Treasure Valley Family YMCA says goodbye to its longtime leader, Jim Everett

Retiring YMCA CEO Jim Everett makes the last stop of his farewell tour at the Caldwell YMCA.
Retiring YMCA CEO Jim Everett makes the last stop of his farewell tour at the Caldwell YMCA.

Jim Everett likes words that start with P. They have power and punch. They play on your tongue and bring a sense of  purpose and passion to the conversation. They brim with possibilities and hint at the potential in every situation and every person. And most of all, he says, they lead you to discover the promise of the future.

“That really has been my resolute purpose in life,” Everett says. “To help people realize — especially kids — that everyone of us is of promise. It’s our job to help people find what their gifts are. That’s what drives me and that’s what drives us at the Y.”

The exiting president and CEO of the Treasure Valley Family YMCA, Everett, 63, is a man of many accomplishments and ambitions. He has made a difference in countless lives, those he worked with and mentored, the athletes he coached and people he never met but who benefit from the programs the Y provides.

“Jim Everett cares about people,” says Greg Satz, a longtime friend and former YMCA board member who served from 1994 to 2013. “He puts people first, and he wears his heart on his sleeve where it really matters. And he hires staff that is the same way. This is a great changing of the guard.”

As Everett leaves his position of 28 years, it marks the end of an era, but at the same time it’s also the beginning of a new one under the leadership of David Duro, who stepped into the role of CEO in late November.

Under Everett’s watch, the Y expanded the Downtown branch, added a world-class facility in West Boise, a much-needed YMCA in Caldwell, the Homecourt Y in Meridian with four NBA-size basketball courts and the Y Camp at Horsethief Reservoir. All were created with partnership and pride under Everett’s leadership.

Everett’s natural warmth and charm can disarm. He’s sensitive and driven, with a keen sense of responsibility and mission. But don’t think he soft pedals or sugar-coats issues. He’s a dynamic leader who focuses on a goal with laser-beam accuracy and can marshal an army of volunteers — from kids to business leaders — to follow him.

“He’s a type-A guy,” Satz says. “I’ve seen him at work. You watch him go and if you get in his way, he’ll drive over you, and it’s nothing personal. He just really wants to get it done.”

It’s hard to wrap your head around just how much Everett means to the Treasure Valley community. About 1,000 people tried on Nov. 14 at the annual YMCA Heritage Dinner that was part tribute, part celebration and part good-natured roast. Boise Mayor Dave Bieter declared it “Jim Everett Day,” and many of those who couldn’t be there made video tributes. People laughed, cried, teased him and wished him well.

Toward the end of November, Everett made final visits to each Y facility to say goodbye to members, volunteers and staff. Dozens of people showed up at each stop. They shared their stories with Everett. They bought “This Guy Rocks” T-shirts that benefit the Jim and Linda Everett Access for All Endowment, which provides financial assistance for anyone in need who wants to join the Y. And for the Caldwell visit on Nov. 19, Mayor Garrett Nancolas also declared it Jim Everett Day.

Changing roles

Everett dove into the YMCA organization 41 years ago. An All-American college swimmer, he started as a swim coach and then became a program director and executive director, and eventually president and CEO in Idaho. But he’s more than the business guy. He is a cheerleader, a team builder and prankster, a mentor, father-figure and confidant to many who volunteer and work for him, such as Duro, who started as a janitor in 1982.

“I remember Jim and Linda having people over to their house,” Duro says. “I was just in housekeeping, you know, a janitor, but he took the time to invite me to have dinner with his family. And he was really interested in what I had to say. Jim approaches the world like everyone is important and has something to contribute. That stayed with me.”

When Everett arrived at the Boise Family YMCA in 1987 it had about 3,000 members. Today the Treasure Valley Family Y has 53,000 members and more than 100,000 people who annually use its community programs. Those include Early Childhood Development and day care centers; support groups for cancer survivors and people with Parkinson’s; Make A Splash, which teaches third-graders to swim through partnerships with area schools; and more. Its current operating budget is nearly $20 million, and it’s poised to grow under Duro’s leadership.

