By Ginger DeShaney
“If you like your job, it’s not really work,” said Anne Gordon. “That’s been the way it’s been for me all along.”
So after reaching her goal of “working” for 50 years at the South Boston Boys & Girls Club, Anne is retiring on June 29, 2021, the 50th anniversary of her start date.
The 68-year-old Anne is currently the Arts Director and Summer Camp Director at the Edgerley Family South Boston Club but has held various titles throughout her tenure.
“That’s one of the reasons I stayed so long is because I can change jobs around,” she said. “Being able to have something different to do … has been very rewarding.”
As her retirement date nears, Anne acknowledges it doesn’t feel real yet. “I’ve been intentional all year trying to think about so many more months and this is going to happen,” she said. “I’ve been trying to tell people slowly, especially the kids that I work with. That’s a difficult thing to have somebody leave and they have questions. I’d rather have them ask me while I’m still here.
“The kids have been really cute about it,” she added, noting one girl asked Anne to play a game Anne normally doesn’t play. The girl told her: “ ‘I want to make sure I spend time with you.’ That was really sweet.”
Anne is planning to be back in a volunteer capacity. “It’s hard for me, too, to have it all of a sudden end.”
Anne’s husband, John McDonagh, retired a few years ago from Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical High School. He wanted her to retire as well, but he is “very considerate of me,” said Anne, who lives in Canton with her husband. “He knows how much I like my job. He just goes with the flow.”
How It All Started
After finishing her freshman year at Massachusetts College of Art, where she was studying art education, Anne was recruited by the woman who started the Discovery Workshop arts program at what was then known as the Boys Club to work in the summer program. (It became a Boys & Girls Club in 1981.) Anne had been working in a dry cleaning store and the minimum wage at the time was $1.75 an hour so she jumped at the chance to work in her chosen field.
Her salary with the Club was $2.50 an hour! “It was phenomenal,” she said.
“I just thought I would work here until I finished college and then go teach in a school,” Anne said. “But over the next few years I found myself becoming attached to the atmosphere of the Boys & Girls Club, and the culture of what it is, the community.
“When I graduated, they wound up making it a full-time job and I never left.”
While working at the Club during college, Anne was learning classroom skills in school, but at the Club she was getting real-life training, such as how to break up fights, clean up rooms, etc.
“I saw the very practical part of it and I saw the needs of the kids,” Anne said. “Papers I did were based on what I was doing at the Club, bringing the philosophical part of it into real life.”
She got her Master’s degree at Lesley College. Her thesis was on a program she started at the Club: “A Trip Around the World,” which focused each month on a different continent and its arts, culture, dance, food, etc.
Anne implemented her recycling program at the Club 50 years ago. “It was a part-time arts program; there wasn’t any money for supplies,” she said. “So we started something I still do today, which is the recycling program.”
They put the word out to families that they needed toilet paper rolls, egg cartons, yarn, etc. They collected things “and we were creative in creating art projects with all these different found materials. That’s one of the things we continue to do,” she said.
The first Earth Day was in the early 1970s so recycling was becoming popular. “But for us it was a way to save money on supplies, but it also taught the kids that they can be creative with things they could find around the house,” Anne said. “I think that’s an important skill even now. Art materials are expensive, so why not use what you have around the house?”
Anne’s parents grew up in the 1920s and ’30s and lived through the Depression. “You used all the things you had around you to be creative,” she said, noting her recycling ways and being creative with what you have come from her own childhood in Milton.
Said Pattie McCormick, Associate Director of Development at the Edgerley Family South Boston Club, “Anne is a trailblazer with her creative programming. Way before it was cool to recycle, much of the art created at the Club was, and continues to be, from recycled goods. This is not only a cost-saving measure that delights Club directors, but a core tenet of Anne’s belief system. It teaches members to respect our earth, be responsible citizens, and think outside the box. Anne’s inventive projects show kids that they have the power to change things and make them better, whether it be a milk carton or the world.”
“The fostering of the creativity is actually the most important thing that we’ve done over the years,” said Anne, who became Arts Director in 1975 after serving as the Cultural Enrichment Director. “No matter what field a child goes into, being able to think outside the box and be creative is only going to help them in that career. I always say, I don’t think I have the next Picasso in my room, but maybe I have somebody who can create a stapler that doesn’t break after 30 uses or someone who can fix the traffic problems we have in the city of Boston. It takes creative thinking across the board.”
Anne wishes she had kept notes on some of the funny things that happened over the years. “The kids are just hilarious,” she said. “We’ve just had lots of laughs over the years.”
Anne has fond memories of the thousands of children who have come through the Club’s doors — way too many to mention — so she focused her highlights on Club trips.
