and being helped by staff and programs. “The YMCA has been a most welcomed part of my life,” he said. “It truly has made my life better, first as a participant as a child and then as a teenager and young adult in South Carolina. And that has gone full-cycle while I have worked in various capacities for the Y, including leading the Williams YMCA. In essence, my heart lies with the YMCA. The Y has been so beneficial to me and millions of others who used it across America and I urge everyone who can to become active in the YMCA. We want to be the program provider of choice for kids, families and seniors.”
The idea for a YMCA originated through a joint venture of Tom Cousins of Atlanta, GA, a longtime supporter of Crossnore School, Incorporated, its director, Dr. Phyllis Crain, and Blackburn, the Linville Resorts President and General Manager.
YMCA of the USA does not approve for independent YMCA’s to be built in communities with a population less than 35,000. But thanks to Cousins, Dr. Crain and Blackburn and major financial donors like Wayne Huizenga, Jr., Stuart Dickson and Leonard and Marjorie Williams, the necessary funds were raised to help Avery become an exception, and the Williams YMCA opened in 2007.
Blackburn also served on the Charles A Cannon, Jr. Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees and helped obtain already available space in the hospital to house the YMCA headquarters. The YMCA has added additional facilities, which are all located on the hospital grounds in Linville.
“The most attractive feature of any, and of course, our Williams YMCA, is that it positively affects those from any social or economical and professional or personal level who use it,” Blackburn shared. “The Y’s diversity is what makes it so important to helping better so many lives. It’s as valuable as any organization you’ll find. I’m thrilled to be part of it.”
Two other Avery Countians are namesakes of Williams YMCA facilities.
The Martha Guy Child Development Center—named for the long-time Newland resident, Avery County Bank President and Williams YMCA benefactor and Board of Directors member—offers children of its members for six weeks to six years of age circle time, creative play, art activities and social interactions free of charge.
“I’m happy to have the child care facility named for me and I’ve strived to help out the Williams YMCA whenever I can because it’s so beneficial for the community and all who use it,” stated Guy, who attended the Annual Celebration and will turn 96 years young in August.
Additionally, the YMCA’s Hugh Chapman Center for Families is named in honor of the Linville Resorts member and philanthropist, and initially used for children’s programs. This facility will be remodeled in the fall of 2018 to become the YMCA’s new Teen Center to provide a safe place out of school for teenagers to gather.
Numerous programs are offered at the Williams YMCA of Avery County for people of all ages. They include: aquatics; over-all physical wellness; various youth activities and summer camps; martial arts; Early Childhood Development, youth and adult athletics; Special Olympics; providing care for Avery County Schools and Crossnore Academy students after school, on school snow days and holidays and in the summer; a Community Outreach program through which meals are delivered to those in need, and those tailored toward chronic disease prevention and management.
Further information about the Williams YMCA can be obtained by stopping by its offices; by phone (828) 737-5500; or by logging onto its web site at: ymcaavery.org.