Black History Month: Celebrating 75 Years at the Johnson Family YMCA

Chartered by the YMCA of the USA on July 19, 1948, the James Weldon Johnson Family has served generations of families and transformed lives by empowering young people, improving the health and well-being of people of all ages and inspiring positive action in and across Northwest Jacksonville.

Here’s a brief snapshot of its history and legendary leaders:

1948 – Mr. Jessie E. Word was the first Executive Director and a one-man operation when the Colored YMCA branch, as it was known, was first organized.. He worked days on YMCA administration matters and then he spent evenings leading YMCA sports activities. He formed Hi-Y clubs in most of the black schools in Duval County and Baldwin. During the summers, Mr. Word taught swimming for the youth in the New Berlin area on the Northside of Duval County.

1957 – The Colored YMCA branch became the James Weldon Johnson YMCA after the widow of the late James Weldon Johnson granted the YMCA permission to use her husband’s name.

1961 – The James Weldon Johnson YMCA operated in four different locations until 1961 when it moved to its current location at 5700 Cleveland Road.

Legendary Leaders

From the Florida Times-Union – First Coast YMCA President and CEO Eric Mann: Quality leadership has direct link to the past as YMCA celebrates 75 years Download pdf

Thomas B. Hargrave (Executive Director: 1960-1963)

Tom Hargrave’s first job in the YMCA, after graduating from Knoxville College in Tennessee, was as executive director of the Portsmouth (Va.) YMCA. Over the next 15 years, he held various positions in the YMCA, including assistant director to the college and university YMCAs, branch executive for the Johnson Family YMCA, executive director in Pasadena, Calif., associate general director of Urban Action of the YMCA of Los Angeles, and the associate general director for program planning and development at the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington. Beginning in 1973, Hargrave served 19 years as president and chief executive officer of the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington, D.C. until his retirement in 1992. In Washington, he established the new YMCA headquarters and eliminated the association’s $1 million operating deficit. He created partnerships with Ys in India, Gambia, Costa Rica, China, and the Soviet Union. Among his proudest achievements, is the number of staff who served in Washington who went on to become influential YMCA leaders. Mr. Hargrave was inducted into the National YMCA Hall of Fame in 2001.

Norman T. Urquhart (Executive Director: 1963-1967)

Norman T. Urquhart obtained his Bachelor’s degree from Hampton University and his YMCA certification from Springfield College. He began his YMCA career as the Executive Director of the Portsmouth Virginia YMCA and went on to serve as the Executive Director with the Dayton Ohio YMCA. He moved into the Jacksonville area in 1963 to accept the position of Executive Director of the James Weldon Johnson YMCA. In 1967, he left Jacksonville to accept the position of Executive Director with the Richmond, Virginia YMCA and later became the Executive Director of the Pasadena, California YMCA. in 1971, Mr. Urquhart accepted the position of Consultant with the National YMCA Southeast office in Atlanta Georgia where he served for more than 26 years. He later served as President of the Hemispheric Trading Group, Inc in Atlanta. He also escorted several tours to Africa, including leading the Business Trade Mission to South Africa in 1997. Mr. Urquhart was inducted into the YMCAs of the Southeast Hall of Fame in 2018.

Julius Jones (Youth Program Director: 1962-1967)

Julius Jones started his career in 1963 as a youth program director at the Johnson Family YMCA. Four years later, he was appointed branch executive director in the Nashville (Tenn.) association. In 1972, he moved to the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington, D.C. as director of operations. In 1979, he began 22 years of service as president and chief executive officer of the YMCA of Pittsburgh (Pa.). In that role, he was responsible for the operation of 17 local branches and outreach centers and three camps, with an annual budget of over $22,000,000. With a passion for staff development, Jones was a mentor and teacher for generations of up-and-coming YMCA directors. As a result of his international work, many long-term partnerships were created between U.S. and African YMCAs. He served on numerous boards and committees, both within and outside the YMCA, including the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the Private Industry Council, and Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers. In retirement, Jones continued to provide leadership with YMCA of the USA, the North American Fellowship of YMCA Retirees (NAFYR), and the YMCA Retirement Fund, including relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Lawrence Vincent Jones (Executive Director 1967-1994)

Lawrence “L.V.” Jones received his B.S. degree in elementary education from Florida Memorial College. He served the Duval County Schools system as a classroom and physical education teacher and was the head baseball, basketball and swimming coach. Mr. Jones also served as a classroom teacher and head basketball coach for the Florida school for the Deaf and Blind. Mr. Jones began his YMCA career in 1967 and retired after 27 years of service in 1994 as the Vice President of the YMCA of Florida’s First Coast. He also served as the Chairman of the Trustees Ministry at Bethel Baptist institutional Baptist Church. Mr. Jones also served as President, Vice President and in several other key positions for the Jacksonville alumni chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.