“The plan was very appealing to [Charles Entenmann], because he liked the idea of using a shuttered building that had once been very important to Bay Shore.” – Susan Barbash
Frank Boulton was just a young guy looking to get in better shape.
It was sometime in 1979, during his nightly routine of watching TV in his bathrobe — during Laverne & Shirley, to be exact — that he decided to make some changes in his life.
“I came to the realization that this was not healthy for me in the long-term, and that I needed a basketball game,” Boulton would later tell those assembled — 12 years later — at a much-anticipated grand opening celebration in downtown Bay Shore.
What the bond trader and former Bay Shore High School student athlete had discovered in his search for an indoor basketball court was a group called the Great South Bay YMCA.
At the time, the Y had left its spot behind St. Patrick’s Church and was running programs in the Memorial Building on East Main Street. Its programs included an open gym, albeit a small one, and other family activities like Tumble Bugs, a movement program for toddlers with parent involvement.
“Even back then in the late 70s, early 80s, it was easy to see that the Great South Bay YMCA as an organization had a great story to tell but lacked the facility to tell it in,” Boulton had said in his remarks back in 1991, a copy of which he provided last month to greaterbayshore.com.
It wasn’t long after discovering the YMCA group that Boulton — who would go on to co-found the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball and the Long Island Ducks — got involved and assumed the role of Great South Bay YMCA board chairman.
And the quest to find that new facility was on.
It wouldn’t be easy.
With a substantial financial pledge from Charles Entenmann of Entenmann’s bakeries, Boulton and others on the board set out to find a suitable location for the YMCA.
Charles Entenmann’s only requirement was that the new Great South Bay YMCA be located in Bay Shore’s then-beleaguered downtown. Entenmann envisioned the Y as a major vehicle that would help revitalize the area, and he was right.
But, there were a lot of people who needed convincing, Boulton recalled.
In the mid-1980s, the modern concept of a YMCA as a health club and a community hub was still foreign to a lot of people. (And some may argue, it still is.)
Great Read from The New York Times in 1971: [YMCA] Planning Expansion on L.I.
Boulton and the board held an informational meeting on one of the Fire Island ferries, where they invited members of the public to come and ask questions.
It was clear that many on the boat still thought of the YMCAs of years past, complete with guest rooms, which might attract drifters or sordid behavior to the area.
“Their views of the Y were very much like the urban, city Y’s,” Boulton said. “What I described to them that evening was this: If you put a mirror up to your community, that’s who goes. The people you see out and about in Bay Shore, that’s the people you’ll see at the Y.”
The doubts lingered. And even though the group was moving forward, a looming fear was that those people — the community — wouldn’t show.
Maybe it was too soon for a YMCA in Bay Shore.
“I remember when we first opened up,” in October 1991, said Bob Pettersen, now the Great South Bay Y’s executive director. “I was like, Are people going to come? Are people going to use this? And those thoughts were gone so fast. We outgrew those fears very quickly.”
That’s because the place was jumping.
Looking back, with the Great South Bay YMCA now in its 25th year, Boulton says it’s obvious to him the group had adhered to the number one rule of developing a successful business product: They found a need and filled it.
“On October 28, 1991 we opened the Great South Bay YMCA to the community,” he said in his grand opening remarks. “That morning I ran to the Y like an expectant father, and as I pushed the doors open, I looked to my left through the glass to see a group of seniors exercising in the swimming pool.
“On my way around the control desk, as I headed toward the pool I saw mothers dropping off their children to the pre-school. I paused for a moment and for the first time in this great adventure, I let myself be overwhelmed with pride.”
All those meetings, fundraising events, and hard work had paid off.
Boulton delivered those remarks at the brand new, $5 million Great South Bay YMCA — specifically, in the indoor gym that that would be named after him.
After an exhaustive search and a mandated feasibility study on the part of the group’s parent organization, the Long Island YMCA, the Great South Bay group acquired the Bay Shore Movie Theater, a building that had meant so much to so many people in the community.
But the building at West Main Street and South Clinton Avenue — now vacant for about five years — had fallen into a dilapidated state, Boulton explained.
Retrofitting it for a Y proved expensive, but, in the end, do-able, thanks to the generosity of not only Charles Entenmann, but others in and around Bay Shore that gave large and small amounts. The people who donated and volunteered to build the new Y building amounted to thousands.
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Still today, Pettersen points out, you can see the old theater’s curtain pulley system in the exposed ceiling above the exercise room at the very top floor.
The building also contains a swimming pool, gym and a running track above the gym.
Before embarking on the project, Boulton and his team attempted to recruit the help of longtime local builder, the late Murray Barbash of Brightwaters.
“Murray said, ‘You don’t want me; you want my daughter [Susan],” Boulton recalled.
Susan Barbash, who had one young child and another on the way, soon became fully involved in coordinating the build-out and launch, working closely with the general contractor, the late Peter Jerome, on the new YMCA.
“The plan was very appealing to [Charles Entenmann],” she said, “because he liked the idea of using a shuttered building that had once been very important to Bay Shore, to put it back into use.”
‘It wasn’t always smooth,” Boulton said. “But we got it done.”
“What we were trying to do was pretty epic,” Barbash said.
Susan Barbash later followed Frank Boulton as chair of the Great South Bay YMCA board.
They recall fondly that two of their children — Morgan Boulton and Jonah Katz — were in the inaugural 2-year-old class together at the Y in Bay Shore. The organization expanded the building just seven years later, in 1998, to meet the demand from local families for child care.
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Today, the facility — the first YMCA of its kind in any downtown on the South Shore — offers 65,000 square feet of health, classroom, childcare and wellness space.
The Great South Bay YMCA offers summer kids’ camps with outdoor pools at the ACLD Spiegel Children’s Center at 67 Greenwood Road in Bay Shore, which is also the off-site location for the junior travel, sports and teen camps. The organization even runs a Help Send a Kid to Camp scholarship program.
“The services to the community,” Boulton said. “That’s the most outstanding point.”
This February, the Great South Bay YMCA will be throwing a 25th anniversary party at the YMCA/Boulton Center, which Frank and Karen Boulton had purchased and gave to the YMCA in 1997.
The former Regent Movie Theater at 37 West Main Street, which first opened in 1929, was later reconstructed and reopened in 2003, a project that cost $2 million, according to the YMCA/Boulton Center website.
With the YMCA on the western end of Main Street, and Southside Hospital to the east, the renovated Boulton Center in the middle further buttressed downtown’s resurgence.
“The revenues we earn, the balance sheet, a lot of that money goes right back into scholarships,” said Barbash, “and helping us pay for the Boulton Center. And no performing arts center operates at a profit — none of them — I can’t overstate that enough.”
“That was the missing link and it just changed everything for the downtown,” she said.
Top photo: From 1987 groundbreaking: (adults, L-R) Art Dromerhauser, the Rev. Brian Crane, Kay Mcgowan, Frank Boulton, former Islip Town supervisor Frank Jones, former county executive Patrick Halpin, Michael Cooney, former Bay Shore superintendent Dr. Gene Schmidt, and Susan Barbash.
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Slide show: The older photos are all from the 1991 grand opening celebration, and include (in order) a celebratory sign, a photo of Frank and Karen Boulton, Frank Boulton in the gym, Susan Barbash and Frank Boulton, as well as present-day photos.
Click here to learn more about the Great South Bay YMCA.