Thomas Smolack Scholarship Foundation Fund

Est. 2022 in the Estate of Thomas Smolack, Jeffery Prothero Trustee

If you were looking for Thomas Smolack when he was a kid, he’d be down at the New Haven YMCA. Each day after school and through the hot days of summer, he would be working out, lifting weights, spending time with his buddies. Everybody around the neighborhood was there.

Thomas Smolack
Thomas Smolack, the "godfather of the gym," created a fund to benefit kids using the New Haven Y, where he spent many afternoons in his youth.

“He loved the Y,” said his friend Jeffrey “J.” Prothero. Later, Tom became a gym teacher and then worked for years delivering packages for Federal Express. He moved from New Haven to Florida when his parents settled there and then they moved to Roswell, Georgia where, true to style, he became a fixture at the local gym in Woodstock, Georgia. The gym was also where he met Prothero.

“They called him the godfather of the gym because he’d work out two or even three times a day!” Prothero said. “The gym was his whole life. He didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, and never married. He was a bodybuilder, and he worked every day doing his conditioning, lifting weights and swimming.”

Over time, J. and Tom developed a friendship. “Tom was very quiet. He was a kind of a mystery,” J. said. As time went by, though, they talked a bit more and then J. began to notice Tom’s hands shaking.

“He told me he had Parkinson’s disease and after that we started talking more and became friends,” J. said.

For quite a while Tom continued working out. J. said Tom was the longest living patient being treated by physicians from Emory Healthcare’s Parkinson’s disease research team. ““He was in surprisingly good health for a long time and the doctors attributed it to his going to the gym as a lifestyle,” J. said. “He was in overdrive about fitness and eating right his whole life.”

Tom didn’t have siblings and had no relatives nearby. As his disease progressed, J. and his family looked out for him, making sure he had groceries and medications. J asked Tom to call every morning “so I could be sure he was safe, that he hadn’t fallen or gotten hurt.”

Tom didn’t talk much about his early life, but the Y did come up often. Tom worried about young kids and teenagers who didn’t have a place to go and how that could sometimes lead them to trouble.

J started to talk with Tom about leaving a kind of legacy. “I said to him, `Tom, what if you were to use your assets to give some of the kids memberships to the Y, kids who can’t afford it? You could get them off the street with a fund that would last forever. What if you could provide that?’”

“And he said, `Boy - wouldn’t that be something,’” J. recalled. “It was the most excited I’d ever seen him.”

J. set about creating the Thomas Smolack Scholarship Fund. J. researching foundations in Connecticut and reaching out to The Community Foundation.

Earnings from the fund will be used to make sure that any kid who wants to come to the New Haven Y – and the need is there and it’s always there – will have help with their membership.

David Stevenson / President and CEO of the Central Connecticut Coast YMCA

“The call came out of the blue,” David Stevenson, President and CEO of the Central Connecticut Coast YMCA said. “J. called me and said they wanted to start a fund to get kids in New Haven, particularly kids who might not otherwise be able to pay for a membership involved in the New Haven Youth Center YMCA. Of course, we loved that idea.”

New Haven YMCA
Youth at the New Haven YMCA, which will receive support from Thomas Smolack Scholarship Foundation Fund.

Earnings from the fund will be used “to make sure that any kid who wants to come to the New Haven Y – and the need is there and it’s always there – will have help with their membership. We’ll get many more kids involved.”

“In the world today, with social media and everything, we all still want to belong to something,” he added. “It’s great for kids to say I’m a member of the Y. We have a terrific after-school program. They play a lot of basketball, and we have a beautiful pool. There are so many things to do. If kids want to have someone help with homework or read an essay they’re working on, they can do that or they can just be with their friends.”

Tom died at the age of 75 in November 2020 or, as J. wrote in his obituary, “he joined a fitness center located somewhere behind The Pearly Gates in Heaven.”

“If he’s looking down, I think he’d really like that this is happening,” J. said.