A gym for mind, body, and spirit

by Hugo Bravo

Lorie Collier Davis remembers how her mother and father gave money to the Salvation Army’s red kettles during the Christmas season. Eleanor and Tom Collier had always instilled a strong sense of giving in Lorie and in her brothers Jeff, Doug, and Kevin. The parents also believed, as Lorie does, that Christ must always be in the center of their work and purpose.

“My father always talked about the power of the mind, body, and spirit, and how important it was to keep each healthy,” says Lorie. “In that sense, poverty of the spirit is just as real as poverty of the mind and body.”

Later in her life, Lorie, who today serves as an advisory board member of The Salvation Army Greater Boston and Waltham Corps, learned that as a child, her dad had experienced poverty. And the same Salvation Army to which he was “paying it forward” every Christmas had helped his family during those difficult days.

Years later, the Army would honor him in a way neither he nor Lorie could have ever imagined.

Feeding the Family

Tom Hadley Collier grew up in York, Pa., the middle child among seven siblings. His father worked but was frequently absent, and often the money he made went to his drinking habit.

“Despite my grandmother having a job too, they lived hand to mouth,” says Lorie. “That was the first way my dad connected with The Salvation Army; they helped meet the immediate need for food in his home.”

Tom’s favorite Salvation Army memories always involved food. His eyes would light up every time he talked about Thanksgiving meals and Christmas dinners. “It’s still hard to conceive that anyone in my family would ever need help with food,” Lorie admits. “I had never experienced that personally.”

During World War II, Tom finished high school, enlisted in the U.S., Army, and trained to be a gunner. While serving, he continued to see the Salvation Army’s presence through their outreach to military men.

“God’s hand was at work with my father there too because he was never chosen to deploy. Gunners had one of the highest fatality rates of the war; many of them never made it back home,” says Lorie.

Working at the Y

After being honorably discharged from the military, Tom went to college to study physical education. He dreamed of working for the YMCA, another Christian organization that had shown him and his family kindness. His dream came true, and he was an employee of the “Y” for over 30 years. People Tom met while working there were often invited to the Collier household for dinner. It was his way of paying it forward; he shared his food, and his values, with everyone he met.

Lorie says, “I remember living in North Carolina when I was in 7th grade; my father had been offered a job to run the town’s local YMCA. When he went to visit the building for the first time, someone had placed a sign near the front that said blacks were not allowed to be in town after dark. My father told the YMCA that he would not serve until that sign came down, because it was against everything that a Christian organization stood for. Now, this was a very small town in the middle of Appalachia in the 1960s. He put his job and more at risk by speaking up. But my dad talked the talk and walked the walk, and that sign came down.”

Tom was modestly compensated while working for the YMCA, yet every time he could, he would set aside something for The Salvation Army and their church.

“I always say that, for me, it was never a struggle to believe in a loving God who watches over me, because I had that at home with my father,” says Lorie. “But he didn’t have that in his home while growing up. Gratefully, my mother grew up less needy in a God–loving Christian home. My father’s love for God and others came from many places: his own spiritual awakening, my mother’s love for him, and from the love that organizations like The Salvation Army showed him.”

Tom’s Gym

When The Salvation Army Waltham Corps needed renovation, Lorie, who was a volunteer at Waltham, put her focus on redoing the corps’ kitchen. “We were feeding many people in the community with only one working stove burner and no counter space,” she remembers. “That was when the dream grew. We prayed for something small, and instead, God provided something big.”

The Salvation Army decided that the Waltham Corps’ renovation would go beyond a kitchen to include other rooms in the building. One of these rooms would be the gymnasium, and the new gym space would be dedicated to Tom Hadley Collier, who had passed away eight years earlier.

“When I was told this, I was speechless. I had shared stories about my father and the type of person he was, but he was never personally connected to The Salvation Army in Waltham,” says Lorie. She had always felt reluctant to have her name next to the donations she and her husband made to The Salvation Army. A gym in her father’s name would be a permanent recognition of a man who lived graciously, yet humbly, and would not have seen himself deserving of such honor.

But Tom Collier was far more than deserving. He enjoyed working out and playing sports, especially basketball, and he always believed that children needed to be active after a day of sitting still in school. From his work at the YMCA, Tom also knew that afterschool sports sometimes required transportation and funds that families might not always have. A gym made for those same families in Waltham would be a fitting tribute to his memory.

“The Salvation Army helped me see that having names associated with the act of giving inspires giving in others. We are the hands and feet of Jesus. When we learn about a regular person who was able to make an impact on the lives he touched, we can aspire to do the same,” says Lorie.

In May 2021 at the gym’s dedication, Lorie Collier Davis, on behalf of her entire family, thanked The Salvation Army for honoring her father.

“Tom Hadley Collier was a humble man, and would have likely been overwhelmed by this honor,” Lorie said in her speech. “But you can be sure that he would take great delight in knowing that this gym would be a safe place where all are welcome, and can mold and meld mind, body, and spirit.”