Whenever Jack Covey drives down Hocking Avenue and sees a full parking lot at the YMCA building, a little smile comes across his face.
“How that started, that’s always a story,” he says with a grin.
In the early 1960s Covey was already getting involved in the local sports scene as part of a volunteer community recreational board set up by the city.
“As a group we sat down and said to the city, ‘We have full time jobs and this is becoming too much for us, so we recommend that you hire a recreation director,’” Covey recalls. “But, after a year the city didn’t do anything.”
A few years earlier, when he was a student at UBC, Covey had taught swimming lessons at the Vancouver YMCA.
“So I had a few contacts there and I thought, ‘Why not have a Y?’”
Under the YMCA banner, Covey and company ran an amazing range of programs — fishing, fencing, softball.
“We hired a young Chinese guy and he was very good with these, I don’t know what they were called,” Covey laughs, making nun-chuck moves. “Anybody who had an interest, we had people coming forward saying, ‘Yeah I’ll run that program.’”
“Eventually, we needed a building.”
Covey and crew looked at the piece of property the Coast Hotel now occupies, but couldn’t make it work. The land on Hocking Avenue was plan B, purchased from Rod Cooper.
“He was only given the amount of money he originally paid for it, and people couldn’t believe he would do that,” Covey says. “He didn’t make any money on it at all.”
Covey credits Dr. Gerry Evans with helping him bring the YMCA to Chilliwack, and for developing the building concept that continues to work so well today.
“Gerry went around to some Y’s in Alberta and Saskatchewan and he came back saying, ‘What has to be done is, when people enter the building there has to be activity,’” Covey says. “That’s why the pool is where it is. When you come in you see activity right away. And, he wanted it to be a family place for people of all ages.”
“So, when I drive by now and see that parking lot full, I pump my fist and say, ‘Yeah! Good decision!’”
It can be safely said that 84 year old Covey’s fingerprints are all over Chilliwack sports landscape, with the YMCA just one example.
You can, for instance, make a case that he is the grand-daddy of local football.
He brought the first high school program to Chilliwack secondary school in the early 1960s, coaching his crews to three Fraser Valley championships.
That was as far as you could go in those days, with no BC championship.
“We kind of lucked into that because there was a juvenile program here that couldn’t survive and we took all the equipment,” Covey says.
Men from Covey’s teams went on to create Chilliwack Minor Football, which has evolved into one of BC’s top youth football associations. They also helped found the junior football Huskers.
“John Halsell was in Grade 11 or 12 when he started with us on one of the original teams,” Covey says. “He says to me now, ‘Jack, those were the best two years of my life.’”“He wasn’t one of the best athletes, but he was part of a team and felt like he was part of a school.”
The program went away when all of its rivals folded. Transportation costs shut down programs at Abbotsford, Aldergrove, Langley and Maple Ridge, leaving Chilliwack with no local foes.
“When they dropped the team I was devastated because of all those years and all that energy put into it,” Covey says.
Covey had an equally large impact with Chilliwack secondary school’s biggest rival, Sardis secondary school.
It was Covey who brought that school’s athletic department into existence in 1956 when it was still called Sardis junior secondary school.
“What an opportunity when you talk about doing something,” Covey says excitedly. “I established the colours. I got the uniforms and the crest.”
“I taught and coached 150 boys in that school, and coached soccer, basketball and track and field.”
A few years ago, Covey proudly watched his grandson Michael don Falcon green in high school as he starred for the Sardis senior boys squad.
A highlight for sure.
If there’s one more thing Covey points to as a career highlight, it’s bringing swim lessons to Chilliwack in the early 1960s.
While still going to UBC, Covey worked summers as a lifeguard at Cultus Lake’s Main Beach.
He started swim lessons then, and went next level when he arrived in Chilliwack full time.
“I used to go around the community to people I know who had kids and a private pool, and I said to them, ‘Look, I’ll teach your kid to swim for free if you let me use your pool every morning.’”“They said, ‘No problem Jack. Come on in.’ So I ran five kids per class and five classes every morning for the month of July.”“A lot of kids I taught in those first programs are coming up on retirement now.”
Everything Covey accomplished was done with one goal in mind, to bring more activity to Chilliwack.
He expressed that succinctly during a YMCA board meeting decades ago.
“At one point the YMCA board was getting annoyed that some of the people we were training as instructors were leaving us and going to Greendale to start another program,” he says. “I said, ‘Great! We’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing. We’re adding activity to the community.”
These days Covey is still active, pounding the pavement on behalf of the BC Football Conference Valley Huskers. Though the team has experienced hard times over the last decade, he’s never stopped being their biggest booster.
“I hope my former students and players would say I’ve affected their life in a positive way and made them feel part of a team,” he says. “You never know what’s going to happen when you drop that stone in the puddle.”