John “Jack” Staver, of Watertown, appeared to those who knew him to be a low-key modest man. When he went to work out at the Greater Waterbury YMCA, he carried what employees described as a battered gym bag and the headphones he used were from the 1980s.
So there was surprise when Staver left a fortune – more than $4 million – to benefit local organizations, including the Greater Waterbury YMCA.
Staver, who passed away at the age of 80 in January 2018, bequeathed his millions to establish a permanent charitable fund at the Connecticut Community Foundation, according to the organization. And he designated that fund to benefit the performing arts in the Greater Waterbury region, the maintenance and improvement of the Town of Watertown’s recreational facilities and the general operations of the Greater Waterbury YMCA.
“I think he's looking down laughing. He really surprised everybody I know at the YMCA. I know them and they were all surprised also because he was just very mild-mannered,” Lisa Carew, director of Watertown Parks and Recreation, said.
Julie Loughran, president and CEO of Connecticut Community Foundation, helped Staver set up the fund and said he did not have children or any living family.
He was a “modest person,” who spent quite a bit of time volunteering in the community after retiring.
“Really toward the end of his life had just determined he had accumulated some assets and he really wanted to give gifts back to make things available to people that he enjoyed in his life.” Loughran said.
Staver had a career in the early computer industry and Jim O’Rourke, chief executive officer of the YMCA, said Staver was actually the person to install the first computer at the YMCA in the 1980s.
“As soon as you saw him you got a smile because you knew that he was life. He had a persona about him - everyone would always smile and say hello. Not many people approached him however, he was just a humble gentleman,“ ’Rourke said.
Staver went to the Greater Waterbury YMCA almost every evening for more than 50 years.
“I think he always had a soft spot for us and he always talked about the children he saw at the Y as well as the teens and the money that we will be receiving will help families here in Waterbury participate in our school age aftercare programs and preschool programs,” O'Rourke said.
The man staff called “Mr. Staver” kept to himself, but would often chat at the front desk with the staff, even after the Y had closed for the day, according to the Connecticut Community Foundation.
O’Rourke said that Staver would arrive at the YMCA around 7 p.m. or 7:30 p.m., speak with the staff at the desk and ask for an envelope to put his keys and wallet in.
When he’d exercise “he would put on his 1980s headphones and his Walkman,” according to O’Rourke.
“You always knew that he was there because the denim shirt would be on as well as the short 1980 shorts and the big high white socks up to the knees and he would pedal away,” O’Rourke said.
The obituary for Staver says tennis was his first love and he volunteered his time at several organizations, including tennis lessons at the Greater Waterbury YMCA.
“For him to think about the Y in such a special way is so powerful and I’m just so happy we had an impact on him. I would say that we were an extension of his family―we were his family,” O’Rourke said.
Carew knew Staver for more than 30 years and said Staver drove around town in an older-model car as Watertown’s first recycling coordinator. He also helped people at the senior center learn to drive or to prepare their taxes, according to the Connecticut Community Foundation.
Staver played tennis almost every day and one of the things he always wanted was a park bench at the tennis courts.
“He'd say he needed a bench up there and I would say to him, exactly what I said in the paper. I said, ‘Jack if you want a bench, give me the money and I will buy you a bench,’ and that's what he is getting,” Carew said.
Bill Donston, chairman of the Watertown’s parks and recreation department, said they learned that Staver donated some money and they figured it was for the bench that he talked about, but it was so much more.
“You never know who is coming through the door and you treat everybody with the same respect and it pays off big dividends and I am sure Jack is in heaven right now, smiling down on us,” Donston said.
The first endowment will be earmarked toward the tennis courts and “of course that bench in Jack’s memory,” Donston said.