As Everett leaves, a newly launched $40 million Comprehensive Campaign is in full swing. It seeks to raise $28 million toward a new Y and aquatic center in South Meridian, which is slated to include an elementary school run by Meridian School District, a library built in partnership with Meridian Library District, a public park built with Meridian Parks and Rec, and a health-care facility — all on one campus. The other $20 million will go to grow the YMCA’s Endowment, its community programming and the Annual Campaign that will help people access the Y.

Everett built the Y into a powerful community gem that serves children, adults and families — of all shapes, sizes, fitness levels, ethnicities and religions — a fact of which he is extremely proud.

“I say we’re the most inclusive organization in town, and no one has contradicted me yet,” Everett says. “We used to say cradle to grave, now we say womb to tomb. We’ve got people of all faiths. We’ve got the governor and the Simplot family and people from the homeless shelter and everyone in between. That’s the first rule — no one is turned away.”

From Indian Guides to CEO

Everett filled his YMCA office with photos that reminded him of his roots, accomplishments and connections. In one faded framed photograph, he and his father — also named Jim Everett — sit together on their couch in Troy, Mich., where Everett grew up. The elder Everett’s arms are wrapped around his son. They’re dressed in the feathers and buckskins of the Y Indian Guides program, and sport huge smiles. Everett was 7.

“That is probably the best memory I have of me and my dad. Many of my best memories of my dad were in that program,” Everett says. “I wouldn’t identify that as a Y moment until much later, but it really was the beginning.”

Everett’s dad died the next year of melanoma. The middle of five kids, Everett was devastated by the loss.

“I felt cheated,” Everett says. “I really struggled. I was a kid who felt like a nobody and was pretty much angry at the world.”

At the time, his life could have gone another direction, but some key people stepped into his life, such as his league football coach Bob Martin, who became Everett’s first important mentor.

“I was a very poor football player, but if you had asked me when I was 9, I would have said I was pretty good, because I had a coach who made me feel like I belonged,” he says.

Martin put him in every game. He encouraged him to do his school work and boosted his self-esteem.

“We played at Tiger Stadium (in Detroit), and I got to score an extra point, and when I ran off the field they announced my name over the loudspeaker,” he says. “I’ll never forgot that. He helped me, and it took me years to figure that out and to realize that I wanted be like him.”

About the same time, Everett started the swim team at his local Y in Troy. He worked hard and went on to become the captain for his Albion College team, where he now is in the alumni hall of fame.

Everett also had an affinity for the American West and spent two summers working on a dude ranch in Durango, Colo. That’s where he met his wife, Linda, an Ohio farm girl and equestrian, in 1973.

“I remember seeing Jim walk by one day, and I whispered in my horse’s ear, ‘Be nice to that guy. He’s pretty cute,’ ” she says. “And it was funny, Jim was the only one there that Bandit would let ride him.” That’s despite the fact that Everett was not a natural.

“I used to call him a ‘city slicker’ way before the movie came out,” she says, laughing. “But he managed to hang on.”

Their romance blossomed quickly, and they married six months later during Everett’s senior year at Albion. After he graduated with a degree in education, they were preparing for a cross-country trip to Stockton, Calif., where Everett was supposed to go to graduate school at the University of the Pacific. They found out Linda was pregnant and the doctor told them that travel could jeopardize her and the baby’s health, so they stayed put.

Everett scrambled to find a job. He briefly taught high school and coached football in Amanda-Clearcreek, Ohio. Then the Y called. Everett became the swim coach and aquatic, physical and youth director at the Marietta, Ohio, YMCA.

Casual — connected — committed

That’s how it works at the Y, Everett says.

“I started very casual with the Y.” He pulls down from a shelf a photo of his first Y swim team, which includes Betsy Mitchell, who went on to be an Olympic medalist and world record-holder in the backstroke.

“I became connected to these kids. I knew how they were doing in school and home. And I don’t know if there’s any one moment when I became committed, but I did. It grows on you,” Everett says.

