Jim Lochiatto, or Mr. Loch, made an impact on many Watertown children as an art teacher and working at the YMCA’s Camp Chickami, and now he is being honored by having a new building at the Y’s summer camp named for him.
Since the 1950s, the West Suburban YMCA has run summer camps at its property in Wayland. It became a special place for Lochiatto having spent many years there, first as a camper and later working there.
“I was there for 40 summers,” he said, adding that he first went there when he was about 8 or 9 years old.
When he was in junior high school he began assisting instructors at the YMCA and then he was offered a job at Camp Chickami “and just didn’t leave.”
“Every summer after teaching I worked out there at the summer camp,” Lochiatto said.
Lochiatto grew up in Newton, but when he went into teaching he wound up in the Watertown Public Schools, and he said during his time — 1975 to 2009 — he probably taught every student in the Watertown Schools at some point.
“I did my student teaching in Watertown and they liked what I did. They started me at the high school doing jewelry, ceramics, painting and drawing,” Lochiatto said. “About 10 years later I moved to the middle school and Hosmer East — elementary and middle school — and when they built the new middle school I moved up to that.”
For a time Lochiatto stepped away from Camp Chickami, but eventually he returned.
“When my kids were growing up I took 15 years off, but they asked me to come back,” Lochiatto said. “They were looking for someone to do the maintenance and they asked me to come back. I did everything: I was camp director, program director, I was a lifeguard, and in the final years I kept the place safe and clean for the kids.”
The West Suburban YMCA bought Camp Chickami in 1955, and turned it into a place for kids to get away during the summer, said Jack Fucci, President and CEO of the West Suburban YMCA.
“Kids from Watertown and Newton and surrounding communities all get together and head out to Camp Chickami,” said Fucci, who grew up on Riverside Street in Watertown. “It has always been a special place. One of the things parents always say is there is magic in the mud out in Camp Chickami.”
Over the years, the camp has grown from 150 campers to 300, Fucci said, and there is a waiting list of about 400. The camp has had some famous participants, including actor John Krasinski, who was a camp counselor, and actor Matt Damon attended as a camper.
The facilities are quite basic, Fucci said, with one building, and a pool. The magic comes from the camp counselors, employees, and the campers themselves, so when the YMCA decided to do a camp building project they wanted to honor one of the people who made Camp Chickami so special. Lochiatto was chosen.
“Jim has been part of our camp for over 40 years. He was a camper, was a counselor, was a director, and since its inception the camp always had an affinity of making magic out of nothing, instilling creativity, and openness with the campers,” Fucci said. “Jim continued to foster that type of atmosphere in every role he had, regardless of whatever title he had. He has been able to keep that tradition going through the years.”
The building project will be done in two phases, with the first including a new multipurpose building where the administrative offices will be located, plus an enclosed athletic facility. Phase 2 will expand the aquatic facility, Fucci said. The multipurpose building will be known as the Loch Lodge.
After the Y announced the construction project, they kept the naming a secret, even from Lochiatto.
“It was quite a shock — it was kind of a surprise,” Lochiatto said. “They invited me out there to walk the grounds and show me where the new building will be constructed. Five or six people from the Y, the director and camp director just kind of sprung it on me. They said we want to let you know we are naming a building after you.”
Work on the first phase has begun, and will cost about $2 million, Fucci said. Fundraising has already started for that portion.
“The (Loch Lodge) is 90 percent complete. It will be done by August. We are trying to raise the last $500,000,” Fucci said. “When we put this online at the end of the summer it will start a whole new era.”
The pool, originally built in 1960, will be expanded, and a bathhouse will be added. That will cost an estimated $1 million. The pool is an important part of the YMCA’s mission.
“Aquatic drowning is the leading cause of preventative death of children under 8 years old,” Fucci said. “The Y, and Camp Chickami, has always been the community swim instructor.”
For more information about the project and the Camp Chickami capital campaign go to wsymca.org/chickami-capital