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Y founders look back on 40 years of success

IN THIS, the 40th anniversary of the Rappahannock Area YMCA, it’s hard to imagine a time when folks here didn’t understand what the Y can offer a community.

But for the determined group of volunteers and community leaders who brought the YMCA to the region in 1973, educating the public on what it would be and what it could offer was a huge challenge.

“Early on, we faced the perception by some, mainly those with no experience with a Y, that this was going to be some sort of elitist project,” said Dr. Louis B. Massad, a key player in that effort for whom the facility on Stafford County’s Butler Road is named.

Don Newlin, another important member of the early YMCA board, agrees.

“Some people saw it as a sort of middle-class luxury project,” said Newlin, who’d experienced what the Y offers growing up in Greensboro.

Beyond that, Newlin—whose experience as a stock broker put him squarely at the forefront of the fledgling Y’s budgeting and fundraising—said there was another big hurdle to get over then.

“When we went to the public to get donations to build the first Y, there was no real history of giving for a project like this in the area,” he said. “It was a tall order to talk people into large donations.”

To mark the 40th anniversary of the Rappahannock Area YMCA, I sat down recently with Massad, Newlin, longtime board member Buddy Fredette and Rappahannock Area YMCA CEO Barney Reiley.

I remember Reiley from my early days as a Y member as the guy who ran basketball and softball leagues and cut the grass when YMCA Director Kevin Curtis needed him to. I squared off against him in local basketball pickup games, where the former college star would regularly sink 3-pointers long before there actually was a 3-point line.

Massad was the perfect person to ask about the Y’s local beginnings because he was the one who actually got things rolling.

“We moved here in 1967 and fairly quickly realized that there wasn’t a lot here for our children to do,” said Massad.

Having learned to swim and taken part in other activities at a YMCA in Richmond, Massad said he realized what it could bring to the community. So at a Rotary Club meeting in 1971, he suggested opening one here.

The club agreed, setting aside $1,000 to cover costs of exploring the idea.

Soon enough, said Massad, meetings were held here at The Free Lance–Star and then at James Monroe High School. It was clear there was support for the idea, and backers at those sessions became members of a board of directors that hired a director and opened an office at 1200 Prince Edward St. by 1973.

Massad and Newlin said the group realized early on that building a facility with an indoor swimming pool was the top priority.

“We visited other YMCAs around the state and asked them what was the key part of the facility to offer in that first phase,” said Newlin. “Without a doubt, it was the indoor pool.”

Massad said the challenge then was going out to ask businesses and individuals in the community to donate money.

Reiley recalled that as that effort was getting started, he and others hired by the Y as part-time instructors were using school gyms, church halls and any other space they could find to offer programs.

“People loved the programs, from softball tournaments to exercise classes,” said Reiley. “But the key to moving forward was that first facility.”

Newlin noted that philanthropist John Lee Pratt was a big player in that finally happening, donating the 30 acres of land the Stafford YMCA building now sits on, along with $10,000.

“He had originally thought of giving that land to become Germanna Community College, but that changed when Del. French Slaughter located that in Orange County,” said Newlin. “It was a good thing for us, because it provided the 30 acres that holds the Y facilities.”

At two critical times, YMCA boards have faced tough decisions when money raised wasn’t quite enough for desired projects: in 1982, when they opened the pool, offices and locker rooms; and in 1997, when they added a gymnasium, fitness center, additional locker rooms and more.

In that first outing, they decided to cut back on plans that had originally included a workout center, additional office space and more in order to get the $800,000 facility built.

“After going out and soliciting those pledges, it was critical to get something up,” said Newlin, who noted that finances were tough in those early years, to the point that a short-term loan was taken out at one point to keep paying the staff.

Fredette noted that another key point came in the mid ’90s, when the Y board faced challenges that ranged from repairing the existing facilities to adding new facilities that could lure new members and justify high dues.

He singled out the contributions of contractor Jerry Leonard for stepping up to help supervise the addition that opened in 1997, with a gymnasium, a wellness/fitness center and more.

Reiley noted that with Leonard’s help, the Y acted as its own general contractor, saving half a million dollars and getting the project built.

The Y leaders I talked to said the existing Stafford Y has been a model for the expansion that has followed—into Spotsylvania, King George, Caroline and possibly now into North Stafford.

Reiley has served as the Y chief since 1993, running both operations and fundraising campaigns. He said a key part of the organization’s appeal is its availability to all, despite ability to pay.

“Last year, we gave out more than $1 million in scholarships for Y memberships and programs,” said Reiley, who also noted the wide range of classes and opportunities provided for those with handicaps and special needs.

YMCA TIMELINE

1973: First YMCA office opens at 1200 Prince Edward street, as programs begin in rented gyms and other spaces.

1982: Doors open for the first YMCA facility on Butler Road, an indoor swimming pool, offices and locker rooms.

1987: Second phase opens there, including two racquetball courts, a Nautilus Center, additional office space and an aerobic exercise studio.

1997: Third phase completed there, including a gym, wellness/fitness center, additional racquetball court, locker rooms with sauna and steam.

2001: The Rowe YMCA Tennis center added there, with two indoor courts, two outdoors.

2003 Spotsylvania YMCA branch opens, including a gym, a wellness/fitness center, classrooms, locker rooms, pool and playground. Later named the Ron Rosner YMCA.

2004: Stafford Y adds a therapeutic/wellness pool.

2006: The opening of the Steve and Cheri Thurstan Water Park there, as well as the addition of a youth wing, adult whirlpool spas and the enclosure of two more tennis courts.

2008: Opening of the YMCA branch in King George County with a gym, a wellness/fitness center, classrooms, locker rooms, pool and a playground.

2013: Branch set to open in Caroline County, to include a gym, a wellness/fitness center, classrooms, locker rooms, lap pool, therapeutic pool and a playground.

Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415

rhedelt@freelancestar.com

 

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