They stayed in Marietta for three years, while both their sons — Kevin, now 40, and Travis, 39 — were born.

His next Y job brought his family to Boise, where Everett coached swimming and directed the physical programs from 1977 to 1983. The whole family fell in love with Idaho, and Everett found another mentor in then Boise YMCA CEO Darrell Scott, who asked Everett to become interim executive director while Scott led the capital campaign to expand the Downtown building.

“I never had any aspirations to be an executive director or a CEO until Darrell asked me to step in,” Everett says. “The seed was planted, and I started looking for opportunities.”

A year later, Everett was the executive director of the Y that served St. Joseph and Benton Harbor in Michigan.

At the time that Y was financially troubled, and it served a community that was deeply divided both economically and racially. Everett learned that the Y had the power to bring people together and build community.

“The Y became neutral territory where everyone was welcome and treated equally,” Everett says.

Everett’s Y ran the PE programs for the troubled Benton Harbor school district and built strong connections that continue today. The kids came to the Y to swim, run and play basketball. Linda taught aerobic dance classes.

After four years in Michigan, the top position opened up in Boise. After a long interview process, Everett, Linda and the kids happily headed back to Idaho.

Biggest accomplishments

It wasn’t long before Everett became known for fostering cooperation and collaboration in the Treasure Valley.

When he arrived in 1987, he and the board did strategic planning to look at the next 10 years and decide whether to dig deeper into Downtown Boise or expand their vision. They chose the latter and that has made all the difference.

The West Boise YMCA is the Y “they” said couldn’t be built. In 1990, a feasibility study found that they could only expect to raise $6 million in the community. They needed about $13 million.

“We said, “Wait, let’s not throw in the towel yet,’ ” Everett says.

They decided to ask Hewlett-Packard Co. for a lead gift. After a pitch by Everett and Sharon Allen, who went on to become the first chairwoman of Deloitte and who now serves on the national YMCA board, HP donated $1.5 million, and they were on the way. After that, Albertsons came on board. They also received a land gift from Brighton Corp. for the West Y site, and J.R. Simplot himself jumped in to donate $1 million, too.

Then the Y partnered with the city of Boise to build the Aquatics Center, with its 50-meter swimming pool, training, hydrotherapy and kids’ pools with slides and toys.

The city would build it, and the Y would run it.

In the end, they raised the $13 million and the West Y opened in January of 1996.

“That success gave us the audacity to dream big,” Everett says. “It grew our footprint into a community that really needed a Y.”

The next expansion came in Caldwell, a project that is close to Everett’s heart.

“If you were to pull the Y out of the community, the biggest gap would be left in Caldwell,” Everett says. “It’s such an important part of that community.”

Again, the studies suggested they couldn’t raise the money in Caldwell, but the community rose to the challenge and — again — Everett and the Y defied the odds. The Caldwell Y opened in 2005.

The Caldwell Y is a great asset to the city, says Caldwell’s Nancolas.

“About 400 kids showed up that first day,” Nancolas says. “I remember thinking, ‘Where were those kids the day before?’ The Y has really brought the community together.”

The Y is a lifeline for the community, Nancolas says. Since it opened, juvenile crime is down. Through the P16 Caldwell Education Project, which is run by The United Way at the Y, the go-on (to higher education) rate has risen.

Everett also spearheaded the movement to build the Y Camp at Horsethief Reservoir. Because the Downtown Y was built with insufficient funds back in the 1960s, the organization was forced to sell its camp along Payette Lake. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that longtime Y supporters John Fery and Tim and Mary Wilcomb helped organize the push to build a new Y camp.

Raised by a single mother, Fery grew up in Seattle. He credits his neighborhood YMCA for helping him stay on track. It was important for him to give back, he says.

“I owe a lot to the Y because of my experience as a youth,” Fery says. “The Y helped keep me out of trouble and it was a great experience for me.”

The Wilcombs got involved as a tribute to their son, Cooper, who died at the age of 12 from injuries suffered in a collision with a skier at Brundage in 2001. Cooper had loved Y camp, so the family turned grief into action by helping to lead the effort.

