By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Paul Chason, who has held the chief executive officer position at Atmore Area YMCA since September 29, 2013, has announced his retirement, effective December 31.
Chason was born in Atmore, at Vaught Hospital, “quite a few years ago” and grew up in Huxford, where he attended grades 1-9. He graduated in 1975 from Escambia County High School. (Ironically, his sophomore year was spent in the building that now houses the YMCA.)
He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in February of his senior year and spent a significant portion of the next 23 years doing what he thought he was through doing.
“When I graduated high school, I was tired of school,” said Chason. “But I spent almost the next two years in a classroom learning electronics and electronic computer-based systems.”
He was stationed for a while in Alaska, where he spent as much time as he could backpacking, climbing the mountains, fishing, chasing caribou and watching whales, eagles and all kinds of migratory birds. Then, back to school.
He became a USN instructor and spent a lot of time traveling: doing worldwide on-site manpower surveys for all the navy’s maintenance departments. His career afforded him the opportunity to travel, and he spent time in Cuba, Iceland, Hawaii, Japan, Guam, Spain, Italy and Scotland.
He summed up the military experience as “a truly wonderful and adventure filled 23-plus years of my life.”
Following his naval retirement, Chason taught electronics aboard Naval Aviation Technical Training Center in Pensacola, then taught at Florida State College. He said the leadership training and experience he received helped prepare him for the job of running the local Y.
“With each organization, I had the privilege of being in key leadership roles, supporting training for our service members in a myriad of aviation-related skills, from entry level electronics to advanced courses taught at the Associates Degree level. Finally, I had the opportunity and privilege to work at the Atmore Area YMCA.”
Chason said he will carry a full bag of memories with him when he leaves the local nonprofit, which thrived under his leadership until recent financial woes began to affect the organization’s operations.
“I’ll miss the people and the many stories they willingly shared,” he mused. “I’ll miss the smiles on the kids’ faces when they scored a goal, made something in camp or just had a good day. Some of the other things I will miss are the happiness in the faces of people as they met a fitness goal, the social groups that developed among people as they worked out, and the comments and ‘good-natured’ ribbing that occurred during football season.”
Robert Heard, chief volunteer officer for the YMCA’s board of directors, said he hated to see Chason go.
“I tried to talk him out of it,” Heard said. “But he’s ready to go, and you have to respect his wishes.”
Board member Tom Wolfe noted that the local Y had shown “marked improvement” under Chason’s leadership.
The retiring CEO didn’t give a specific reason for his decision to hang up his YMCA keyring, saying only that “the time had come to move on.” He added that the management skills he has developed and honed while running the Y will come in handy if he should later decide to re-enter the working world.
“I am very grateful for the valuable experience gained and opportunities for growth experienced during my time with the YMCA,” he said. “I feel confident that they will help me should I choose to seek another adventure in the future.”
Heard announced that a search committee is being formed to seek a replacement for Chason, and that the committee would begin the process by the end of August.
“He’s going to be hard to replace,” Heard said.