Fifty years of community, history in Garden City.



For Nelda Lewis, the YMCA has been a large part of her life. Her boys grew up swimming at the pool, and she and her husband, Ed, worked out there nearly every day, even attending exercise classes weekly, making the YMCA feel like a home away from home.

She and Ed also helped with swim meets when their two boys were young, and when it was time for the two to attend college, both went with swimming scholarships. Nelda says the skills they learned at the YMCA have carried on into their daily habits today.

"It never left, as a child to their adulthood. It's been a part of their life," Lewis said.

Moments like these are just part of the history that has filled the walls of the Garden City Family YMCA. This year, on Aug. 17, the YMCA will be turning 50.

The YMCA invites the community to celebrate the occasion on Aug. 18 ¬­-- since Mondays are higher-traffic days than Sundays. There will be pictures on the wall that can be viewed all day, and there will be a community celebration at 3 p.m. with a balloon launch, cupcakes and inflatables for the young and young-at-heart to enjoy.

Every 50 days, people will be able to join for free, on July 19, Sept. 7, Oct. 27, and Dec. 16. YMCA Chief Development Officer Marcy VenJohn says on these days the joining fee is dropped, and people joining the club will just pay the prorated amount, a savings of at least $65 dollars.

From June 30 to Aug. 18 — 50 days before the celebration — prizes will be given away. Also, every 50th new member will receive one month free.

"It's a great milestone for us, VenJohn said. "And, it's a good marker for where we are going from here."

Chad Knight, CEO of YMCA, says that 50 years is a long time for a business, but for a nonprofit it's an even bigger deal. The community of Garden City has supported the YMCA since 1964, and in return they strive toward giving back to the community with not only a facility that has improved over the years but also five program areas: aquatics, sports, health and fitness, childcare care, or family and teens. In doing so, they emphasize their core values: honesty, respect, responsibility and caring.

"We are constantly adding new programs, new ideas," Knight said.

In the future, Knight says there is talk about a second gym. Possibly a satellite facility, a multi-sport facility or a dome project that would provide more space for the YMCA and its members, since the current building is land-locked. Although in the infancy stages, they are talking about creating indoor basketball courts or soccer courts within the next gym, which may be located elsewhere. Different options have been explored for about six months now, Knight said.

Within its many programs they are planning on new water aerobics classes, a couple new sports programs, and are constantly searching to continue and improve their programs. They are also looking at signature programs with national Y, like diabetes and cancer prevention.

"It's our job to get them engaged, get them active and get them going," Knight said.

Someone who has put that mindset to good use is Leroy Cabbage. He's been a member since 1976.

"I started out by playing racket ball about seven days a a week. And now, I play once a week and work out in the fitness center four to five times a week," Cabbage said.

He attributes losing weight and quitting smoking to the YMCA. He was at one time on the board for about nine years, and in 2012 was inducted to the YMCA's hall of fame, in deep appreciation of his support, dedication, and commitment to the YMCA, along with the Carlos C. Spikes family.

Carlos Spikes, Bryce Roderick and Clifford Mayo bought the land that the YMCA now sits on, and although Spikes and Roderick have since passed away, Mayo still has fond memories of chairing the board and being a part of the YMCA's humble beginnings.

"I hope that people recognize that a lot of work went into that (the YMCA) and a lot of imagination, and it's been good for Garden City, and still is," Mayo said.

He says he remembers back in the day when they were thinking about raising their rates $10 dollars, and people were up in arms that $10 dollars more was too much money.

Every meeting would start out with an invocation prayer — and still does today — and at the time, a priest from St. Mary's was on the board.

Mayo remembers Richard Henkle pulling out a gun and a knife, and sat them on the table in front of everybody. As the priest was ending the invocation prayer, he ended with "and help Dick Henkle not use his gun and his knife."

"Everybody voted for it, and that was the end of it," Mayo said, while laughing. "It calmed everyone down."

He also remembers coaching flag football and basketball for the YMCA, and he remembered there were times when the parents would be "unruly" if a foul was called on their child. They decided that if the children were going to play, their parents had to agree to be referees at least once.

"That put a stop to the complaining," Mayo said. "You put your neck on the line out there, and you don't complain too much."

Mayo says he also remembers raising the first capital campaign, which is where the volunteers of the YMCA ask for pledged donations. They go to the community about the YMCA's plans as to how they will use the money from pledges, and they also talk about their heritage, and the mission of the YMCA. In that first year, Mayo was chairing the board that raised $350,000 dollars in 1964.

Since then, the YMCA has done four more capital campaigns, the last in 2008, which raised $2.5 million dollars. The project, finished in 2010, added a family pool, a new front entrance, a spinning room, expansion of the fitness center, renovations to the men's locker room and other small renovations within the YMCA, Knight said.

"I think every community deserves a YMCA, but, not every community can support a YMCA," Knight said.

One community that has been able to support the YMCA has been Dodge City, since 2013, when the corporate branch in Garden City became an association, and a sort of mentor to Dodge City. Now, both branches are part of the YMCA of Southwest Kansas.

Doug Keller is the current capital chairman, and corporate board president of Dodge City and Garden City, and says the mission of the YMCA is strong, and he thinks it will continue to grow in Dodge City.

"I think as the community grows the need to the Y will continue to grow," Keller said. "I see the "Y" serving the same services as they have in the past, and for the next 50 years."

Break out box info from 2013:

Building was rented to groups/parties 301 times.

75,414 participated in 2013 programs

Six Family Fun Nights served 2,411 participants

$19,826.60 were awarded in Gift Certificates to school events, fundraisers, actions and more

24-hour access had 3,587 visits

885 new members signed up

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