Aaron Gibson said one of his favorite memories of Thelma Lovette was when she decided to test out the workout equipment the day before the grand opening of the YMCA that bares her name.
“She actually walked up to the machine and said, ‘Hey, watch this, watch my smoke,’ and she started doing the arm machine, you know, going back and forth, and just with a smile on her face,” Gibson described. “That’s the type of lady she was, she was about 96 years old at that time.”
Gibson is the executive director of the Thelma Lovette and Centre Avenue YMCAs.
Lovette passed away May 24th in Arizona, but she was a Hill District resident most of her life.
A public memorial honoring her legacy is being held at the Thelma Lovette YMCA Friday at 4:30 p.m.
“Her daughter, Thelma Lovette, is actually planning this with the YMCA,” Gibson said. “We’re expecting over 300 people to attend, and it’s in honor of Thelma Lovette and what she had done not just at the YMCA, but in the community.”
Lovette was present at the Centre Avenue Y’s opening in 1925, and she became an influential figure there – even serving as the first female African American board member of the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh.
She created a club at the Y that provided high school girls service and volunteer activities throughout Pittsburgh as well as a Healthy Living Group for stroke victims.
“When we decided to open up a new YMCA, we just thought because of the history of the Hill District and how much of an impact she made in the community and how instrumental she had been with the YMCA for so many years, we just thought it was a great idea to name the facility after her,” Gibson said.
Lovette was also a civil rights leader and the first African American woman to be hired as a social worker by Mercy Hospital.
Gibson described Lovette as delightful and inspirational.
“There’s just this positive energy that you get from her, and when you hear her speak and the way she talks about folks that she’d known, she had a great memory,” Gibson said. “She had known mostly everyone in Pittsburgh; she just made such an impact.”