Thursday, April 22, 2021

1995 - Leadership and Bringing Others Along


Jack Tillman

(Fifty Nifty Years in the United States Series)

Back in the late 80's, Jack Tillman used to drive up and down the streets of Altadena, California with a YMCA van during the summer to recruit kids to attend camp (more to come on that).

He inspired hundreds with his folksy charm and good nature and like Will Rogers; I don’t believe Jack ever met a man he didn’t like.

To say that I worked with Jack is perhaps misleading. I was at the YMCA in Pasadena at the same time and I was always appreciative of how dedicated he was and how much support he always gave to whatever I was doing. It was Jack’s determination that inspired me.

We had campership (financial assitance) dollars every year from a local grant and fund raising efforts and if we didn’t spend it, it would be reduced the following funding cycle. This is the determination part. Not once, but several times I saw Jack do this.

On the morning of a session of camp when the bus would pick campers up at the YMCA at 11 am; he would drive up and down the hillside streets in a YMCA van and wherever he saw kids playing in their yard or on the street he would stop them. “Is this your house, is your mom home, you want to spend a week at camp?”

If they were home, he would get the parent (s) to fill out the health form, pack up their kid and Jack would drive them to the Y to hop on the bus. Bear in mind that this was the 80’s and not only did children play outside, but a man in a Y van could drive up and down the streets and ask kids if they wanted to go to camp. (And no cell phones – he would just say, “Don’t let the bus leave until I get back.”)

Determination! That is what Jack taught me. In 1995 when there was another regime change at that Y, Jack told me that he would do what it took to serve the community. And sometimes, it took a great deal of determination to stand up and continue to serve when you were left exhausted and told that whatever you did would have no consequence.

Jack was always about the business of bringing others along. His determination to include others that might not have access was an inspiration to me. It is in that model that later at my next camp, I reached out in non traditional ways to recruit kids from that California county, San Bernardino. That county, happens to be the largest county in the contiguous US at 21,105 square miles.

We were a small camp and partnered with other local agencies to recruit children in the foster system. This led to a 300% increase in our summer camp numbers that expanded our programming to two other camps as well as travel camp sessions.

That image of Jack driving up and down the streets and recruiting kids; it is seared into my memory. He was never going to leave anyone behind if he could help it. I am so grateful for that lesson as I celebrate 50 plus years of living in these United States.


  1. Thank you Al. I needed that reminder just now.

    ~Paul Chaney

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