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Mission Statement

As Lakewood Y Undergoes Renovations, The Value Of Friendship Is Affirmed

Longtime friends Tom Marra, left, and Tom Anderson, branch manager of the Lakewood YMCA, shake hands outside the Lakewood facility, which is undergoing a face lift, thanks to Marra’s philanthropy. Submitted photo

LAKEWOOD — On any other Fourth of July morning in the last three decades or so, Tom Anderson could be found patrolling East Terrace Avenue in the village, bullhorn in hand, barking out instructions to the hundreds of participants who would normally be toeing the start line for the Firecracker 10K and 2-mile run/walk.

Unfortunately, this isn’t any other Independence Day.

Since the last race in 2019, the world has changed, courtesy of COVID-19. Instead of a daylong celebration on the shores of Chautauqua Lake, the much anticipated community reunion has had to be transformed into a virtual experience. If there’s good news attached to the change of plans, however, it’s that it has allowed Anderson, the longtime branch manager of the Lakewood YMCA, to take the holiday weekend off, beginning with a round of golf on Friday with Tom Marra on the Lake Course at Chautauqua Golf Club.

While Anderson didn’t play — he observed from a cart as he continued his recovery from two strokes suffered five months apart — his friend of more than 50 years got off to a great start. Through the first five holes, Marra was 3-under.

“He’s a good golfer,” Anderson said.

Submitted photo

And, from Anderson’s perspective, an even better pal.

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Anderson lives in Russell, Pennsylvania, but his heart resides at the Lakewood Y. Even after a stroke in September 2019 and another one in February of this year — he still goes to work every day, overseeing a renovation of the massive fieldhouse on Fairmount Avenue.

In recent months, the facility has had the driveway repaved, the roof painted, carpet installed and renovations done to the locker rooms, the racquetball courts and the cycling room, all thanks to Marra’s financial generosity. More work will be done in phases, all because the 1976 Southwestern Central School graduate wanted to give back to the community he grew up in while providing Anderson’s home away from home a much-needed face lift.

“I did talk to Tom Marra various times, at length,” said Mark Eckendorf, the YMCA’s chief executive officer, “and it did come out how much he cares about the Lakewood community and cares about (Anderson) in a great way. It blew me away the connection that has been established.”

Now that he’s semi-retired and living with his wife, Michelle, in Mystic, Connecticut, Marra said he “kind of wanted to do something back home and this seemed to be the logical thing. … (Anderson) has done this amazing job. … This facility is used by so many in the area. It felt like I wanted to get involved. He’s my close friend, they need help, let’s do it.”

Marra’s financial assistance will also benefit the Jamestown YMCA, which is located about 4 miles from the Lakewood facility.

George Panebianco, the president of the local YMCA board of directors, is humbled by Marra’s philanthropy.

“Our community is the beneficiary of a local man (Marra) believing in another local man (Anderson) and the mission of the YMCA itself,” he said. “We’re very lucky for the generosity of Tom Marra and his belief in the community and the belief in the YMCA mission.”

Marra and his four brothers were the beneficiaries of that mission statement growing up as they frequented the Jamestown YMCA almost every Saturday morning.

“It’s a cost-effective way to provide recreation and, really, community mindedness, and it brings people together,” he said.

That sense of community between Marra and Anderson has existed since the Marra family moved to Lakewood from Long Island in 1967. And while Marra, 62, ultimately used his talents to build a prosperous career in the insurance business after he graduated from St. Bonaventure University 40 years ago, Anderson has made his impact while staying “at home.”

“Tom is like the ‘George Bailey” of the YMCA and it’s pretty palpable for the people there,” Marra said. “I don’t want to get too sappy, but I think he can feel the appreciation. I know he does, because I could see it. With all he’s given to the community, I’m proud to be one of his close friends.”

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When Anderson was in fourth grade, he was the shortstop for the Red Sox in the Lakewood Cub League. For three years, the Sox didn’t lose a game, which meant they would have the opportunity to play a team of league all-stars at season’s end. To say it ended poorly for Anderson and crew is an understatement.

“It was the bottom of the sixth inning,” Anderson recalled, “and the All-Stars had guys on second and third. Someone hit a line drive, I dove for (the ball), I caught it and I tossed it to third.”

It should have been the game-ending out, because the All-Stars runner had rounded the bag too far and would have been tagged out easily, but the Red Sox third baseman dropped Anderson’s throw.

Guess who was up next?

Marra.

“He hit a line shot up the middle, two runs scored and they beat us,” Anderson said.

As it’s turned out, that hasn’t been the only time that Marra has delivered in the clutch. If you fast-forward more than half a century, his generosity continues to touch all the bases, and not just in dollars and cents.

“It has revived me,” Anderson said of the renovations at the Lakewood Y five months after his second stroke. “I had been sitting home. Now I come here every day. I don’t have to, but I don’t think I’ve missed a day, because it’s exciting.”

Added Marra: “I’d like to think it’s taken his mind off having to deal with a stroke. He’s just put so much of his energy into making this a world-class facility. He’s got no limits on what he can do.”

During a visit to the Lakewood Y last winter, Marra said what struck him most was the “kind of impact that Tom personally had on the staff, the members and the passersby.”

“He knew everyone’s name and they knew his name. Here’s Tom kind of slinking around in his walker and still being upbeat more than anyone could be, slapping backs, joking and telling the pickleball players he needs a really good point because, ‘I’m taping that.’

“You could just feel the love in the air.”

That’s kind of the theme of this story, don’t you think?

“To have that kind of friendship that long and to come to our rescue is amazing,” Eckendorf said.

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