Saluting John Hamill

The emerging promise of the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center now taking shape along Dudley Street in Uphams Corner is a great and wonderful resource to that neighborhood.

When the Boston office of the Salvation Army won the competition among several other cities to receive an $85 million grant from the Kroc Foundation to build the facility, it came with the expectation that our city would be able to raise an additional $30 million in local support.

For a while, it seemed that such a commitment might not be reached, as the capital campaign was being launched at a time when the American economy was showing some early signs of the now-current recession. At such a time, it seemed that the capacity to engage local philanthropy in such an undertaking might be almost impossible.

Then, a retired banker, John Hamill, stepped up and agreed to lead the fund-raising.

Hamill is a New York native, born and raised in Queens, the son of a NYC cop, and a graduate of Holy Cross College in Worcester. Over his career, he has held top executive posts at several Boston banks, including Shawmut, Fleet and BankBoston, and when the Pennsylvania-based Sovereign Bank opened for business here in Boston, he became Sovereign’s chairman for the New England region.

He was one of the region’s most highly regarded corporate executives, and as he neared retirement as the bank’s CEO, the challenge to help the Salvation Army raise the needed funds proved irresistible. So, four years ago, John Hamill accepted the challenge, and signed on to lead the local efforts.

“His Jesuit training [at Holy Cross] and his commitment to the city” became his own personal guide, a close friend said of Hamill. “He could have simply retired and gone out and played golf, but he maintained his commitment. “It is his great leadership that made this happen,” the friend said. “Without John willing to take on the challenge, the Kroc Center might have been unable to close the gap.”

As reported by Pat Tarantino in today’s front page story, the new community center will be the largest such Kroc-sponsored facility in the country, offering several basketball courts, soccer fields and a gigantic pool with a two-story slide, senior citizen activities, job training and employment opportunities for the out of work and daycare for working parents.

And even as the huge 6.5 acre community center takes shape, there remains a funding gap, estimated now at less than $1 million. Next week, the Salvation Army will continue with a weekly guided our of the site, proudly showing off what has been accomplished to date, and hoping to close the remaining gap.

Dorchester’s Kroc Center remains on target to host an official dedication ceremony early next spring, and there is great confidence that it will make that target.

The Dorchester community can be very thankful to the Kroc Foundation, to the Salvation Army, to the city, and to the many corporate donors who have supported this vital new community center.

And when the doors open permanently next April, we will give great thanks and credit to the remarkable leadership of this retired banker, John Hamill. He really stepped up for our community.

– Ed Forry