Young men’s social club built future leaders

Young men’s social club built future leaders

Hi-Y reunion planned

Mack Crenshaw remembers that his Hi-Y club at Robert E. Lee High School met at 7:30 on Monday evenings, that Jimmy Terrell kept humorous minutes, and that he often dashed from basketball practice to make it on time.

Jack Milne remembers that those meetings ended with a friendship circle, devotional and the playing of “Tara’s Theme.” Jim Overton remembers selling white Lee T-shirts with blue neckbands to raise money for his Hi-Y club. Andrew Jackson High School graduate Tommy Hazouri remembers the annual Hi-Y banquets at Beach Road Chicken Dinners.

Decades-old details show how treasured those memories are. Those men, and potentially hundreds more, will have opportunities to swap tales at the Riverside YMCA’s Hi-Y reunion activities next year. In early planning stages, the effort to bring them together will be not only to celebrate the new Y but also to recognize them at the annual Y-Bash in February.

Many boys who attended Lee, Jackson and other local and national high schools from the 1940s to early 1980s belonged to the popular Hi-Y clubs that were affiliated with the Young Men’s Christian Association. Tri-Hi-Y – and in Lee’s case, Y Teams – were for girls, before the Hi-Y program became coed and eventually evolved into today’s Y youth programs.

“At the First Coast YMCA, we are proud to be the starting point for leaders who began their civic and community engagement as a member of Hi-Y, high school clubs affiliated with our organization,” said Eric Mann, president and CEO, YMCA of Florida’s First Coast. “As we move closer to the opening of the new Winston YMCA in Riverside, we look forward to reconnecting with Hi-Y members, celebrating service to the community through Hi-Y, and re-engaging them with our mission of youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.”

Stories remembered

As word gets out about the reunion, stories are surfacing. Most involve the solid values and lifelong inspiration former members attribute to Hi-Y.

HiY_02Nostalgia rivals excitement as the impressive Winston Family YMCA is being built along the St. Johns River behind the present Y on Riverside Avenue. Called the Central YMCA after it opened in the 1950s, it was renamed the Claude J. Yates Family YMCA after the Southern Bell executive and community leader in 2000. Packing up to move involves sorting through memorabilia spanning half a century, including scrapbooks stuffed with clippings of Hi-Y photos and stories.

After working out at the Yates Y recently, Jack Milne, head of The Bolles School’s Middle School Bartram Campus and a ’71 Lee graduate, thumbed through an old scrapbook on display. He came across a story about his brother Doug’s trip to a world youth conference.

Attorney Doug Milne, an Avondale resident and ’61 Lee graduate, said Hi-Y’s commitment to social services heavily influenced his teen years. As a 17-year-old junior he was one of two Florida delegates at a 10-day YMCA conference in Holland. Teens from 48 countries attended. “I’m 72 years old and that was easily one of my lifetime highlights,” he said.

He said he would like the Hi-Y reunion to “plant seeds to reintroduce that whole concept in the school system because we know it does good.”

“Hi-Y was great fun in a much simpler time – pre-computers and pre-video games,” said Jack Milne. “It was about service, whether clearing an abandoned cemetery or delivering Thanksgiving meals or raising money for various causes, it was fun.”

Like many of his colleagues, he also recalls Hi-Y’s sports and social activities, such as basketball, baseball, flag football, dances and hayrides. “Many friendships formed in that group and stayed strong,” he said. “The moral and spiritual lessons were very important.”

Mack Crenshaw agrees that Hi-Y leaders exemplified wholesome Christian values. “They were the most pleasant memories I had from high school,” said the retired 4th Judicial Circuit judge who now works as an assistant public defender in the juvenile division. “The Hi-Y clubs were, in my opinion, the most active and exciting and beneficial extra-curricular activities that anybody had.”

Hi-Y inspired leaders

For future politicians Ander Crenshaw, Jim Overton and Tommy Hazouri, Hi-Y’s leadership initiatives proved to be influential.

HiY_03U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw graduated from Lee in 1962, two years after his brother Mack. In his senior year, he was Gamma Hi-Y president; junior year, Gamma chaplain; and a Gamma member his freshman and sophomore years.

“I’ve got some very fond memories of Hi-Y, including Blue Ridge visits with other Hi-Y students from around the Southeast. The leadership skills gained and the friendships made in this organization have been valuable to this day,” said Congressman Crenshaw.

Overton, a real estate broker who served as Duval County Property Appraiser and on Jacksonville City Council, graduated from Lee in 1971. He said attending YMCA-affiliated youth conferences throughout the Southeast were part of his political education. His second paying job – after delivering newspapers – was as a dishwasher at YMCA Camp Immokalee in Keystone Heights the summer after his freshman year in high school.

Hazouri, who graduated from Jackson in 1962, said Hi-Y was “one of the best organizations when I was in in high school.” A member of Jacksonville City Council, he said its leadership training helped to spark his political career, which includes serving as mayor of Jacksonville and as a member of the Florida House of Representatives and Duval County School Board.

“Hi-Y builds character, relationships, integrity and sportsmanship – more than just in sports, but in being a good a sport, which makes a big difference,” he said.

New Y big part of rebirth

Lakeside resident Norman Abraham was in Hi-Y at Lee from 1957 to 1959. “Being a Christian organization, Hi-Y gave me insight concerning my morals and what I believe in,” he said. “It was a great fellowship of students that we had at Lee.”

The Historic District businessman continued to foster that camaraderie in his restaurants that were frequented by politicians and other influential Jacksonville residents. The most recent, Two Doors Down on Park Street, closed in November to be replaced by a Gate store as part of the area’s revitalization. Nevertheless, he is supportive of the rebirth, particularly the new YMCA. “As the area grows the Y will grow with it,” Abraham said. “People in the new condos and apartments are health-minded and the new Y will be appealing to them.”

“What they’ve done in Brooklyn and that area is a continuation of what is going on in Riverside, San Marco and hopefully soon downtown with retail and entertainment. It’s great,” Hazouri said.

Calling the new Y a big investment, Hazouri said reuniting Hi-Y members will help preserve that institutional knowledge. “Keepsakes and memories build a city,” he said.

“When I was on City Council we knew that area was going to take off one day. It was a matter of everything coming together,” Overton said. “Brooklyn will continue to develop as a suburb of downtown. It’s a very exciting place to be and the Y is a big part of that. It gives people who want to invest money in that area a lot of comfort because that Y will be there for 50 years…and probably longer than that.”

By Lorrie DeFrank
Resident Community News

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