Tim owns Jordan-Wilcomb Construction, a fourth-generation commercial construction company that built the Egyptian Theatre and the Downtown YMCA. Mary and Tim helped raise the funds.

The camp was built on 400 acres once owned by Boise Cascade. (Fery is a former Boise Cascade CEO.). It was a huge accomplishment that started during the height of the economic downturn in 2006. Raising the money was tough, but in the end it worked.

“When things looked dire, Jim kept us uplifted,” Tim Wilcomb says. “We were little engines that could. ‘If I think you can, then I can, too.’ That’s who he is and who he’ll always be. He’s different than most CEOs. It’s about family for Jim. We felt like part of his family, with all the respect and love that goes with it.”

The camp opened in summer of 2009.

Olympic spirit

Moments after Olympic cyclist Kristin Armstrong crossed the finish line in London for her second gold medal win in 2012, Jim Everett’s cellphone rang in Boise.

It was Armstrong’s husband, Joe Savola, telling him the news. Everett was at a Y fundraiser given by film producer Frank Marshall, who had just shown an advanced screening of “The Bourne Legacy,” the fourth in the spy-thriller series, as a benefit for the Camp Horsethief campaign.

“Jim is such a close friend. We automatically called to let him know the news,” Armstrong says.

Armstrong and Everett met when she worked at the West Y in the aquatic center in 1995, just as the facility was opening. She would later become the aquatic director at the Downtown Y and continues a close relationship with the organization and Everett. When she and Savola married in 2007, Everett became a nondenominational minister and officiated at their ceremony.

“There’s something special about Jim,” she says. “I always thought of him as a mentor and that guy you look up to from afar. Then we became friends, and he’s taught me so much. He builds play into his work and his life work is his job and his passion, and is such a good example of how to live a healthy life.”

She credits Everett and the Y for sparking her cycling career. Everett gets up at 5 most mornings and rides his bicycle to his office Downtown. He swims, runs, loves to backpack and sometimes competes in triathlons. Armstrong took his example and started riding her bicycle to the West Y to get back in shape after a year of not exercising.

“Everyone around me was so fit,” she says. “One day, I decided to work out again. I’m going to ride my bike down the Greenbelt to the West Y,” she says. “I didn’t have enough money to buy shoes and a helmet.”

Now, Armstrong — who is training for a third Olympics — is the community health director at St. Luke’s Health Systems. Everett sits on the hospital’s Western Region Community Board.

“Jim has come back in my life, so when I need to talk to him and get ideas he’s right there,” she says. “There are people who come into your life for a reason, and there are these reasons that keep on coming and bringing him back. It’s been really neat.”

What’s next

After all the ceremony and attention of his departure, Everett is looking forward to some down time, although he remains active on several local boards. He refuses to speculate on his future moves.

He does plan to spend more time with his wife, Linda, after more than 40 years of working long hours and coaching their kids’ teams. He wants to see more of his grandkids, who currently live in France with their parents, Kevin and Hortence Saget Eve, and maybe do some backpacking as well as volunteering for the Comprehensive Campaign. He may even help Linda with her new venture. She makes a popular nutrition bar called Jete.

But he wants to be thoughtful about what comes next, he says.

“I’m not going off into the sunset, but I want to take some time and reflect,” he says. “I’ve had 41 years of a calling. I’m not going to go out and just get a job. I want the next chapter to be as great as the last.”

About the Treasure Valley Family YMCA

Caldwell YMCA, 3720 S. Indiana Ave., 454-9622.

Downtown YMCA, 1050 W. State St., Boise, 344-5501.

West Boise YMCA and Aquatics Center, 5959 W. Discovery Way, 377-9622.

Homecourt, 936 W. Taylor St., Meridian. 855-5711.

Membership: Joining fees are waived through Dec. 31. Family memberships run $71.90 for two adults and dependents under the age of 24; $59.90 for two people. Individual memberships range from $29.90 for 19- to 29-year-olds to $42.90 for ages 30 to 64.

Senior and youth rates and financial assistance are available to those who qualify.

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