Dick Pace shows up at the Downtown YMCA looking smart in his blue blazer, crisp white button down dress shirt, a patterned red, white and blue striped tie and khaki slacks.

     You’ve probably seen him dressed that well at the Y, Pensacola Yacht Club, his Blount office or around town. Mr. Pace grew up in an era that was more formal than today. He turns 97 on Monday, Aug. 22. He is not the oldest member of the Downtown Y, he’s also the longest serving member at about 75 years.

     What keeps him coming to the Y and shedding his suit for his swim trunks?

     “The Y has been a wonderful feature of my life,” Pace said. “It has meant a lot to me for many years. I really attribute it to a large extent to my good health at my rather advanced age. I’m still going strong.”

     Except for World War II, when he was a fighter pilot in the F6F-5 “Hellcats” and flew in the Pacific for the U.S. Navy, Pace has been a fixture at the YMCA. He was one of the key donors to the current Y facility that has a plaque from 1951 behind the lobby counter that honors him and the other men who supported the organization back then.

     Pace is also a supporter of the current Bear Levin Studer YMCA scheduled to open downtown later this year. In fact, he didn’t hesitate to write the generous $50,000 check when told he could make his donation over several payments spread out over the year. He responded then, “I’m 95 years old. I’m sending you this check tomorrow.”

     Pace recalls hanging out at the old YMCA facility that was located in the parking lot of the current facility when he was a 9-year-old boy in the late 1920s.

     “We would come to the gym and throw boxing gloves at each other,” Pace recalled.

     He also recalled fondly as a young man after World War II going to the Y to play badminton. Think Olympic badminton, not your family’s backyard badminton.

     “There was a time I’d come up here every day at noon and play badminton,” he said, recalling other leading businessmen also played. “It wasn’t a sissy thing. We were hitting it as hard as we could.”

     After badminton, Pace said he took up swimming a quarter- to a half-mile three times a week. To this day, he still comes in to swim in the Y’s indoor pool.

     “It kept me feeling wonderful,” he said.

     Pace also recalls Hollice Williams, a long time masseuse at the Y and eventually the Physical Director of the branch.

     “He was one of the most wonderful people put on this earth,” Pace recalled.

     Pace, whose wife Jane is 91, recommended others in the Pensacola area join the Y that he credits for taking care of him.

     “I know it was good for me,” he said. “Everyone is just so helpful and friendly here. Everyone is so kind to me. I’ve enjoyed their company.”

     And the soon-to-be 97-year-old looks forward to swim lessons continuing for local children at the two indoor pools at the Bear Levin Studer Y. In fact, he can’t wait to swim there, too.

     “We always will have a place to learn to swim in water that is nice and clean,” Pace said. He is confident the Y will continue its mission to make a positive impact on its members and the community for another 130 years. “I see no end in sight.”

by Duwayne Escobedo