Lakes Region is love of their lives, and their donation will help area's youth
Theirs is an enduring love that blossomed on Lake Winnipesaukee, where Tony and Gladys Sakowich spent long summer days on their 48-foot motor boat after World War II. The Massachusetts couple married in the former Our Lady of the Lakes Church in Lakeport 58 years ago, and later bought a lakeside summer home.
Now both 95, the Sakowiches are less frequent visitors to the lake. They sold their house on Governor's Island in 2009. They live in a retirement community in North Andover, Mass., where they share an apartment.
Still, the childless couple's love for the lake will live on through a $500,000 gift to programs benefiting the region's youth — including $400,000 that enabled the Boys and Girls Club of the Lakes Region to buy its first permanent home. Longtime philanthropists in their native Greater Lawrence, Mass., area, this is their first major gift to their adoptive New Hampshire home.
"They are just wonderful, giving people," said Paul Gaudet Sr., a longtime friend and former neighbor on Governor's Island.
"They said their specific goals for the future ... of their money is that it always go to benefit children," added Gaudet, who is founder of AutoServ car dealerships.
In addition to donating $400,000 to the Boys and Girls Club, the Sakowiches gave $50,000 each to Holy Trinity Catholic School in Laconia and Gilford Community Church in Gilford.
The Boys and Girls Club of the Lakes Region used the $400,000 as a down payment to buy the former St. James Episcopal Church campus on North Main Street in Laconia, Gaudet said. The downtown location is in walking distance to most of the city's public schools. The club moved into its new quarters late last summer.
"We are honored, we are grateful and we are just so happy that our efforts to build a 'forever home' have gotten off to such a wonderful start," Laconia Police Chief and club President Chris Adams said in a statement.
The club so far has raised about $1.4 million toward its total $2.4 million goal to buy and renovate the former church.
In 2012, the Sakowiches donated their nine-acre homestead in Andover, Mass., to the Andover Village Improvement Society to be preserved as recreational space open to the public.
The couple also have been generous donors to Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., where the 130,000-square-foot campus center and recreation complex bear their names.
Tom Sakowich was born and grew up in Lawrence, Mass., served in World War II and developed a process to mold laminate kitchen counter tops, which he manufactured at Saxon Inc., his North Andover plant, Gaudet said. His clients included Sears and Formica.
Gladys Sakowich is a Methuen, Mass., native. After her first husband was killed in World War II, she took over the management of his lumber business — Unwin Lumber Co. in Lawrence — with her brother-in-law, Gaudet added.
The couple first started coming up to Lake Winnipesaukee while they were dating in the late 1940s, Gaudet said.
"They fell in love with the Lakes Region," he said.