26 years of dedication to YMCAOf the nearly 150 people who came to celebrate at Spirit Mountain in June, one could tell that the guest of honor was an important man.
By: Sarah Alabsi, Duluth Budgeteer News
Of the nearly 150 people who came to celebrate at Spirit Mountain in June, one could tell that the guest of honor was an important man.
It was a retirement party for Blair Gagne, who worked for the YMCA for the past 26 years. By the end of his career, he was working as the executive director of community services at the YMCA and chief operating officer for the Duluth YMCA Association.
“I am most proud of my time at the Duluth Area Family YMCA, the people I got to work with and the youth I was able to serve,”
When Gagne started at the Duluth Area Family YMCA, certain programs weren’t even present. At the Duluth YMCA, Mentor Duluth, YMCA Out of School Time and KEY Zone weren’t available, and AmeriCorps wasn’t even in existence in our country. Grant-
writing was a new and unexplored funding venue for the YMCA.
He has said that his job with the YMCA has been a way of life, said Joyce Gagne, Blair’s mother.
“It’s not the kind of place where you put in your 40 hours and are done. I’ve always felt that anything over that is a way of volunteering and giving back to the community,” Gagne said.
His fellow colleagues would agree.
“It was not unheard of to get an email from Blair at 3 or 4 a.m.,” said Dave Schaeffer, a Mentor Duluth employee who Gagne hired six years ago. “He would often be in at 6 a.m. and sometimes stay until late in the night.”
Gagne still remembers his first day at the YMCA. He had been hired to take over the YMCA’s long-standing mentoring program, then called the Fatherless Boys
“It was so non-stressful,” he remembers. But his motivation kept him busy.
“I called all my friends and family asking them to become mentors. Eventually I ran out of friends and family and needed to look elsewhere.”
Soon after starting, Gagne wrote the YMCA’s first grant proposal. It was to the Ordean Foundation, a critical supporter of mentoring services in Duluth.
“When we received the grant, it was a real game changer for mentoring in Duluth.”
Gagne helped secure nearly $20 million in federal and state dollars to support local youth and development programs. The Y has seen the mentor program grow from 50 matches and one-and-a-half staff to more than 400 matches and dozens of staff.
He initiated projects and programs such as the Lake Superior Initiative which provides funds to 70 Minnesota nonprofits, YMCA School’s Out and KEY Zone which offer safe care after school, and secured funding for True North AmeriCorps, placing more than 800 AmeriCorps members in schools and nonprofit agencies across the Northland.
The Minnesota Alliance with Youth, Twin Ports Area Nonprofit Board, Duluth Men as Peacemakers, Kiwanis, and the governor’s Blue Ribbon commission have all included Gagne in their work. He has even served on the board of directors for the Mentoring Partnership of Minnesota.
In 2002, Gagne was the recipient of the Minnesota Karen Kydd Angel of Mentoring award, the lifetime achievement award through the Northeast Minnesota Council on nonprofits in 2011, and this past fall, the recipient of Mentoring Partnership of Minnesota’s first-ever Bob Dayton Mentoring Leadership award.
“I don’t know if I had a hand in it, but it certainly adds value to our Y programs when I see these children grow up into doctors and social workers,” said Gagne.
Even after his retirement, Gagne’s work is appreciated by his former colleagues.
“I really see Blair as a true visionary. There’s no way to quantify the help that he’s given,” said Schaeffer.
As part of recognizing Gagne, the Duluth YMCA established the Blair Gagne Scholarship Fund, which will provide $1,000 of schooling a year to support a child enrolled in Mentor Duluth who is pursuing post-secondary education.
Joyce Gagne contributed to this story.