Boys & Girls Club gyms dedicated in honor of LaPorte couple
Published 2:15 pm Friday, February 3, 2023
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By Lynn J. Richardson
When youngsters and their families enter either of the two gyms at the Elizabethton/Carter County Boys and Girls Club, they will notice some big changes. The areas have been completely transformed into top notch gyms, refurbished with fresh paint, new floors and much more — improvements made possible through the generosity of an Elizabethton family.
Visitors will also notice the names over the doorways into those gyms which were dedicated last week to the memories of an Elizabethton couple who always had a passion for giving back — the late Joe LaPorte Jr., who served as the Chairman and President of Citizens Bank, and his wife, Katherine Isaacs LaPorte.
Three of the LaPorte’s four sons were on hand for the special dedication ceremony including Sam and Joe LaPorte III, both of Elizabethton, and Steve LaPorte of Houston. Chris LaPorte was unable to attend the event, deterred by a weather-related and last-minute flight cancellation.
Sam LaPorte served as his family’s spokesperson and addressed family, friends, Club kids, staff members and board members who gathered for the ceremony.
“This is so special to us,” he told the group. “Our parents grew up feeling strongly about giving back and helping people and they passed that on to us. I know they would feel very proud of this.”
LaPorte spoke of the days when the organization first began in Elizabethton, then simply called the “Boys Club.”
“All of this started before I was born — in 1947,” he said. “Back then the club operated out of an old dilapidated house in Black Bottom and it was mostly just athletics. It didn’t have all that we offer now. There were no field trips, meals, homework help or counseling. Still, it got the kids exercise and taught them to get along with other people.
“I know it got us out of my mother’s hair for a while — long enough for her to keep her sanity,” he joked. “All of that was pretty important.”
Now there are so many opportunities at the Club, LaPorte said. Addressing the young people in the room, he added, “The world is at your fingertips, kids. All you have to do is work hard and listen to these people who are here to help you.”
Younger brothers Joe and Steve attended the Club in its early days and both say they think back on those days with fond memories.
“It was just a tiny little house, and it was just called the Boys Club,” Joe LaPorte III recalled. “It was a blast, but it was nothing elaborate. In fact, it was fairly limited.”
But good memories were made there and one in particular still makes him smile. The date was May 25, 1965.
“That was the day that Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) and Sonny Liston were going to have their big boxing match,” he recalled. “We were all pretty excited because there weren’t a lot of sports on TV back then. There were probably 30 or 40 of us crammed into that room around an old black and white TV with rabbit ears.
“Well, the match only lasted about two minutes and bam! Liston was out,” he said. “You can just imagine the disappointment. But those were good times.”
He also remembers setting up their own boxing matches at the Club, which he described as “a great place to go and make friends.
“So many of the kids were local because of transportation limitations,” he added. “Most of them walked to the Club, and we all learned how to interact and socialize.
“But this place,” he said of the current Club located on Hudson Drive, “this place just makes me so proud.”
Steve LaPorte echoed his brothers’ admiration for the facility and all that it offers.
“What they have now is unbelievable,” he said. “I’m so glad we could donate the building so the thousands of kids who have come through could benefit from all they have to offer. It’s just awesome.”
Even though the offerings were limited when Steve attended the old Club as a kid, he said he learned some valuable lessons.
“The Boys Club’s sports program helped us develop a team effort. We learned how to win and lose, and that builds character. It helps your perspective in life. We were all a little different and it was neat seeing other personalities.”
He says he still remembers playing sixth grade baseball when the “big team” in town was the Kiwanis and he played for the Westside Alleycats.
“We didn’t stand a chance,” he said with a chuckle. “We were just a one-time team, but we had big time even though we lost.
“We all grew up caring about this club,” he added, “and it is something we knew the town needed and we were happy to do it. Yes, we helped a lot, but it takes a village to raise a kid.”
Without the LaPorte family’s support, things could have turned out very differently for the Club, says Shelly Parham, CEO of BGCECC.
“You know, there was a time in history when the Club thought it would have to close its doors for good,” she said. “The LaPorte family stepped in and helped the Club make payroll so it could continue to serve youth and families who need the Club as a resource.”
She is especially grateful for Sam LaPorte’s service to the Club. He has been on the organization’s Board of Directors for 23 years.
“He not only serves on the board but he actively and genuinely cares about the children in our community,” Parham said. “He has been a champion for strong programming and changes within the Club that promote positive outcomes. The gym renovations were just a part of that thinking process. These gyms will be used for even more than basketball. They will be used for physical fitness tests, dance parties, summer assemblies and activities, skills and drills in each sports category and other fun things that keep kids moving and happy.”