Tribute to Toronto YMCA leader Henry Labatte
Like many boys his age, Henry Labatte spent his early years playing sports at the YMCA. Later, as an adult, he not only brought the 116-year-old Toronto Y back from the brink of bankruptcy, but he also made the facility the largest in Canada and one of the best Ys in the world. world.
Born in Toronto to furrier Antoine Labatte and his wife Angélique Horth, an operator at Irwin Toys, Henry Joseph Denis Labatte was the eldest of four children. He and his sisters Lorraine, Marie Doreen and Shirley grew up during the Great Depression in a modest house on Queen Street, according to his son Neil Labatte. A regular at the Broadview YMCA, Henry swam, played baseball and floor hockey, and forged a lifelong bond with the Y.
As a teenager, he did odd jobs to help his family. « In particular, » says Neil, « he wore his soles off as a delivery man for Aikenhead’s Hardware. » A voracious reader and interested in politics, Henry left what is now Danforth Collegiate and Technical Institute after completing grade 11 to enter the workforce. « With limited opportunities, he enlisted in the army in 1944 and was honorably discharged in 1945, » says his son Brian Labatte. « He never arrived in Europe. »
Henry attended George Williams College in Chicago, where he earned a bachelor’s degree, played on the championship volleyball team, and developed an appreciation for jazz. (Williams was the founder of the YMCA, and Henry’s undergraduate program was supported by the Y, Neil says.)
« He often quoted Sir George Williams to me: ‘Education was the great learning staircase necessary for meritocratic ascent,’ Brian says. Like Williams, Henry « also believed that education would provide him with a way out of a life of limited prospects, » says Neil.
While still in college, in 1950, Henry began his career at the YMCA as an instructor to street youth.
“He was a good facilitator and negotiator,” says Brian. After graduating in 1953, Henry learned management support and how to start programs at a YMCA in Field, BC. He joined Toronto Central YMCA as assistant physical director in 1960, and by 1970 had worked his way up to senior executive.
He had his work cut out for him. The Toronto YMCA was 116 years old and virtually bankrupt. Using management information systems, quality measurement, financial ratios, performance appraisal, marketing and volunteer recruitment, says Brian, Henry has rebuilt and revitalized the Toronto YMCA, making it the largest association in Canada and one of the world’s leading YMCAs. Under his leadership, the Y planned, funded and built five new program centers in the Greater Toronto Area.
“He expanded the Y to be more than physical education,” says Neil, “to become a community, societal, and international service and support organization.
Henry was also a devoted family man. He married Marie Krakora, whom he met in college, in August 1953, and the couple had three children. Henry was a supportive father to Neil, his older brother Brian and their younger sister Mary. « He was always home for breakfast and dinner and made time to participate in our activities, » says Mary Brassington. « Whether it was a sports practice, a music lesson or a special event in our children’s lives, Henry took the time to be with us to help and encourage us every time. that he could. »
Henry and Marie, a Toronto City Councilor for over 20 years, “worked as a team to leverage their strengths, connections and experience to get the most results possible,” says Brian.
This led to the creation of the Henry Labatte Scholarship, which allows full-time YMCA staff to learn from international partners. Following Marie’s death in 2004, Henry established the Seneca College Marie Labatte Scholarship in recognition of volunteerism and leadership.
He retired in 1992 after more than 40 years at the YMCA, but his work was far from over. An advocate for lifelong and adult education, he earned a master’s degree in education from the University of Chicago and was a graduate of Harvard Business School’s advanced management program. He applied his knowledge to create the World Urban Network soon after his retirement.
The organization – which allows large metropolitan YMCAs to share their experience and resources to strengthen their community service operations – later gave birth to the North American Urban Group and the Canadian Urban Group. “He knew the importance of international knowledge sharing,” says Brian.
In recognition of his leadership, Henry was inducted into the YMCA Hall of Fame at Springfield College in 1994, and in 1998 he was named a Fellow of the YMCA Honors Fellowship at Rideau Hall.
As a leader, Henry offered “uncompromising support for equality, opportunity and education,” says Brian. “As a Catholic growing up in Protestant Toronto, there were strong religious beliefs all around him. He wanted to make sure he was the mentor to help others progress and not encounter the obstacles he encountered.
« He went out of his way to make sure everyone he interacted with knew opportunities existed, » Mary says, « regardless of gender, race or creed. »
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