May 18, 2023
“I missed the Y.”
Thomas Schwabe settled into the bench just outside the main entrance of the Doylestown branch of YMCA of Bucks and Hunterdon Counties. It was a sunny early spring morning, the walkway bustling with the coming and going of members and program participants. The view from the bench is the Y’s garden of painted stones and rocks, many placed there during the pandemic by Schwabe himself.
“I’ve been coming to the Y for over 30 years. I’m a Doylestown guy,” Schwabe said. “Since I retired about eight or nine years ago, I come every day. But when they closed for the pandemic, I really missed coming here. That was when I painted my first rock, ‘I miss my friends at the Y.’ Since then I’ve painted many of the stones you see here.”
Tom walked across the walkway from the bench to the garden and pointed out his contributions.
“After that first one, I started doing cartoon characters and tributes in support of our police, fire and military personnel.”
Schwabe is originally from Springfield in Delaware County, where he lived until he was 14, when his family moved to Doylestown. “When I turned 18 my parents said, ‘Either get a job or join the army.’ So that’s what I did. I joined the army in 1968. I served with an artillery group on the west coast.”
When Schwabe returned from service he resettled in Doylestown, went to work in the industrial metals business and began to raise a family. “I raised two kids here and the Y has been an important part of our lives the whole way. My daughter Kelli worked here for years. When my grandchildren were little I would visit them at the Y preschool, and that’s the first time I ever painted stones. It was an activity they did with the children, so when I came to visit, we painted them together.”
When YMCAs across the country closed their doors, a vital hub was taken away from the community, especially active older adults. YMCA retirees were forced to find another way to fill the time, and find wellness.
“Once I started painting the rocks in my garage, I found it very relaxing. It was calm and quiet, and really filled the time. It was an outlet for my creative expression, and expressing my love for the Y.”
During the pandemic lockdown, while the Doylestown branch was only open for early childhood and school age child care programs, YMCA Advanced Director of Youth Development Taylor Jermyn would bring the students outside on breaks to visit the painted rocks.
“Schools were closed and we had many students coming to the Y for their virtual learning,” Jermyn explained. “The children talked about which rocks they liked and why, and they all had their favorites. We were inspired to do our own rock painting project, and the rocks the students painted were added to the rock garden when they were finished.”
Since reopening fitness centers at the Doylestown branch, Tom Schwabe continues to paint rocks large and small to show gratitude to the Y. Other members have done so as well.
“This is a great Y,” Schwabe concluded. “The people here are nice and accommodating, and I never have any problems. It gives me a place to be healthy, and another reason for being. I’ll be 81 in May, and I’ve got no complaints.”
Happy birthday, Tom
Photo caption (above)
Tom Schwabe displays his latest tribute to YMCA of Bucks and Hunterdon Counties in April, 2023.