New YMCA named after Hill District activist
When Eric Mann asked Hill District activist Thelma W. Lovette if she would mind having the new YMCA named after her, she didn’t hesitate.
“Are you kidding meâ¢ I love the YMCA. It would be an absolute privilege,” said Mann, president and CEO of Greater Pittsburgh YMCA, recalling Lovette’s response.
Lovette, 94, and her daughter, Thelma Morris, 61, were among more than 100 Hill District residents and community leaders who marked the ceremonial groundbreaking of the $12 million Thelma Lovette Family YMCA on Monday in the Hill District.
“To think that at my age, when I’m ready to kick the bucket, they’re naming this after me,” Lovette said. “God has blessed me tremendously. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
The ceremony culminated nearly six years of planning for the YMCA, which will have an indoor track, gymnasium and aquatic center, among other amenities.
“This is truly, truly a historical day as we move forward for our community,” said Aaron Gibson, executive director of the nearby YMCA at 2621 Centre Ave.
The true focus of the celebration, however, was “Miss Thelma,” who energetically hugged and kissed well-wishers. Born Thelma Williams, her family has been a big part of city and Hill District history, including brother Robert “Pappy” Williams, the first black magistrate in Pittsburgh, former Deputy County Controller Frank Williams and former District Justice Jacob Williams.
“When you think of all the people who we would want to name (the YMCA) after, her name comes to the top of the list every time,” said Tom Burley, board chairman of the Centre Avenue YMCA, which will continue to offer housing, food pantries and other services even after the new YMCA opens.
Lovette was the first woman to sit on the boards of the Centre Avenue YMCA and the Greater Pittsburgh YMCA.
In 1972, Lovette, at age 56, earned her master’s degree in social work. She spent 18 years at Mercy Hospital as a social worker.
Morris said her mother tirelessly worked for the YMCA, including starting an activity program for stroke victims and developing programs for Hill District youths.
“She always tried to teach the young people that where you start off is not where you need end up,” Morris said.
For the past year, Lovette has been living with her daughter in San Tan Valley, Ariz., southeast of Phoenix. She said she hopes to return once the YMCA opens, scheduled for late next year. Morris said the Olympic torch her mother carried in 1996 for the Summer Games in Atlanta will be displayed at the new facility.
“(The YMCA) was part of my life ever since I was a little girl,” Lovette said.
Thelma Lovette Family YMCA
Where: 2114 Centre Ave., between Addison and Elmore streets, Hill District
Scheduled opening: Late 2011
Cost: $12 million
Size: 43,000 square feet
Features: Indoor track, gymnasium, aquatic center with six-lane swimming pool, wellness center, multipurpose and senior space, a room geared for teens and a computer lab
Sources: YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh and Urban Redevelopment Authority