From 1996-2011, Anne ran Club Council, which elected members as mayor and councilors. At the end of the members’ two-year terms, Anne took them to Washington D.C., where they visited monuments and sights, such as Arlington National Cemetery. On one of those visits, Club members got to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“I’ve been to D.C. at least 10 times,” Anne said. “It never got old for us. Those were very memorable.”
Another highlight was a trip she took with the music program to Grand Cayman Islands to do a service project. The members ran a band camp for the kids there. “It was a really special trip with a very special group of kids,” Anne said.
Back in the day, when Club members aged out, Anne rarely got to see them again. With the advent of Facebook, she is able to keep track of members. “There are South Boston Club Kids all over the country doing all kinds of different things,” she said. “It’s really nice to be able to stay in touch with them. That’s been very special.”
Anne has been at the Club so long that she has children — and maybe even grandchildren — of former members. “It’s super fun to see the next generation,” she said. Sometimes she can just look at a child and ask, “What is your mother’s name?” because the child resembles a former member. Oftentimes, she’s correct in knowing the parent. “That’s when the kids are surprised. ‘You know my mother’?”
Anne is a gifted youth worker, particularly skilled at working with the shy and sensitive kids struggling to make the leap to become a “Club kid,” said Pattie. “Anne’s very deliberate attention chips away at their fears and insecurities, not only providing them with an atmosphere where they feel comfortable expressing themselves, but giving them the confidence to explore other areas of the Club.”
As she heads toward retirement — where she will garden, draw, knit, make quilts, travel, and yes, volunteer at the Club — Anne has this hope for the members.
“I hope all the kids growing up now can have a job they like as much as I have enjoyed being at the Boys and Girls Club,” she said. “It’s meant a lot to me. From the time I came, I felt accepted by the South Boston community. I didn’t grow up here but I kind of feel like I did. What fun I’ve had over the years, so many funny and interesting stories of things the kids have done here at the Club. I’ll take that all with me.”
To send Anne your well wishes, email her at AGordon@bgcb.org.
Colleagues Share Their Stories About Anne
As Anne Gordon heads to retirement after 50 years of service, her colleagues at the Edgerley Family South Boston Boys & Girls Club share their stories of the legend, the icon, the mentor, the friend.
“Not only does Anne believe deeply in our mission, she lives this mission devoutly.”
— Harry Duvall, Executive Director, Edgerley Family South Boston Boys & Girls Club
“The South Boston community was very fortunate when a young college student from Milton made her way to the South Boston Boys & Girls Club 50 years ago. Since then, Anne has created a space where all of our kids feel welcome and where they all feel important. Her longtime commitment to our neighborhood is truly inspirational. Thank you, Anne!”
— Pattie McCormick, Associate Director of Development
“Not only has Anne been a pinnacle of the Club, but also of my life. From childhood to adulthood she has been there, guiding me and supporting me. My creative mind was able to thrive in Discovery with her influence, especially during my years as a Junior Staff. Anne has made an immeasurable impact on my life, and while there is no way that I could ever truly repay her, I hope that I can make her proud.”
— Jennifer Sheehan, Arts Assistant
“I’ve been working at BGCB for a little over a year now, and the first thing I learned about Anne is that, even though in many ways she is a teacher and adviser to those around her, she is still one of the most voracious learners I’ve ever met. I was teaching tap dancing on the stage once a week and Anne would come down to take part in the class. It was so important for the kids to see an adult who was eager to make mistakes, try new things, and gain new skills with commitment, authenticity, and sincerity. When the pandemic hit, I was again in awe of her willingness to learn new skills. She had never touched an iPad before, yet here she was filming a baking tutorial for the members from her kitchen at home! That was such a difficult time, but Anne was a living reminder that all of us ‘old dogs’ have plenty of new tricks we can master. I’ve learned a lot from Anne, but the biggest quality I hope to emulate in my life and work is her bottomless appetite to learn new things. There is no shame in not knowing something and Anne’s approach to learning reminds me that I have decades’ worth of new experiences, new skills, and new challenges that I can look forward to.”
— Andrew Child, Performing Arts Coordinator
“For as many years as I have known Anne, she has always welcomed me into her space with a bright smile! She has always been encouraging and supportive when I’ve needed it the most. One of my favorite parts … was taking the members to Discovery and creating art. I will forever cherish the wonderful memories we’ve shared together as co-workers and will miss being able to walk into her office and chat. I wish her a happy retirement and the best of luck in her new adventures!!”
— Jennifer Nunez, Cadet Group Leader
“Since day one, Anne has been an important figure for me at the Club. She has guided me through difficult situations and helped me solve issues together in her wise and gentle ways. I have learned so much from Anne by seeing her work and build relationships with our members and also from having our one-on-one conversations. Anne always has her doors and her heart open for us, and she is always willing to listen to each and every one of her staff and co-workers. I truly respect her for that.”
— Jessica Nathania, Music Clubhouse Director