Simmons to retire after 43 years
Clinton Family YMCA Chief Executive Officer Gene Simmons always knew he wanted to work with youth in some capacity.
After graduating Georgia Southern University with a degree in Physical Education, Simmons began a journey with the Clinton YMCA that would span 43 years. Three of those years, Simmons served as Program Director and after 40 years as CEO, he is retiring from his position effective December 31, 2020.
“When I had the opportunity to come back to Clinton in the field of sports or activities in the wellness industry, it was just a good opportunity to work in an area I knew and an area I loved working in,” Simmons said. “The YMCA is the recreational provider for the City of Clinton so we have a responsibility of providing not only activities for our membership and participants, but for the city as a whole and we take that responsibility seriously.”
The YMCA, according to Simmons, is a people-driven organization. Whether someone comes to exercise or use the indoor pool, he said they try to offer programs for a variety of age groups, from infants to seniors.
But Simmons doesn’t want the YMCA to solely be known for sports. He wants to fulfill the Y’s mission of Christian principals through all programs for the mind, body and spirit.
“My responsibility as CEO is to make sure we fulfill that mission,” he said. “It is my sole responsibility to leave the facility in good or better shape as I found it.”
Throughout his tenure with the YMCA, Simmons has seen his fair share of changes. Perhaps the biggest change he’s seen is in fitness and technology.
“Probably the fitness boom, per se, be it lifting weights, aerobics, etc. Our weight facility is now over 2,000 square feet, when it used to be about a 16x16 room,” he said. “It’s vastly changing day to day and we try to keep up with those changes.”
One change that no one could possibly prepare for: COVID-19. In his 40 years as CEO, Simmons said 2020 has been his most challenging year.
“We are a person or people-driven organization and people are in close activity, be it the pool or in the gym, whatever the case may be. We were closed for 58 days from March 20 to May 1. We had to adhere to all the guidelines. We’re still not back to full capacity, so to say it’s been challenging is an understatement,” he said.
The facility, Simmons said, is still open but is not operating at full capacity, putting in place limited operating hours. He said it has been a challenge but “we’re back on our feet after having been closed.”
While 2020 has been a challenge for many, Simmons also reflected on some of his favorite and most rewarding memories with the YMCA: the annual Youth Prayer Breakfast.
“It’s one week, a different speaker each day for five days, usually held in spring. The impact it has had on youth is profound. I think it’s helped us fulfill the Christ-like mission for the organization,” Simmons said.
Simmons added that the relationships he’s developed over the years have also meant a lot to him.
“I’ve seen youth come through here, grow up and become fathers and mothers. Then they have children and they come through the Y as well. To see generations of families return and are now productive citizens has been very rewarding as well,” he said.
As his journey with the YMCA is wrapping up, Simmons expressed his thanks to the community for their continuous support for the organization.
With only 20 YMCA’s in South Carolina, he said he hopes the community is proud that Clinton is one of those 20 cities.
“I’m certainly going to miss it. I’ll always be part of this community and I’ll continue to support the Y in any way I can. I don’t have any definite plans as far as retirement. I’ll still do my things as far as hobbies. I’ll still help with the radio on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. I’ll still want to continue to do those things I’ve always done,” he said.
For the person who fills his position, Simmons gave one piece of advice: “They are going to have a very supportive staff and Board. If they’re not local, get out and learn the community and the good people of Clinton. Lean on the staff and the Board and listen to the advice of the community.”