Column: YMCA has a long, rich history

Published 7:26 am Tuesday, November 9, 2004

By Staff
When you come to the Niles-Buchanan YMCA, most people think of it as a place to come with their family, a place where no one is denied membership, a place to be around friends, or a place to be healthy. These are all true, but the YMCA also has a lot of history behind it to get it to where it is today. Without its history, who knows where the YMCA would be, or if there would even be one. The YMCA is not only a fitness center or a place for swim lessons, it is a place of history and stories to tell. We are going to take a trip back into time to see what has been involved in past of the YMCA.
The very first YMCA was established in London, England in 1844 by a man name George Williams. His goal was to help young men find God. In 1851, a man named Thomas Valentine Sullivan who had been shipwrecked in the Antarctic, fell from a yard-arm and was nearly killed, and was attacked by pirates off the coast of Brazil, and by the time he was 33, he had made a fortune and lost it. Through all of this, his long-lasting accomplishment was founding the YMCA of the United States. He was a Boston sea captain and missionary who was inspired by stories of the YMCA in England.
With six colleagues, Sullivan called the first meeting leading to a constitution, and on Dec. 29, 1851, the YMCA began at the Old South Church in Boston. In 1853 Anthony Bowen founded a black YMCA in Washington D.C., which was also one of the earliest black organizations in the United States. He was a minister and the first black man to work in the U.S. patent office.
In 1881, Boston YMCA staffer Robert J. Roberts coined the term "body building" and developed exercise classes that anticipated today's fitness programs. During World War I, 5,145 women worked in the YMCA military canteens, although it was not until after World War II that females had full membership privileges.
What about sports at the YMCA? Did you know that basketball, softball, racquetball and volleyball all began at YMCAs? In 1891, James Naismith, a Springfield (Mass.) College instructor, invented basketball as an indoor winter sport. During the 1890s a man named William Morgan thought that basketball was too strenuous for businessmen. He incorporated basketball, tennis and handball and came up with a game called mintonette, which in 1896 became known as volleyball.
In 1910 the Kansas City YMCA had the first indoor filtered pool. In the beginning softball was called "sissy ball" or "kitten ball," but a Denver YMCA state Secretary renamed it softball and came up with the rules and regulations we have today.
In 1950 Joe Sobeck a YMCA volunteer invented racquetball. In 1953 a YMCA in Philadelphia won the National YMCA basketball championship with professional basketball star Wilt Chamberlain on the team. A YMCA in Pennsylvania sponsored the first professional football game. In 1969 dancer Judi Missett began Jazzercise in an Illinois YMCA. Following that, Jackie Sorgensen began "dance exercise" which led to the boom of aerobics.
Interesting Facts about the history of the YMCA
In 1869 membership dues were only $2.
When president George W. Bush Jr. was eight years old, he won first place in electric train races at a YMCA.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. frequently swam at a YMCA with his family.
Ronald Reagan was a YMCA lifeguard in Illinois. He saved 77 lives from the fast currents of the Rock River.
Collectively the YMCA is the largest not-for profit organization with more than 600,000 volunteers.
Now that we know about the history of the YMCA in the United States what about our Niles-Buchanan YMCA. In 1944, Niles businessmen brought the YMCA to Niles. From 1959 to 1961 there were plans for a new building. In 1961 the building we know today opened. We were the only area indoor swimming facility of this time.
In 1977 racquetball courts and the field house were built. In 1992 the Endowment fund was established, and in 1999 a $50,000 cardiovascular room was added. In 2000 they added a new program position for adults and in 2001 the field house was turned into the new aerobics room.
The children found themselves in a new, big, bright daycare room, a personal training program began, and adult leagues made a come back.
As you can see the YMCA has offered many things to the United States. With all of these positive attributes what else could one ask for out of a family center? One of the greatest things I believe the YMCA offers is its scholarship program. The YMCA does not turn away any child. If someone cannot afford to be a part of the YMCA, they can apply for a scholarship and have assistance with their membership.
I believe these last two quotes describe the YMCA perfectly: